A Valuable Learning Opportunity

February 24, 2011 at 3:11 pm | Posted in Jonathan Broxton, Tony Jackson | 18 Comments

During today’s ESPN chat with Tony Jackson and Angels writer Mark Saxon, a question about Jonathan Broxton inevitably came up:

Rachel (Hattiesburg)
Hi guys. Can we expect J Broxton to return to the stellar closer he was a couple years ago? Or does he lose his job early? Thanks

tony jackson
Hey Rachel. Judging by the way he pitched late last season, I’m not sure he has a closer’s makeup, but we’ll see. Don Mattingly insists he does have that makeup, and he bases that on the fact that Broxton was never that bad until late last year. But if you look at his career saves percentage, it isn’t that great. They’re going to give him the job for about a month to prove he can still handle it. But if he struggles out of the gate, I think you’ll see a change.

I agree with Jackson’s overall premise – that Broxton has about a month to prove himself – and I generally like Jackson’s work. But the use of “career saves percentage” completely kills me. On the list of “stats that mean absolutely nothing,” it comes in ahead of RBI and only slightly behind wins in my book, and since that message just got disseminated to a wide ESPN audience today, it’s a great chance to illustrate just how meaningless it is.

Saves and blown saves, of course, are generally useless on their face; they’re a manufactured stat that only tells you who happened to be pitching during a predetermined and precise set of circumstances, namely in the 9th inning with a lead of up to three runs. That means the stat alone is heavily dependent on many, many factors outside a pitcher’s direct control – and that works both ways, because Broxton’s well-remembered June meltdown against the Yankees didn’t even count as a blown save, because he came in with a four-run lead, despite that game being basically the definition of blowing it.

Yet they’re constantly misinterpreted as having some sort of significant insight into a pitcher’s performance. Remember when Francisco Rodriguez set a record with 62 saves in 2008? What people conveniently forget is that due to a quality yet low-scoring Angels club, he also set the record with the most save opportunities of all time. That year came in 120th of all-time on the WXRL scoreboard, a much better indicator of Rodriguez’ place in history. Need I remind you of Shawn Chacon‘s 2004, in which he somehow put up 35 saves despite going 1-10 with a 7.11 ERA?

If citing saves are bad, citing blown saves are worse. It’s one thing to say that Broxton blew 7 of his 29 save chances last year. That alone is somewhat misleading, because it neglects the fact Casey Blake let a potential double play through his legs in the Phillies game, or again that the Yankee game didn’t even count. At least he was the closer. At least he was coming into games in the 9th inning with the chance to win or lose them.

But to cite his career blown save percentage? That’s just unfair. Remember, from his debut in 2005 through mid-2008, Broxton wasn’t the closer. He was the setup man, mainly to Takashi Saito. Setup men work in the 7th and 8th inning, not the 9th, and that means that it’s by definition impossible to collect saves, only to blow them. Blown saves are even particularly more meaningless in those innings, since that doesn’t even necessarily indicate that the game was lost. So sure, by the end of 2008, Broxton had 19 career saves and 19 blown saves. Is anyone really thinking that all his quality work in those years made him a 50% closer? Of course not; if so, you’re penalizing him for things he never could have done.

Again, I like Jackson, and I certainly understand the trepidation towards Broxton. Let’s just please not damn him publicly with numbers that have no actual meaning.

******

Hey, great news for anyone who thought Kenley Jansen wasn’t going to make the team. Molly Knight tweets:

Mattingly says Jansen will work 7th inning typically, 8th when Kuo is unavailable and could close if Broxton has gone three days in a row.

18 Comments »

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  1. I honestly never thought Jansen would start in Triple-A. He has some improving to do, but he was awfully impressive in the majors last year.

    Count me in the camp that thinks Broxton rebounds to his pre-June 2010 form. The Dodgers’ bullpen potential is unmatched, if everything falls into place.

  2. Excellent write up on the topic of saves/blown saves. I doubt that Tony Jackson even knows that non closers end up with “blown saves” in the sixth, seventh and eighth innings, typically by having the audacity of giving up one run.

    With Padilla and Belisario already on the sidelines, Broxton is going to need to be back in form. His second half meltdown last year looked like more than just a typical pitchers slump. Broxton lost velocity on his fastball, break on his slider and totally lost control of the ball. We could be looking at Kuo, Jansen, Guerrier as the top three at the back end.

    • Please, this isn’t Bill Plaschke we’re talking about. Tony Jackson is a quality writer/reporter covering the Dodgers, and has been for years. He most definitely knows that blown saves come before the 9th as well.

      Broxton will be fine. He’s had the whole offseason to recover from all the abuse of the Joe Torre era and I think he’ll be more like his usual dominant self.

      • Excellent post Mike.

        And Jorge is absolutely right. How can you not look at 99 pitches in 5 days and wonder wtf was Torre thinking? This is a big guy that throws 99 mph. You just don’t overuse him like that.

        On another site a blogger said he could “see fear in Broxton’s eyes”. What a crock. Jon is an All Star closer. Use him right and he should be fine. You want 99 mph, don’t let him throw 48 pitches in one inning – ever.

        Oh, and teach the kid a change up.

        • I think I know what site that is, Rory, and I’ve had tons of problems with that foolish line of thinking.

          • There are a lot of silly things said all over the blogosphere. Some places are goofier than others.

            I went to Gameday to try to figure out what MIGHT have happened to Broxton, and it’s difficult to be sure. His ERA went from .83 to over 2 after the June “events” but he did have some success intermittently after that. In the blown save against the Cards on July 18th, he actually threw the ball 100 mph but Joe left him in for 44 pitches. (dumb) It looked to me like he was trying to overthrow and was tubing the ball. Hitters looked like they knew what was coming and hammered his heat. Also, it appeared that maybe his slider flattened out. In August he threw over 20 pitches 4 times including 32, 29, 35 and 26. By September you can see all of his pitch counts were up and he was done, ending with an ERA over 4.

            I think he will back and I hope Mattingly knows better than to use a beast like him for more than 25 pitches. He’s a closer that uses a 99 mph fastball. He doesn’t have a change and he doesn’t use the cutter ala Rivera. If he doesn’t get it done in 25 pitches, get him out of there. BTW…. Rivera threw 137 pitches in July, and 127 pitches in August. After throwing 194 in June, Broxton threw 167 in July and 217 in August. He throws too damn hard to use him like that.

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  4. Just curious. What the hell are these pingbacks?

    • Not sure, Willie.

  5. Kool-aid drinking “reporters” and you wonder why the casual fan is so misguided, i dislike the whole concept of the “closer” anyway, hell i could take a step further and say what’s the whole point of even asking someone? Are they Ms. Cleo, how will they know if a player is going to bounce back?

  6. I looked at Shawn Chacon’s game log for 2004. He did blow 9 saves, which is not great, but still a better rate than one would expect out of someone who put up a 7.11 ERA. Speaking of that though, he played for Colorado, which brings up a point that the definition of saves is unfair to the guys pitching in extreme pitchers parks. It’s going to be much easier for a closer to maintain a one run lead in Dodger Stadium than it is in Coors field. But then again, most stats, like quality starts, that don’t account for ballpark aren’t the most meaningful stats, and usually aren’t cited by serious baseball analysts.
    -
    On a side note, the last game of 2004 were Chacon appeared was a game against the Dodgers where he came in in the ninth with a 4-0 lead and left after getting one out, allowing one run, and loading the bases. A look at his line (4 ER) shows that all those runners scored and the Dodgers won 5-4 without going into extra innings. I wasn’t following the Dodgers that closely then, so I don’t remember that game, but it must have been a good one!

  7. The save is baseball’s most bogus statistic.

  8. Thank you for someone finally bringing up the fact that middle relievers can only blow saves. Why do people protect Torre and not acknowledge the fact he over used Broxton? I have a question how did it become thought that Jansen would be in the minors.

    • I think the reason why is because you don’t see that. It’s contextual. You have to know that he came unglued because of bad use patterns like that.

  9. Good points on perspective.
    Some other things to consider is that so many fans saw Eric Gagne’s performance as the norm to measure Broxton by and to set expectations. Broxton was not Gagne’ and should not be judged by that. Also, Torre was used to having Mariano Rivera and got into a rut of expecting his relief pitchers to be used like Rivera. Saito was emotionally strong enough to handle that – Brox was not.
    Torre’s misuse of Broxton much of last year with his inconsistencies of too many or too few off days, too few or too many innings or pitches and also the subtle and overt messages he gave Broxton would have broken even the best players

  10. Yes, closers from terrible teams do get SV’s. I harken back to the 2004 season with the Rockies when Shawn Chacon had 35 SV. Of course that came with a 1-9 record, a 7.11/1.95 ERA/WHIP and a 52/52 K/BB. Over the rest of his career, Chacon would have 1 more save and has been out of baseball since 2008 for bitch-slapping Houston GM Ed Wade. It seems like Mr. Wade, and in a “polite” way I might add, was just trying to persuade Mr. Chacon to pitch a little better! I had him as my 2nd closer in an expert NL-only league that year and did come in the money with a win in the SV’s category. But the ugliest 35 SV’s you’ll ever see! Broxton fell apart in the second half last season, posting a 7.13 ERA and 2.13 WHIP while walking more than he struck out. His velocity was down at the end of the season, which had people wondering if he was pitching hurt. He still has elite closer stuff, though, so as long as he’s healthy, he should be the ninth-inning man. For now! He is scheduled to make $7-mil for 2011. I’m not a fan of giving closer’s big money deals. I’ve been in this business long enough to know that hindsight is a wonderful thing! See Frankie Rodriguez of the Mets who was also involved in the bitch-slapping of another human, much like the erstwhile Chacon. Kuo and Jansen were otherworldly giving up a total of 41 hits in 87 IP, with a 114/33 K/BB. Kuo had a 1.20/0.78 ERA/WHIP while Jansen was at 0.67/1.00. As I’ve said on this very site, this country is about forgiving, if not so much forgetting. Broxton will be given a clean slate to start 2011. And, a short leash to match. I’m just not sure that I’m ready to take that leap of faith that Broxton’s 2nd half was a matter of overuse. I’m not ready to give a mulligan on 2010 to him just yet. Because the Broxton of the 1960’s, Dick Radatz, had 3 seasons of undeniable bounty and went by the wayside! Yes, they tried to make him a pitcher and he came up with a bum wing. In these situations of the heart I’ve come to expect the worst but hope for the best.

  11. I honestly think the second half of last year was a bit of a fluke. I think we are going to see the Big Ox of 2009 again this year.

  12. [...] balanced viewpoint to readers. That doesn’t mean they’re perfect – it was only a few months ago when I got on Jackson for employing “blown saves” when discussing Jonathan Broxton, for [...]


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