Why is Jonathan Broxton still on the St. Louis Cardinals?
A few weeks ago, Dan Buffa of KSDK wondered “why is Jonathan Broxton on this roster?” The easy answer is that the St. Louis Cardinals want to get something out of the $3.75 million they still owe him. Yet, that amount is chump change to the Cardinals. If they wanted to cut bait, that salary would give them no reason for pause.
So, despite the griping, body shaming, and blown leads, the St. Louis Cardinals front office finds some value in the veteran reliever. Really, it makes sense: Broxton has been an average reliever since coming to the Cardinals on August 1st, 2015, and is primarily used as a low-leverage innings eater.
First, I have to address the false narrative that Jonathan Broxton is terrible. He’s been a scapegoat for Cardinals fans, including myself, when things go wrong. While win-loss record isn’t a great stat for relievers (or any pitchers, really), Broxton is 7-5 with the Cardinals.
I compiled Broxton’s stats since coming over to the Cardinals. I then ranked him by percentile among the 345 pitchers who have thrown 20+ innings in relief since August 1st, 2015. Here are the most important numbers:
By these measures of performance, Jonathan Broxton has performed at approximately an MLB average level or better. In addition to these metrics, Broxton is better than average in AVG, OBP, and SLG against, BABIP against, and K%. He’s below average in BB% and LOB%. Put it all together and you have an average or slightly better MLB reliever.
Projection systems ZiPS, Steamer, and FanGraphs Depth Charts all see Broxton posting a sub-4.00 FIP and ERA in 2017. While that’s not flashy, it would give the St. Louis Cardinals another dependable option in the bullpen. Further supporting his dependability, Broxton has averaged nearly 60 innings per season since 2014.
The problem, of course, is that you don’t want to depend on an average reliever in crucial situations. At a point in 2016, it looked like this was becoming a problem, and it appeared Broxton was being deployed more often in higher leverage situations.
Yet, using the FanGraphs splits leaderboard and filtering to find only Cardinals, we find that Broxton ranked fourth on the team in medium- and high-leverage innings in 2016 with 19 low-leverage innings. Seung-hwan Oh (46.2), Kevin Siegrist (39), and Matt Bowman (25.2) ranked ahead of Broxton.
Additionally, Broxton was less than two innings ahead of Trevor Rosenthal and less than three ahead of Tyler Lyons. Both Rosenthal and Lyons went down with injuries in 2016, and likely would have had more high-leverage innings if healthy. It doesn’t look like Mike Matheny chose Broxton in crucial situations because he has more faith in the veteran. Rather, it appears he deployed Broxton out of necessity.
With that in mind, I looked at how Broxton has fared in low-leverage situations. Since coming to the St. Louis Cardinals, about 63% of his 84.1 innings have been low-leverage. As it turns out, Broxton is really good in these situations:
Essentially, Jonathan Broxton is an effective middle relief innings eater. Someone has to pitch when you’re up four runs or down three. Broxton is that guy, and he’s been effective doing it. His ability to handle a heavy workload keeps other guys fresh. You can count on him to basically hold serve – most times, he won’t leave you worse off.
We remember the few times Broxton blew a lead he had no business blowing. The vast majority of his outings are forgettable, and might even come after you’ve turned off the TV. But someone needs to eat those innings, and Broxton has the appetite.
Given that Matheny has struggled to manage the bullpen in his St. Louis Cardinals tenure, he needs an option like Broxton. He can turn to Broxton after the outcome of a game is effectively decided. We don’t remember most of his appearances, and that’s how it ought to be.