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November 28, 2012

Transaction Analysis

Reds Lock Down a Closer

by R.J. Anderson

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CINCINNATI REDS
Team Audit | Player Cards | Depth Chart

Signed RHP Jonathan Broxton to a three-year deal worth $21 million. [11/27]

By signing Broxton to handle the ninth-inning duties, the Reds can now move Aroldis Chapman to the rotation. But is that a good thing?

Broxton arrived in Cincinnati after a deadline deal. Although his ERA was shiny through 35 Kansas City appearances, nobody could feel too confident in the underlying measures. Broxton had the lowest strikeout rate of his career and a poor strikeout-to-walk ratio. Something clicked for him with the Reds. His strikeout rate improved, as did his peripherals, and he began allowing fewer hits. The Reds liked what they saw from Broxton and his fill-in duties in September enough to give the burly right-hander a big deal.

Glance at this and it looks like another case of a team buying into a small sample and proven closer mythology. But there might be a reason to think the Reds made their most important investment in Broxton before signing this contract. Broxton began throwing a cutter in late August, according to Brooks Baseball. The cutter became one of Broxton’s favorite tools in September—especially against left-handers when trailing in the count, or versus righties to start encounters. Broxton’s new toy finished the season with the highest whiff rate, lowest ball rate, and lowest True Average-against of his arsenal.

Differentiating between sliders and cutters is a difficult task, but there are two factors separating Broxton’s cutter and his slider. One is the velocity gap between the two pitches. Broxton’s cutter averaged 93 mph, while his slider sat at 88 mph. It would be fair to think some of the cutters are just hard-thrown sliders, and yet the fastest average slider (thrown by Tyler Yates) clocked in at less than 90 mph. Another difference is the vertical movement offered by the two pitches. The evidence points toward a new pitch rather than a misclassification.

Broxton was thought of as one of the game’s top relievers as recently as the middle of the 2010 season. A lot has changed since then—he’s had a miserable half-season and missed most of another season due to injury—but he still throws hard and still has a knockout slider. The addition of an effective cutter may already have had an impact on his performance, and could have a similarly positive influence heading forward. This isn’t to imply Broxton will regain old form. It is to suggest the Reds are willing to gamble on Broxton remaining effective into his 30s—in part because of their own doing. 

R.J. Anderson is an author of Baseball Prospectus. 
Click here to see R.J.'s other articles. You can contact R.J. by clicking here

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