KOMU 8 Sports Extra: Evaluating the Jonathan Broxton Trade
KANSAS CITY - A team can lose a reliever and recover. In fact, an MLB team losing its fifth-best reliever should rarely be news. It should not be gracing the ESPN Bottom Line for days. There should never be a need to talk about who will be his big-time replacement, but that is what the closer label does to pitchers. A guy can be a 300-pound reliever with year-in and year-out weight issues, get traded, and release a sense of, "Oh no! The Royals just lost their second closer of the season!" In reality though, it just is not that big of a deal.
To see that Broxton was not that strong of a pitcher in Kansas City, Royals fans have to look beyond the 2.27 ERA. In fact, what that ERA proves is that Broxton has been one of the most fortunate relievers in baseball this season. First off, he is not what he was in Los Angeles a few years ago. He has lost about three miles per hour on his fastball and because of that, he has thrown his lowest percentage of fastballs since 2006--his first full season in the league.
Losing that ability to consistently blow hitters away could be what explains the career-low strikeout rate of 15.9 percent. That means that a guy who is considered a dominant closer is striking out fewer than one of every six batters he faces, which is almost as poor as the strikeout rate of Jim Johnson, the Baltimore closer who is consistently criticized for his inability to strike batters out. Meanwhile, Broxton's 6.3 K/9 are also a career low.
So Broxton is not a dominant pitcher. In fact, he was working on a .273 opponent's batting average in Kansas City, which would have been a career high if his 2011 numbers were not so atrocious. Meanwhile, the Royals were actually able to turn a middle-of-the-road reliever into tangible assets at the deadline.
Broxton brought back two minor league pitchers, righty J.C. Sulbaran and lefty Donnie Joseph. Sulbaran is a 22-year-old strikeout wiz who gets an elite amount of swings and misses. The 6-foot-2, 220-pound starter spent last season in High-A Bakersfield, but don't be turned off by the 4.60 ERA he posted while he was there. The California League is notorious for being a hitting-dominated league where average position players consistently hit over .300 and above average pitchers get shelled day in and day out. For Sulbaran, the peripheral numbers are more important.
Sulbaran struck out 155 batters while walking only 50 in his 137 High-A innings last season. The strikeout total is dominant and it is usually a good sign when a 21-year-old can post a strikeout-to-walk ratio of better than three. This season has been more of the same in Double-A. While the walks are actually up--which is not a great sign--the strikeouts continue to be there (111 Ks in 104.2 innings).
His numbers would actually translate well to pitching in Kansas City. Sulbaran has been plagued by the homerun, allowing 17 in his 20 starts, but that is actually not the worst-case scenario for Royals' fans. A fly ball pitcher can fully succeed throwing in the pitcher-friendly confines of Kauffman Stadium. Many of those balls that are leaving the yard in Double-A won't be going out in a bigger ballpark.
Donnie Joseph is a 24-year-old reliever who is probably closer to joining the Major League roster than Sulbaran. The former third-round pick from 2009 has simply been dominant in the minor leagues this season, bouncing between two levels.
Starting off in Double-A Pensacola, Joseph compiled 20 appearances and posted a 0.89 ERA in doing so. It was not just the ERA that impressed scouts, though. His 46 strikeouts in 30.1 innings were dominant. His 0.69 WHIP (walks and hits allowed per inning pitched) was absolutely elite. He allowed an inexplicably low 3.9 hits per nine innings. Of course, those numbers ended up propelling Joseph to his first ever stint in Triple-A.
Since being promoted, the righty hasn't missed a beat. The numbers are not quite as impressive (2.86 ERA, 1.41 WHIP), but his Double-A numbers just were not mathematically or logistically sustainable. The good news for the Royals: the strikeout numbers are still good. Joseph's 22 Ks in 22 innings pitched is probably a more realistic indication of his potential Major League production.
Major league pitching is moving in a direction that we have never really seen before. Teams and leagues are surpassing strikeout records. Hitters are going down swinging more than they have in years. The Royals flipped a past-his-prime 28-year-old for two guys who fit into the new mold of pitching - they can get their strikeouts. Either one could have an impact as a major leaguer and because of that, Kansas City fans should be happy to win this deal.