Saturday, June 09, 2007

Sticking With Broxton

In the Padres/Dodgers game Thursday night, LA entered the bottom of the ninth with a 5-1 lead. Jonathan Broxton, filling in for injured closer Takashi Saito, allowed eight of the nine batters he faced to reach base, allowing the Friars to pull off a stunning 6-5 comeback win.

Dodgers manager Grady Little has drawn criticism for bringing Broxton into the game and for leaving him in. One sports bettor even suggested the fix was on. This is silly; you can't intentionally hit a 99 mph fastball into a gap. Besides, as we know, a four-run lead is no lock; two teams have blown five-run cushions in the ninth this year. Broxton is not a bad pitcher; he simply had a very bad and unlucky inning. But did Little do the right thing by going to the big man for the entire bottom of the ninth?

I would argue that he did not, but not for the reason you might think. Using your closer with a four-run lead and the bases empty is completely frivolous, as I've argued before. Little should not have gone to his closer, at least not until a couple of hitters reached base and the Padres were mounting a serious threat. This is especially true for Broxton, who's on pace for over 80 appearances and certainly didn't need the work.

What about the decision to stick with Broxton through his rough inning? I think this was completely correct, assuming Saito was unavailable. After the Padres came charging back, the Dodgers needed to go with a pitcher who could get a couple of big strikeouts, and no one in their bullpen was a better bet to do that than Broxton.

Furthermore, it's not like the 290-pounder couldn't find the plate. Of the first eight batters Broxton faced, he struck out one, intentionally walked one, and allowed six balls in play, including five hits and an error. That's not a Tim Corcoran-style appearance, where the pitcher gave the game away. Broxton wasn't his usual dominant self, but his biggest sin was giving up a string of hits on balls in play, something a pitcher has little control over.

You can criticize Little for not pulling Pedro, but not for this one. Consider it payback for the best game of 2005.

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