Part III of my Player Profile series takes a look at a monster out of the bullpen, Jonathan Broxton.
Broxton went to Burke County High School in Waynesboro, Georgia. During his senior year, he went 9-2 with a 1.21 ERA. He was drafted straight out of high school by the Dodgers in the 2nd round of 2002.
From 2002-2005, he appeared in Rookie League ball to Double A, compiling a 22-11 record. His best year was in 2004 for Single A Vero Beach, which was also his last full year in the minors. There, he was 11-6 in 23 games started with a 3.23 ERA, 1.20 WHIP, and 144 K's in 128 innings.
After going 5-3 to start the 2005 season in Double A Jacksonville, the majors finally came calling. He made a splash in his first game on July 29, 2005 by notching his first MLB strikeout against Albert Pujols. Not a bad way to make a first impression. The good news is that he went on to make 14 appearances, going 1-0 with 22 K's in 13.2 innings. The bad news was his 5.93 ERA and 1.89 WHIP.
The 2006 season is when he really started to make a name for himself. Serving as the setup man to another surprising rookie, Takashi Saito, he would dominate the 8th inning and serve notice to the rest of the league that a Dodgers' lead after 7 innings would mean a W for LA. Appearing in 68 games, he went 4-1 with a 2.59 ERA and 1.23 WHIP. Most impressive is that he had 97 K's in 76.1 innings. Only 4 times during the year was he charged with a blown save. The good season did not exactly carry over into the playoffs against the New York Mets, where he was charged with the loss in the deciding Game 3, giving up 3 runs in the 6th inning, failing to protect a 5-4 lead.
Despite the rocky playoff appearance, it was back to business as usual in 2007. Again serving as the setup man to Saito, he went 4-4 with a 2.85 ERA and 1.15 WHIP, along with 99 K's in 82 innings. He managed to carry an ERA of 0.66 into the month of May, giving up only 1 run the whole month of April.
Because the bullpen became less and less reliable throughout the year, Grady Little was seemingly running him out there nearly everyday towards the end of August and into September. Even for a guy listed at 288 and could play power forward in the NBA, he wore down. He blew 3 saves and took 2 losses, with his ERA jumping from 2.17 to start the month to 2.85 in the end.
Even with the September swoon that practically the entire team went through, he is looked at as one of the more dominant setup men in baseball. The pairing with Saito is one of the best in baseball. His fastball alone is tough for teams to adjust to late in games. If the starters can get deeper into games this year, then games can once again be turned into 7 inning affairs, much like 2006.
The main thing with Broxton, and most any other reliever for that matter, is to not overuse him. I know Little took a lot of heat for this, but it's not like they had many other options. Seriously, think back to last year, and would you rather see Broxton in there late in a close game or Roberto Hernandez? I rest my case. If the Dodgers can get another arm or 2 to pitch in the 5-7 innings, then Broxton can be fresh and effective to bridge the gap to Saito.
Another important piece of business the Dodgers can take care of is to resist trading him. Much like Matt Kemp, teams constantly ask about him, yet have not been able to pry him away. The Dodgers closing situation can be taken care of for years and years as long as they leave him alone.
With a little over 2 years of experience under his belt, 2008 should be another great season for Broxton.