I must admit I was a bit skeptical of the Jonathan Broxton signing last November, as I'm often perplexed by most of the Royals' offseason signings over the years. They already had a closer in place in Joakim Soria and a stable of young arms that are capable of getting outs in the seventhth and eighth innings.
The club's Achilles heel is no secret. The money spent on Broxton and Yuniesky Betancourt ($6 million not including incentives) could have been spent on bolstering a poor rotation. In Dayton Moore's defense, no one could have anticipated losing two prominent pieces in the rotation to Tommy John surgery in Danny Duffy and Felipe Paulino -- unless you're someone that truly believes in the organization having bad karma. However, it's clear the need was there.
The lack of innings by the starting staff the last couple of seasons has led to the bullpen being over worked, dampening what would potentially be a strength to the club. The only starting staffs in the American League to log less innings than Kansas City last season were the Boston Red Sox and Baltimore Orioles. So far in 2012 they're sitting dead last in the AL.
Thus, it was difficult to be thrilled with the Broxton signing in November, with more obvious pressing needs for the club. Only after Joakim Soria going under the knife during spring training did I embrace the acquisition,.
I still figured it was Greg Holland's job to lose with after a dominant 2011 campaign . Broxton's experience as a closer gave him the nod and Ned Yost has stood by him through the thick and thin. I criticized Ned Yost initially in committing to Broxton as the closer.
After a disastrous blown save in early April against Oakland, he could have quickly questioned his decision. Yet he remained confident in his abilities.
"He just lost command of his fastball," Yost said. "But he's a two-time All-Star and he has really rebounded nicely from this arm surgery. He's got his velocity back up to 97, 98, with an 86-, 87-mph slider, which is a killer, hard slider."
He's rarely locked down a save with a clean inning, but he's gotten the job done. Accumulating 23 saves in 27 chances while posting an impressive 2.27 ERA. I credit Yost for standing by his decision, avoiding a chaotic closer by committee situation.
Broxton isn't the dominant closer he once was, but has provided stability to a young bullpen. He's averaging just 6.3 K's per 9 innings. He's benefited from avoiding the long ball this season. His fly ball percentage sits at a career low 22% thus far, giving up only one big fly. (Wilson Betemit on May 16th).So who is next in line for closer duties? Holland has the stuff and the metrics back it up. He's especially tough when facing off against right handers, where his wipeout slider is the most effective. His walk rate is worrisome (5.26 BB/9) but a 12.9 K/9 rate would rank him second among current AL closers. His FIP (2.29) and XFIP (2.88) according to fangraphs are reasons for optimism to believe he's performing at a higher level than his current 3.82 ERA dictates. If he can demonstrate consistent command, he has the punch out stuff that could make him a formidable shut down closer for years to come.
I proclaimed Kelvin Herrera as a dark horse to collect some saves once Soria hit the shelf in March. I'd prefer him to eventually be groomed into a starter, but he could become a viable option as a closer if they decide against that experiment. Aaron Crow and Tim Collins could be considered options, but fit better in other roles.
Crow is capable of providing 2-3 inning outings, which in return could give the club 100 + innings every year if they decide to utilize him that way. Collins tends to wear down when he's given a heavy work load. His 12.1 K/9 is stellar, but I can't imagine him being a candidate to close due to his regression as of late. He's still a valuable piece to the bullpen that can pitch in middle relief or in a set up role.
Who will be the full-time successor to Broxton? Holland is the most likely candidate. His 3.18 BB/9 in July is encouraging. Royals fans grew accustomed to Soria closing out games in seemingly effortless fashion over the years. Maybe Holland can spare the fans some stress with an occasional 1-2-3 save. We'll soon find out who they thrust into the role, as Broxton being dealt is merely a formality.
For more on the Kansas City Royals, check out Royals Review for some great discussion and analysis.