In terms of total dollars, 31-year-old relief pitcher Jonathan Broxton, who agreed to terms on a two-year, $7.5 million contract, was the second biggest free agent signing by the St. Louis Cardinals this offseason (behind the $80 million deal for Mike Leake, of course). Sure, with four years remaining on a previously-signed six-year contract, utility infielder Jedd Gyorko is owed more money than Broxton, but Gyorko was acquired via trade with the Padres, so his contract status is a bit more complicated, particularly in 2016.
Regardless, after the team declined Broxton's $9 million mutual option at the start of the offseason, he was brought back (at a more team-friendly price) to play a fairly significant bullpen role in 2016. It must be noted that the uncertainty of the Jordan Walden's shoulder health most definitely factored into Broxton's return. Also, as suggested by managing editor Craig Edwards in the podcast from Sunday, I would not be surprised if part of the reasoning behind bringing Broxton back was his direct involvement in the trade that shipped a low-floor, but at the same time, high-ceiling prospect (Malik Collymore) to the Brewers at last year's non-waiver deadline.
As I try to do with any new pitcher signing (or pitching prospect call-up, for that matter), I will now take a look at what the Cardinals can expect from Broxton in 2016 (and 2017, I guess, considering he signed a two-year deal):
Fastball Velocity (via BrooksBaseball.net)
While the slope of the lines can be deceiving (almost as if to suggest that Broxton is barely touching 90 MPH anymore), he was still consistently throwing 95+ MPH in 2015. That being said, averaging a shade over 95 MPH is considerably slower than his 2007 through 2009 years when he was averaging 97-98 MPH. For perspective, Broxton was worth 6.8 fWAR during this three year span, second highest among MLB relievers behind only the great Mariano Rivera (7.0). With declining velocity, Broxton must continue to fine-tune the other pitches in his repertoire, as detailed below (using 2015 PitchF/x data):
There is nothing too surprising here as Broxton has primarily been a fastball-slider guy over the course of his 11-year career. Of note, though, Broxton seems to have begun throwing a splitter in 2015, as July 12th was the first game on record to include such a pitch. At 4.64%, it may be a pitch he simply experimented with and will ultimately scrap going forward. But if he is able to build on the pitch during spring training, he profiles to have a pretty complex repertoire, particularly for a reliever. Plus, a fastball (95 MPH)-slider (88 MPH)-splitter (88 MPH) combination can be a nightmare for hitters from a pitch tunneling perspective (for those interested, my very rough MS Paint representation of the concept).
Look no further than the ERA column (2.66 versus 5.89) to see that Broxton enjoyed more success with the Cardinals than he did with the Brewers in 2015. And while we see a slight increase in his strikeout rate with St. Louis, his walk rate ballooned (by nearly 86%) while wearing the Birds on the Bat. Predictably, a good portion of the demonstrated difference in his ERAs can be attributed to batted-ball luck, as he was forced to deal with a BABIP of .346 while with Milwaukee as opposed to a more reasonable .295 while with St. Louis (.296 was league average in 2015).
Given what we saw in 2015 and an understanding of the aging process in fastball-dependent pitchers, one can reasonably expect a slight decrease in strikeout rate going forward, but at the same time, a decrease in walk rate, as the 11.9% with the Cardinals appears to be a statistical blip when compared to his career numbers.
Where does this leave Broxton? An average to slightly above-average relief pitcher, which, has value. Now, he won't be threatening Trevor Rosenthal or Kevin Siegrist for the closer or set-up man roles, but he won't be reserved for Carlos Villanueva-type mop-up duty, either.
Over the last three seasons, manager Mike Matheny has relied heavily on Seth Maness in middle-inning, yet still high-leverage situations. With Broxton and Seung-hwan Oh now in the mix, Matheny has more options for these situations, and both project to be more productive than Maness in 2016. It remains to be seen who will be used in the typical "two-men on, one out" scenario, but it doesn't hurt to have more than one pitcher to choose from, a luxury Matheny did not necessarily have last season.
2016 ZiPS Projection for Broxton (via @DSzymborski)
Given his projected role, I have zero complaints here.