Jonathan Broxton Still Has Manager's Confidence

LOS ANGELES, CA - APRIL 18: Pitcher Jonathan Broxton #51 of the Los Angeles Dodgers reacts during a ninth inning rally by the Atlanta Braves on April 18, 2011 at Dodger Stadium in Los Angeles, California. The Dodgers won 4-2. (Photo by Stephen Dunn/Getty Images)

I don't suppose I should have been surprised by this headline ...

Mattingly maintains confidence in Broxton

Still, these quotes do give me pause:

"To me, he's getting better," Don Mattingly said of Broxton, who entered Monday night's game with a four-run lead and let the Braves cut it in half before finishing out the Dodgers' 4-2 win.

"I want him to be finishing games. I like to see more of a 'hit-this' type attitude. His velocity is better and he seems more confident in himself. I know he's giving up runs, but I like the way he's throwing. I like him. It looks to me like he's gaining confidence."

Well, among a manager's key roles is team psychologist, so maybe we should just assume that whatever Don Mattingly thinks he sees is really there. Performance-wise, though?

As MLB.com's Ken Gurnick notes, Broxton has already given up two home runs this season, matching his total in 2008; he gave up four homers in both 2009 and '10. And it probably doesn't have anything to do with his confidence. Everybody thinks Broxton's some sort of head case because he gave up some big hits in big games.

Jon Weisman isn't having any of it (and neither am I):

The problems of Jonathan Broxton today are different problems entirely.

Broxton is having trouble getting people out, period. He has retired the side in order once in eight outings. He has allowed 13 base runners in 7 1/3 innings while striking out five. He's being touched not just in save situations but in non-save situations. He's allowing runs not in playoff games in October, but mid-week games in April.

It's a continuation of the way he has pitched since late-June, after the 48-pitch nightmare against the Yankees at the end of a week of heavy use, when his touch abandoned him.

I know I've written about this before, but it bears repeating ...

Since that 48-pitch outing last June 27 -- and yes, thank you very much, Joe Torre -- Broxton has pitched 36 innings and given up 27 runs, while walking 24 batters and striking out 29.

The only number there that's even remotely encouraging is the strikeouts, but he's clearly had to work harder to get those strikeouts, and anyway the strikeout rate, while high, pales compared to what Broxton did earlier in his career. Statistically, he simply has become a completely different pitcher.

Last month, I wrote this:

In 2009, the Dodgers' 3.14 relief ERA was easily the best in the National League. In 2010, the bullpen dropped to 4.07, 11th in the league.

Don Mattingly has never managed a real professional baseball team before. One of a professional baseball team manager's more difficult chores is running the bullpen, figuring out day after day which of his seven relievers is the right reliever for this particular enemy hitter at this particular moment.

Granted, usually it comes down to the talent of the pitchers rather than when and how they are used.

Here's today's Question, though ... Has Don Mattingly learned enough over the years, sitting next to Joe Torre, to run a championship-caliber bullpen? The answer might determine whether the Dodgers win the National League West by a game or three, or lose it.

Obviously, it's still far too early to pass judgment on Mattingly's bullpen-management skills. But entering last night's game in Los Angeles, Mattingly's relievers sported a 5.08 ERA, worst in the National League. It got a lot worse in the ninth inning last night. At the moment, he's got one reliever (Broxton) with a 6.14 ERA, another (Kenley Jansen) with an 11.42 ERA, and another (Lance Cormier) with an 11.57 ERA.

As I said, it's early. But the early returns are not good.

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