Friday, February 11, 2011

2011 Top Prospect List: #13 Brad Boxberger, rhp

Brad Boxberger
Height 6-2, Weight 200, B/T: R/R, DOB: 5/27/1988
2010 Redlegs Baseball Prospect Ranking: #13

In a system suddenly running a bit thin in the pitching department, Brad Boxberger grades out as one of the best. He is a polished college pitcher out of a legendary college program (USC). He comes from a baseball bloodlines, as his father Rod went 12-1 with a 2.00 ERA and earned College World Series MVP award for the 1978 national championship USC team. Add in an impressive, albeit inconsistent, repertoire of pitches and all the ingredients needed for an impressive career are present.

Boxberger didn't pitch professionally in 2009, so the 2010 season represented his first taste of full season ball. The Reds sent him to high-A Lynchburg to start off the 2010 season.

2010 Season

In 2010, Boxberger broke quickly out of the gates at high-A Lynchburg. Working almost exclusively as a starter, he tossed 62.0 innings in which he posted a 3.19 ERA, 1.24 WHIP, 2.9 BB/9, 10.2 K/9, and a 1.63 GB/FB. Obviously, it was a stellar performance, as he piled up the strikeouts, limited the walks, and induced ground balls at a high rate. Given his impressive strikeout and walk rates, his WHIP looks surprisingly high, so it's not all that surprising that his hit luck was poor, as evidenced by his .346 BABIP.

As a polished college prospect, it wasn't unexpected that Boxberger would thrive in high-A ball, but it was nonetheless reassuring. Even if a prospect is reasonably expected to perform at a certain level, we shouldn't withhold credit from him when he actually does it. Living up to expectations isn't always the easiest thing to do, but Boxberger managed to do just that. Iin the process, he earned a promotion to double-A ball to finish out the year. College pitcher or not, advancing all the way to double-A ball in your first professional season is an accomplishment.

Unfortunately, the wheels completely came off the wagon at double-A. For Carolina, Boxberger switched into a relief role and worked 29.2 innings, posting an alarming 8.49 ERA, 1.92 WHIP, 6.7 BB/9, 12.2 K/9, and 1.05 GB/FB ratio. Even though the sample size is small, the loss of control is somewhat troubling. His walk rate jumped by roughly 4 batters per nine innings. Obviously, double-A hitters are much more advanced, which when coupled with a heavier workload may explain the decline in command. If so, then more experience should largely resolve the problem. On the plus side, his strikeout rate remained gaudy even against more experienced hitters.

Repertoire and Mechanics

Boxberger works with four solid pitches. He throws a 91-93 mph four seam fastball with good movement that touches 94 on occasion, a 78-80 mph curveball, an 82-84 mph slider, and a circle changeup with good late sink. His fastball velocity goes up a tick when he works out of the bullpen, which makes him an intriguing possibility in high leverage innings.

Here is a great look at Boxberger in action during the AFL courtesy of David Pratt on Vimeo:

Bradley Boxberger - Arizona Fall League - 2009 from David Pratt on Vimeo.

As you can see, Boxberger grades out pretty well in pitching mechanics. He is fundamentally sound and fairly conventional, which is never a bad thing in a pitching prospect. To start his delivery, he moves his left foot forward and somewhat towards first base, which operates to unweight his right leg allowing him to rotate his right foot down on the rubber. I'm not entirely sure when pitchers started to forgo an actual step back towards second base with their glove side foot to begin the motion, but I don't see the new trend as being an improvement. I suppose it was done with an eye towards reducing extraneous movement to conserve a pitcher's stamina, but I think the step back makes the motion more fluid and may possibly generate more momentum for the pitch. But, I suppose pitching coaches these days prefer an economy of movement, as the fewer moving parts the fewer chances for the motion to get out of sync.

The defining characteristic of Boxberger's delivery remains his leg kick. He brings his knee up well passed parallel, essentially all the way up to his chest, which helps creates substantial potential energy to impart on the baseball. Additionally, he incorporates significant coil by utilizing a sizable hip rotation. At the apex of his leg kick, the line of his hips almost runs on a line from 3rd to 1st. This high leg kick and significant coil are usually pure positives, as they generate, respectively, potential energy and tension at apex of the delivery. The energy that they generate can then be transferred to the baseball. However, in Boxberger's case, their severity might actually be creating a problem.

The severity of his coil and the height of his leg kick may ultimately help explain his inconsistent command. Due to the height of his leg kick and the severity of his coil, Boxberger is unable to unpack his leg kick quick enough to get into proper throwing position. Simply put, at the apex of his motion, Boxberger has his knee near his chest and such a significant coil that he shows his back to the hitter, which means that he has farther to go to get back into proper throwing position. Since his coil is more significant than typically seen, he has much farther to go to get back in position. Unfortunately, he doesn't quite make it all the way back into good throwing position.

Boxberger's stride foot lands too far to the third base side of the mound, which results in a closed-off throwing position. As a result, Boxberger is forced to throw across his body. This type of issue can frequently cause inconsistency in command. In addition, the closed off throwing position leads to inefficiency in transferring the stored up potential energy to the baseball. His momentum is somewhat checked by the need to throw around his body. Instead of his momentum going straight back and straight through, it instead has to somewhat work around his body. This inefficiency not only leads to inconsistent command, but also less than peak velocity and requires more work to generate the velocity that is created.

Another potential reason for the inconsistent command is his arm slot. Boxberger throws from a high three-quarter arm slot, which when coupled with the need to throw across his body gives him something of a cross-fire delivery. It's difficult to maintain a consistent arm slot and work effectively to both sides of the plate with a cross-fire delivery. Boxberger also has an overall looseness to his arm action, which, at times, can make his cross-fire delivery look like he is slinging the ball.

Odd as it sounds, I wouldn't mind seeing Boxberger reduce his coil. Everything a pitcher does before the apex of his delivery is done with an eye towards building up energy, while everything done after apex is done with an eye towards imparting that stored energy to the baseball. I don't usually advocate that a player reduce the energy he creates before the apex, but Boxberger currently cannot get around fast enough from his coiled position to get back into proper throwing position. If he lessens his coil, then he will have more time for his body to come around and his plant foot to land in proper position. And, if he eliminated his closed off throwing position, then he might see an improvement in control. Additionally, he might also be able to maintain his current velocity, as whatever the new motion would lose in potential energy might be offset by a more efficient transfer of that energy to the baseball. Less energy created, but more efficiently imparted.

One other issue that I see in Boxberger's delivery is the length of his stride. It just seems too short for a pitcher of his stature and stuff. The length of the stride is directly related to the pitcher's ability to accelerate towards homeplate. The forward acceleration of the lower half is transferred to the ball by the pitching arm. Given Boxberger's height and repertoire, he should be more of a power pitcher than he seems to be. Part of that stems from his less than ideal acceleration to the plate. If he lengthened his stride, then he would get a stronger, more aggressive push off the rubber and generate better velocity. Pitchers who fit the "power pitcher" profile traditionally have longer strides. They typically generate velocity with strong lower-half drive. Here is a look at two players who generate very good velocity with strong, aggressive strides:

When you compare the stride angles of Aroldis Chapman and Tim Lincecum with that of Brad Boxberger, you can see how much longer and more aggressive they are with their strides. In fact, they seem to almost jump off the rubber towards the plate, which is part of how they are able to generate upper 90s (or, in Chapman's case, 100s) velocity.

While Boxberger might benefit from a longer stride, he likely wouldn't be able to simply lengthen his stride, as the closed off throwing position prohibits it. As a result, he'd have to open up his throwing position before he could appreciably lengthen his stride. It is much more difficult to throw across/around your body if you are fully extended, so many pitchers who work from a closed off position utilize shorter strides. Boxberger fits the bill. He uses a shorter stride in response to his closed off throwing position, which ultimately gives his delivery a more upright look.

Here is another look at Boxberger, courtesy of RedsMinorLeagues on youtube:

Random Thoughts and Additional Considerations

I'll admit that I don't quite know what to make of Boxberger yet. Is he a starter or a reliever? Does he fit the "power pitcher" profile? Can he be a power pitcher with those mechanics? If not, does his command preclude him from being more of a finesse pitcher? Or, will he be best utilized in short bursts in high leverage innings?

Overall, Boxberger has a lot of what you look for in a pitching prospect. In fact, going down the list, you can tick off the majority of the boxes. So, a lot of the individual pieces are there, he just needs to pull them together and refine them. It'll be interesting to follow his development and see how the Reds minor league staff handle him. In the end, I suspect he has #3 starter ceiling in the rotation or high-leverage inning potential out of the pen.

Final Thoughts

Ultimately, the 2010 season provided more questions than answers on Brad Boxberger. I knew heading into the season that he was a solid pitching prospect, but the circumstances surrounding his season foreclosed the possibility that it would serve as a meaningful data point. He thrived at a lower level and struggled at a higher one, but he also changed roles in the jump from one level to the next. So, were the struggles the result of the advanced competition, the change in roles, the heavier workload resulting from his first full season in professional ball, or some combination thereof? Unfortunately, the sample size is simply too small for us to draw any definitive conclusions. As a result, the 2011 season will be a return engagement for us to figure out exactly what we have in Brad Boxberger and how he should be properly used.

For now, Boxberger has done enough to warrant his return to the 13th spot on the list. If, in the 2011 season, he performs like he did in the first part of 2010, then he'll likely move up the list. On the other hand, he could easily slid well down the list if he once again pitches like he did in the latter portion of 2010.


  1. Boxberger does just doesnt appeal to me. His arm motion is kinda loopy and he seems to slow his body down to allow his arm to catch up. hopefully he corrects some of his pitching mechanics and proves me wrong!

  2. Smitty,

    I remember last year you mentioned having reservations about Boxberger. I have mine as well.

    I agree about the arm action. It does have some whip/sling action to it at times. Even so, Boxberger has quite a few "pretty goods" in his game: pretty good control, pretty good stuff, pretty good mechanics, etc.

    If he can take one of the "pretty goods" to a "really good", then we might have something. There are things to like about Boxberger, but he does need to refine his game a bit. Fortunately, that's why we have the minor league system.

    If he can develop into a legitimate back of the rotation starter (a slight tick above the LeCures and Maloneys of the world) or an 8th inning setup man, then I'll be happy.

    As always, thanks for the thoughts and comment!