This season, no player’s performance has been quite like that of Brewers’ centerfielder Keon Broxton. One day he’s going 0-4 with three strikeouts. The next he’s leading the offense with extra base hits and stolen bases. One day he’s a glaring hole in the lineup. The next? He’s an offensive juggernaut. Keon Broxton truly is the most interesting baseball player in the world, in this regard.
Coming off a breakout 2016 season, many expected big things out of Broxton. He had just hit .242/.354/.430 in 73 games, while ending the year on a high note by hitting .294/.399/.538 in the second half (45 games). Despite playing in only 75 games and having a miserable first half (.125/.253/.188), he recorded 2.1 wins above replacement (WAR) according to FanGraphs, an outstanding accomplishment given that over a full season, 2.0 WAR is considered to be a solid “starter” level of output. He did that in under half a season.
That first half of 2016 was a warning sign, though, hinting at Broxton’s inconsistent tendencies – and his 2017 performance has become the Merriam-Webster definition of “streaky”. This April, Broxton hit .191/.276/.324, followed by a line of .289/.349/.536 in May. Then, he hit a solid .241/.312/.554 in June followed by an abysmal .067/.176/.133 in July, prompting a demotion to Triple-A.
Since returning to the Brewers’ lineup on August 1st, we have seen the potent Keon once again. He is hitting .296/.387/.667 for the month, and has single handedly carried the Brewers’ offense at times, highlighted by his two-home run game this past Wednesday to capture a crucial win against the Pittsburgh Pirates. That formed the crux of a three-game stretch in which Broxton hit four home runs. This is the player the Brewers need – a power-speed threat that can provide instant offense at any moment.
So, why does Broxton’s output vary so drastically? One key reason is that Broxton fits the profile of what many call a “Three True Outcomes” player. This means that a large portion of his plate appearances end in either a strikeout, walk, or home run. Accordingly, his “TTO” percentage for this season is 57.4%. Given that such a large percentage of his output is confined to these three results, there will be times when certain outcomes exceed others, and this is especially true given his high strikeout rate (37.5%).
To check the validity of this claim, let’s compare Broxton’s season “TTO” percentage (57.4%) against his “TTO” percentage in August. In August, Broxton’s plate appearances have culminated in one of the three true outcomes 55.2% of the time, which is right on track with his season long percentage. If we added just one more of any of the three true outcomes to his existing stat line for the month, the percentage would be at 57%, or on par with his percentage for the season. Based on this information, the difference between “normal-Broxton” and “super-human-Broxton” seems to lie in the outcomes alternative to the three true ones, meaning batted balls that are not home runs.
To look at that, we can analyze Broxton’s batting average on balls in play (BABIP). This will tell us something about both the quality of his batted balls and whether or not some luck is partially responsible for his performance (or lack thereof). Additionally, we can discern whether or not batted ball data such as quality of contact (e.g. hard or soft) support his BABIP.
For the 2017 season, Broxton has a BABIP of .330. The league average tends to be around .300, but it is normal for a hitter with a strikeout/power profile to have a slightly elevated number. For August, Broxton’s BABIP is higher than his season mark, resting at .385. Is this increase due to luck? Or higher performance? Based on his batted ball data, it looks to be fair to attribute it to performance. On the season, Broxton has hit 36.5% of balls “hard”, compared to 56.7% in August. The quality of his contact is off the charts, with his hard contact percentage placing 2nd in the league in the month of August. That proves this stretch is no fluke, as he is performing at an extremely high level.
How can Broxton take the leap to become a high-level hitter consistently? There is one answer, and that is to cut his strikeout rate. When you strikeout at a clip as high as Broxton, it puts an increasing amount of weight on having good contact. Striking out over 37% of the time necessitates a really good contact profile in order to be even league average at the plate. If Broxton did not have a good contact profile, he would have no chance to be a contributor on an MLB team, as he simply would not put enough balls in play to make an impact.
If Broxton can slash his strikeout rate and maintain his contact profile, he could evolve into a consistent offensive force. Until that happens, though, we will continue to see shades of Broxton’s best and worst. His increased performance at the moment comes with a high strikeout percentage of 36.2% for the month, leaving him increasingly susceptible to another slump. Broxton’s increase in quality contact shows that he can be a solid contributor even with a strikeout rate that high – it’s just the difference between Broxton taking that leap from “offensive contributor” to “offensive force”.