How Keon Broxton Looks Like the Brewers’ Best Player

I’ve encouraged you to believe in Keon Broxton before. In baseball-game terms, that wasn’t even very long ago. So you could accuse me here of being unoriginal, but I’ve prepared a counterargument. For one thing, it’s January, shut up. For a second thing, I bet a lot of you missed my previous summary. And for a third thing, now there’s some new information. This is a Keon Broxton article, and I’ll tell you why I think he’s already the best player on the Brewers, headed into 2017.

A couple factors work against Broxton. He was never that highly-regarded a prospect, topping out as the Baseball America No. 10 prospect on the Diamondbacks’ org list going into 2011. He didn’t draw much praise with Arizona, nor did he subsequently draw much with Pittsburgh. And then, there are the strikeouts. Broxton’s game includes strikeouts. He just batted in the majors 244 times. In 88 of those times, he returned to the dugout after some form of third strike. Broxton will never be a contact hitter, and that’s a challenging trait for many to see beyond.

Despite the strikeouts, Broxton managed an overall 109 wRC+. He walked plenty — he made a habit of engaging with deep counts — and he performed an awful lot better following a midseason adjustment to his hands. Broxton gets most exciting, however, when you turn your attention to Statcast. Last month, I highlighted how good Domingo Santana looks by exit velocity. Broxton is just the same. His name even showed up in that other post. I used Jeff Zimmerman’s corrected average exit velocities, and I looked at the 389 different hitters with at least 100 batted balls from last season. Here’s the EV top 10:

Top Exit Velocities
Hitter 2016 EV
Miguel Cabrera 91.3
Nelson Cruz 91.3
Domingo Santana 91.0
Tyler Flowers 90.9
Giancarlo Stanton 90.8
Ryan Howard 90.5
Keon Broxton 90.2
Christian Yelich 90.1
Miguel Sano 90.0
Shin-Soo Choo 90.0
Minimum 100 balls in play. These are Jeff Zimmerman’s corrected values, using original Statcast information.

Ranking seventh out of 389 puts Broxton in the 98th percentile. He’s a little shy of Santana, but Santana is in third freaking place out of everybody, so there’s no need to quibble here. In terms of swing speed and contact quality, Broxton shows up among the elite. That seems to reflect a real skill of his, and it raises his perceived offensive ceiling.

Broxton doesn’t hit too many balls on the ground. He finished last year with one single infield fly. Though he did struggle with contact, he wasn’t hacking; his out-of-zone swing rate compared well to Mike Trout, Paul Goldschmidt, and Matt Carpenter. Much like Santana, Broxton seems to understand the zone. He’ll miss baseballs thrown outside of it, and sometimes even within it, but Broxton doesn’t get himself out so much. If anything, he’s a little too passive. Players tend to grow into better zones.

Discipline, power, and low contact. This is Broxton’s offensive foundation. Now it’s time to play with something. I mentioned Broxton had a 109 wRC+. What if he were more or less the offensive equivalent of Chris Carter? Carter walks, hits for power, and strikes out a third of the time. Broxton might not hit that many homers, but he also runs a lot better. Carter has a career 112 wRC+. He’s struggling to find a job, because his career WAR per 600 plate appearances is about 0.8. He’s a marginal defender at a non-premium position. You know what Chris Carter is all about.

Let’s start from those numbers to build out a kind of hypothetical Broxton. A 112 wRC+, and a 0.8 WAR/600. Unlike Carter, Broxton isn’t a 1B/DH — he’s a legitimate center fielder. Making that swap just by itself turns that 0.8 into a 3.2. Let me re-phrase: that’s as an average defender and baserunner. That quickly, Broxton looks like a borderline star.

Broxton was just worth +3.5 baserunning runs in a half a season. He stole 23 bases, plus another 18 in the minors. It’s obvious that he runs well, and that skill presumably won’t abandon him. What if we were conservative and figured that Broxton’s running would be worth 2.5 runs or so? Now that 3.2 is a 3.5.

And what if we also gave Broxton equivalent credit for being a little better than average in the field in center? That 3.5 becomes a 3.7. Both DRS and UZR just loved Broxton’s limited work, incidentally. It’s possible I’m being even too conservative, but now we have a version of Keon Broxton who’d be worth around 3.7 WAR per 600 plate appearances. That would put Broxton on the first page of position-player Steamer projections, with names like Christian Yelich, Xander Bogaerts, and George Springer. Steamer itself doesn’t believe in Broxton nearly so much, but I don’t share that relative skepticism.

Let’s talk about the defense real fast, using some new information from Baseball Savant. Keon Broxton is a center fielder who played a partial season. Lorenzo Cain is a known good defensive center fielder who played a partial season. So here are two comparison GIFs, with plots of hang time and distance covered. If you haven’t looked at these plots before, there are base hits allowed, and also batted balls caught. First, hits:

Now, catches:

They’re not so easy to visually compare, but there’s real insight included. For example, Cain allowed two hits on “Easy” plays, while Broxton didn’t allow any. Cain’s conversion rates on so-called Routine, Tough, and Highlight plays: 89%, 66%, and 27%. Broxton’s conversion rates within the same categories: 95%, 81%, and 45%. All of the samples, of course, are somewhat limited, but Broxton did better than Cain across the board, and Cain is regarded as one of the top defensive outfielders on the planet. Perhaps Cain wasn’t entirely himself, but UZR and DRS still liked him. Broxton was at least as good, and probably better. The range seems very much legitimate.

The biggest drawback with Broxton is that he swings and misses. To compensate for that, he hits the heck out of the ball, and he mostly just swings at strikes. He runs well enough to beat out some grounders, he runs well enough to stretch some singles, he runs well enough to take extra bases as a runner, and he runs well enough to man the middle of the outfield. Maybe he won’t quite be Carter’s equivalent at the dish, but that’s hardly out of the question, especially given the rookie campaign Broxton just had. Statcast is all over him. And if Broxton can hit even just like Chris Carter, he could be something in the neighborhood of a four-win center fielder. A four-win center fielder the Brewers acquired for a song.

Nothing, yet, is settled. But as the Brewers look to move forward as a competitive organization, they’re going to need for a few stars to emerge, out of their crop of capable regulars. Certain players have been known as potential stars for a while. Broxton could have the best chance of the lot.

Jeff made Lookout Landing a thing, but he does not still write there about the Mariners. He does write here, sometimes about the Mariners, but usually not.

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7 years ago

Different path taken but reminiscent of the player younger BJ Upton became as a CF no?