Yesterday’s 7-6 victory over the Seattle Mariners may have been the Milwaukee Brewers’ most exciting win of the season. Trailing 6-3 entering the top of the ninth, our local nine rallied for four runs to take a one run lead before Tyler Thornburg closed the game out in the bottom half of the inning to seal the victory. Keon Broxton played no small role in the win yesterday hitting two solo home runs, including one in that ninth inning to pull the Brewers to within 6-4.
Since being recalled on July 26th for his fourth stint with the big league club this year, Broxton has been a revelation for Milwaukee. In 87 plate appearances since coming back up, Keon is hitting a video-game like .361/.465/.667 with five of his six home runs on the year, good for a 196 wRC+. That ranks as Keon as the fifth-most productive hitter in baseball over the last 30 days (minimum 80 PA). After getting off to a brutal start this season, Broxton has now raised his season-long stat line to .250/.366/.441 with six home runs and 17 steals across 162 plate appearances.
The most obvious difference has been a mechanical change in Broxton’s swing, drastically dropping his hands at setup from up near his head to down near his waist. Here’s a video of his first career home run from back in June:
And now from a couple days ago, a solo home run off Wade LeBlanc. The difference in his hand positioning is palpable.
Broxton told Todd Rosiak of the Journal Sentinel that he came up with the mechanical change while laying in bed watching video. “I was wondering how I could get my hitch out of my swing, because it was making me late and I wasn’t really recognizing pitches very well. I was just thinking to myself, ‘Well, since I like my hands to go down and then I bring them back up again, why not just start them low and just bring them up?”
Broxton hasn’t been a great four-seam fastball hitter this season as evidenced by his .158 batting average against according to Brooks Baseball, but since his swing changes and latest recall he’s seen a significant uptick in his productivity against off-speed and breaking pitches.
Keon’s swing rate has stayed about the same during the first half of the season (41.2%) and the second half (41.5%), though he has cut his swinging strike rate by a touch (14.0% vs. 13.4%). He’s seen a huge increase in his contact on pitches outside the zone (26.5% vs. 46.8%) which has helped fuel a significant decrease in strikeouts (44% vs 29.9%). A strikeout rate near 30% is obviously still concerning, but that’s partially mitigated by a walk rate that’s been strong all season and is currently sitting 15.4%. Whether he’s making a ton of contact or not, Keon has been finding his way on base all year.
Broxton’s got some outrageous batted ball numbers going on of late, making hard contact an incredible 57.5% of the time since July 26th. He’s carrying a 33.3% line drive ratio and 29.4% HR/FB ratio during that time, helping to drive a ridiculous .512 BABIP over his last 24 contests in the big leagues. He’s hitting everything on the screws, as evidenced by his average exit velocities of 100.44 MPH against hard pitches, 96.0 MPH against breaking pitches, and 100.50 MPH against offspeed pitches in the month of August (per Brooks Baseball).
Thanks to his hot streak Broxton has been playing in centerfield just about everyday and he’s seemingly earned that role for the remaining six weeks of the season. The 26 year old has long had a reputation as a strong defender (2 Defensive Runs Saved in 344.2 innings in CF in 2016) and a threat on the bases (2.6 baserunning runs in 2016) and now it appears as though the bat is coming around, as well. Broxton certainly won’t be able to keep up his current otherworldly BABIP meaning there’s probably some regression in order, but he profiles as a player who has the skill-set to post at least above-average batting averages on balls in play going forward.
While the early-season version of Keon Broxton looked like someone who had no business being in the big leagues, with some adjustments the current version looks like a superstar. The answer is obviously somewhere in between, but if Broxton’s bat can settle in somewhere around a .740-.750 OPS with his power, speed, and defensive potential, that’s an everyday-caliber player in centerfield.
Where he fits into the future for a ball club with centerfielders Lewis Brinson, Brett Phillips, Corey Ray, Trent Clark, and Monte Harrison coming up through the minor league pipeline remains to be seen, but Keon Broxton is certainly doing his best to make a strong impression during his rookie season in Milwaukee.
Statistics courtesy of Fangraphs