The Milwaukee Brewers are 8-4 so far in the month of May, and winners of 6 of their last 7 games. The offense is clicking, scoring 29 runs in their three-game series against the New York Mets and cracking 10 or more hits in 5 of their last 6 games.
They've done all of this without Ryan Braun, who's currently on the 10-day disabled list and has made all of 7 at-bats this month.
Some of it might be luck. Some of it is young players like Orlando Arcia starting to develop a little more with the bat. And some of it is a return to normalcy for guys who got off to slow starts.
One of those guys? Pre-season darling Keon Broxton.
Keon caught the eye of a number of stat-minded writers in the offseason due to last season's second-half surge and hard-hit ball percentages. Unfortunately, after a hot spring, he cooled off during the first month of the regular season, hitting just .191/.276/.324 and getting plenty of people wondering when Lewis Brinson would be promoted.
After carrying a 43.3% hard-hit rate last season, that number was just 27% during April. In fact, he was barely making contact at all, striking out in 40.8% of his plate appearances. When he did put the bat on the ball, it was hit on the ground most of the time (51.4% GB%).
The switch flipped when the calendar turned, though. In the past two weeks, he's hitting .410/.452/.718, belting 3 of his 4 home runs for the year, including the two-run shot that got the Brewers' incredible Mother's Day comeback started. He's cut down the groundballs (33.3% this month) and the strikeouts (28.6% K% in May) and he's tattooing the ball at the same rate he was last season (44.4% hard-hit%).
Hernan Perez has also been on a tear over the past few weeks, although if we're playing the selective endpoint game, his isn't as neat and tidy as Broxton's. There has, however, been a noticeable difference in the results over the past 16 games he's played. Heading into the Brewers' previous homestand on April 24, Perez was hitting just .179/.273/.308 with only 1 home run and 3 total extra-base hits.
It's worth noting that Perez missed a significant part of Spring Training while serving as a reserve in the World Baseball Classic, rarely getting an at-bat in game action and mostly serving as a defensive replacement. Maybe it isn't coincidental that it took about 40 at-bats for Perez to get going, considering that's roughly how many at-bats he would've taken had he been with the Brewers the entire spring.
Since that point, though, Perez has hit .339/.364/.677 with 4 home runs, 5 doubles and 2 triples while serving as Braun's primary replacement in left field. The hot stretch has pushed improved his overall season line to .277/.327/.535 -- a slight improvement over the full-season line he put up last year. He's also improved his BB% from 4.2% last year to 7.3% so far in 2017 while also cutting down his K% to 15.5%.
That’s not all — his wOBA is currently 50 points higher than last year's, and he's already generated nearly as much WAR in 31 games (0.7 fWAR/1.3 bWAR/1.0 WARP) as he did in 123 games (1.2 fWAR/2.1 bWAR/2.4 WARP) last year. If this holds up over the course of a full season -- and it may be hard if he goes back to being a part-time starter upon Braun's return -- it appears he could be making the progression from "good reserve" to "good player."
Both Broxton and Perez are noticeable examples of guys who have stepped up at the same time while Braun has been on the shelf, but as the TV broadcast noted on Sunday afternoon, it certainly feels like everyone has stepped up to produce when they've needed to answer the call. Jesus Aguilar snapped a weeks-long 0-fer with a pair of home runs and has pushed his season OPS above .800. Jett Bandy and Manny Pina are combining for some elite offensive numbers from behind the plate. Domingo Santana went 10-for-23 during the most recent homestand and is now hitting .265/.364/.451 after ending April at .197/.310/.465. Even Jonathan Villar has gotten into the action lately, starting to turn his fortunes around with an 8-for-21 in the last six games.
Braun is eligible to come off of the disabled list in less than a week on May 21st, since his stint was made retroactive to May 11th. If the Brewers are capable of scoring 10 runs in the final three innings of a game like they did yesterday, it's fun to think about what the lineup could accomplish if everyone is still hitting this well once Braun returns.
Statistics courtesy of Baseball-Reference and Fangraphs