I think it’s fair to say that much like my diet, Keon Broxton’s second-act breakout depends a lot on plate discipline. Fair, if not particularly funny.
His swing-and-miss has always been the concern with scouts. The Baseball Prospectus Annuals dating back to 2011 all reference the strikeouts in, uh, colorful ways. A sampling:
2011: “If Bud Selig were to implement a rule that pitchers could only throw fastballs, Keon Broxton would instantly become one of the most valuable prospects in baseball.”
2013: “Toolsy third-rounder Keon Broxton lost his power stroke, quit stealing bases, moved from center field to the corners and was kicked off the 40-man roster. ‘Just wait ’til next year!’ he tells people, when they ask him when X-Men: Days Of Future Past is coming out.”
2015: “The contact concerns remain valid, particularly on breaking balls, and will limit his ceiling, but he should have a big-league future as an extra outfielder.”
2016: “He’s also helpless against any pitch with movement; during his cold streaks, that includes the movement forward toward the plate. “
After a season in which Broxton posted a .354 OBP and .278 TAv to go along with 9 homers and 23 steals in just 75 games while playing an above-average center field (0.5 FRAA), Brewers fans had reason to be optimistic that maybe he had turned a corner, and 2-3 WARP seasons were ahead.
It’s early to be looking at “Neon Keon’s” on-base percentage or TAv at this point and to draw any rest-of-season, much less rest-of-career conclusions. But his plate discipline numbers may reveal more about the struggles that Broxton has had so far in the season. Entering play on Wednesday:
|Swing %||Contact %||Z-Swing %||O-Swing %|
Broxton is swinging more overall, but all those extra swings can be attributed to a huge increase of swings on pitches outside the zone so far this year. He’s chasing pitches outside the zone at a rate 40.5 percent higher than even his career average. In fairness, Broxton is making more contact on those pitches outside the zone, but on those pitches it seems unlikely that he’d be able to place fourth in average exit velocity in the majors as he did last season. The outcomes so far seem to echo that thought as well, with Keon posting a 12.5 percent infield fly ball rate in 2017 over his first 42 plate appearances.
Based on his swings so far, Broxton has been most susceptible to pitches high and inside in the zone:
Heatmap from Fangraphs
Although it has been the high and inside pitches that have really increased his swings, the slider has given Broxton the most trouble this year. It’s the pitch type he has seen the third-most (behind four-seamers and sinkers) and he is whiffing on a whopping 73.33 percent of sliders that he swings at. Last year, he missed only 46.5 percent of the sliders he offered at and posted a .270 ISO against that pitch.
Last year, the curve was the most difficult pitch for Broxton to handle, as he whiffed at 63.41 percent of those that he offered at, and posted the lowest ISO against that pitch. Pitchers have adjusted, and are throwing slightly more breaking stuff to Broxton this season.
Again, it’s early and we’re talking about 37 sliders that Broxton has seen so far, but the ability to handle breaking stuff that scouts have shown concern about is rearing its ugly head. For their part, the Brewers want Broxton to play his way through it according to Adam McCalvy. That probably makes sense, given that all indications appear to be it’s a pitch-recognition issue rather than a mechanical one. Giving Broxton more repetitions to see pitches might get him back to the lower chase rate that we saw during his breakout year and allow him to start driving the ball again.
Ultimately, like so much else in the game, it’ll come down to Broxton’s ability to adjust his approach and pitch recognition. His ability to hit (or lay off) breaking stuff may make him susceptible to those high and tight pitches, and his adjustments will be fascinating to watch as Brewer fans root for a sustainable encore breakout performance.
Statistics compiled prior to play on Wednesday, April 19.