Last year, Keon Broxton’s average exit velocity was 91.7 mph, which was a top-20 mark in all of baseball. By this measure, he was comparable to such luminaries as Yoenis Cespedes, Jose Bautista, and Khris Davis, and his breakout potential was well-covered in certain corners of the online baseball community. The idea that he was a breakout candidate was appropriate because for as hard as he hit the ball, he was a good but not great offensive player. He needed to be able to make more contact, but if he did so, he would be a prime candidate for improvement.
In 2016, Broxton put up a .278 TAv. Entering Tuesday, in 2017 his TAv is .243. His contact rate has dropped from 62.4 percent to 59.6 percent, and his swing rate has jumped from 42 percent to 45.2 percent. Essentially, he is swinging more and making less contact. This, however, does not end the inquiry.
Broxton is seeing more pitches in the strike zone (47.8 percent last year vs. 48.9 percent this year) and so the fact that he is swinging more makes sense—except that he is chasing far more pitches out of the zone than he did last year (21.8 percent in 2016, 26.9 percent in 2017). This helps explain his contact rate problems, and it also is the key factor in his most noticeable statistical decline: his walk rate is less than half what it was last year (14.8 percent to 7 percent). His strikeout rate, meanwhile, is approaching 40 percent.
These are the aspects of Broxton’s offensive game that were problematic, though. He was never a guarantee to hit for much contact, as he struck out 36 percent of the time last year despite his successes. All the hopes were pinned on his exit velocity—the dream that he could be a plus offensive player because he was able to hit the ball so hard.
In 2017, though, he has not even been doing that. His average exit velocity this year has been just 85.1 mph, which is directly behind Asdrubal Cabrera and directly ahead of Christian Vasquez. Interestingly, though, his ISO this year is essentially identical to his mark last year, so his exit velocity decline has not correlated with a loss in power. His subpar offensive performance is thus more tied to his inability to make contact than any lack of power.
The fact that he is not as good a hitter as he was last year cannot be disputed, as the statistics in the first few paragraphs demonstrate. He is getting on base less, both because his batting average is down and because his walk rate is down, but he is hitting for basically the same power. In fact, Broxton is now approaching his plate appearance total from last season (215 now, compared to 244 last year), and his power numbers are shockingly identical given his overall performance decline: ten doubles, three triples, and seven home runs entering yesterday;s games, as compared to ten doubles, one triple, and nine home runs last year. Even his BABIP this year, while lower, is not so much lower that it raises an eyebrow (.373 last year to .356 this year).
I honestly do not know how to reconcile these two truths. Broxton is not hitting the ball as hard, but his power numbers have not changed. On some common sense level, I would have expected that exit velocity would correlate to power. At least for Broxton, though, that is not what is occurring this year.
To that end, I don’t know what to take from Broxton’s season. The ability to measure exit velocity has not existed for all that long, so I do not want to say that it is irrelevant; as time goes on, we will better understand which skills it correlates to and which it does not. However, I am not convinced that an elite exit velocity is any kind of harbinger of greatness, and I believe Broxton’s season this year backs that up.
Domingo Santana was the other Brewer outfielder who posted an elite exit velocity last season, and he has also seen his decline (92.8 down to 87.2). Despite this drop, he has also seen his ISO rise (.191 to .212) and his BABIP decrease by only a few points (.359 to .351).
One caveat with analyzing season-to-date numbers is that it is still too early to draw overarching conclusions. After all, Tyler Flowers and Zack Cozart are in the top 10 in WARP, so it is clear that individual players’ seasons will look different on October 1 than they do now.
Even with that caveat, though, the relationship between Broxton’s exit velocity and his overall performance is interesting, particularly given that he only played a half season last year. I don’t know how stable exit velocity is going to turn out to be over the course of a career, as we have not had it for very long. I also don’t know how well it will correlate to power numbers. But I do think that Broxton (and Santana, to some extent) should teach us to be more cautious with assuming that it portends anything of significance and that we should look for an additional independent reason to be excited about a player (i.e. scouting reports, prospect pedigree, other peripherals). Exit velocity is fun, but it is possible it is more of a storytelling tool than a predictive one. Through this point of the season, Keon Broxton is Exhibit A.
Photo Credit: Jeff Curry, USA Today Sports Images