The Brewers haven’t made it pretty in August, but despite being outscored they have managed to do just enough to stay in both the National League Central and Wild Card races. Sunday’s win over the Dodgers, the first series the Dodgers have lost at home since the first week of June, brought the Brewers’ August record to 13-11. So much for the second half collapse many, including myself, were awaiting. Instead, the Brewers sit just 2.5 games back of the Cubs for the division and are, intriguingly, just 3.0 behind the Rockies for the second Wild Card spot.
Milwaukee’s top contributor among position players through this pivotal month hasn’t been Eric Thames or Ryan Braun or Travis Shaw, the usual suspects who powered the Brewers through much of the first half. No, it has instead been the mercurial outfielder Keon Broxton, who owned a ridiculous .265/.342/.559 batting line with six home runs, 11 runs scored and 12 RBI through 23 August games entering Sunday’s contest with Los Angeles. And he has done this all while providing this kind of defense in center field:
It seems like a question Brewers fans have been asking ever since Broxton was acquired by the Brewers two years ago, but Broxton’s performance this August is once again forcing us to confront the question of what Milwaukee’s long-term plans for Broxton will be. Despite Broxton’s hot August, he still owns just a .227/.303/.454 overall line with 1.3 BWARP. Quibble with the fact that the evaluative systems haven’t loved Broxton’s defense this year if you want, as UZR and FRAA both have him at either neutral or slightly negative this year, but Broxton hasn’t established himself as even an average player here in 2017.
Broxton will still be a pre-arbitration player next year, so that part of the decision is fairly easy. But it gets complicated because Broxton will be out of options in 2018. The plan that the Brewers have used with him this year, which includes sending him down for a reset at hitter-friendly Colorado Springs, won’t be an option without exposing him to waivers. And so next year, the Brewers will have little choice but to endure the terrible stretches Broxton’s strikeout-happy ways are bound to produce, such as his 3-for-45 this July, or the infamous 0-for-16 that began his career in Milwaukee in 2016.
Because of his strikeout rate, all the way up to 37.5 percent, highest in the majors and the worst of the last half-century, there is a very real ceiling on Broxton’s potential production. As such, it’s going to be difficult to justify giving him plate appearances over the Brewers’ slew of young outfielders. Domingo Santana, Brett Phillips, and Lewis Brinson already have to contend with Ryan Braun for one slot. Broxton’s place in the Brewers future is dwarfed by those three talents.
The easy answer here is to trade Broxton, but there just isn’t enough surplus value here for teams to trade a significant prospect haul for Broxton. At the very least, this is not likely over an offseason; things might be different should he heat up right before the trade deadline next year. The better option, in my estimation, is to keep Broxton as the ultimate utility outfielder in 2018. While I’m not a subscriber to the idea that defense doesn’t streak or slump — watch Nyjer Morgan or Carlos Gomez patrol center field for a full season and you’ll quickly be dissuaded from that belief — Broxton has the ability to contribute as a defensive replacement or pinch runner even when he’s going cold, making him a valuable roster asset.
While I certainly believe players like Brinson and Phillips need every day at-bats when they come up to the majors, there are over 2,000 at-bats available in a major league outfield, not to mention the extra at-bats that come for National League pinch hitters and designated hitters for interleague play. We certainly can’t expect Ryan Braun to take 650 plate appearances, and injuries are just a fact of major league life even for the livelier and healthier youngsters who will make up the rest of Milwaukee’s outfield in 2018. Even if Broxton doesn’t break camp as a starter, there will be a need for his services at some point.
It’s easy, if you want, to focus on the negatives in Broxton’s game, or to be more accurate, the one giant glaring negative that is his strikeout rate. Because he has such a hard ceiling, it can be easy to dismiss Broxton as an important piece of this Brewers team, present and future. His big August is a huge reason why this team is still afloat, and this year and next year are likely to be the peak years of his career. The best way for the Brewers to get the most out of Broxton seems clear to me: Keep him on this roster, deal with the inevitable slumps as they come, and let him do what he’s great at s long as he can.
Photo Credit: Ron Chenoy, USAToday Sports Images