Keon Broxton, the Almost Comp-less Boy Wonder

I’m always reluctant to discuss a player whom we have recently featured at FanGraphs. Indeed, Rylan Edwards noted that, unlike swimming, Keon Broxton is not boring. Jeff Sullivan also recently covered Keon Broxton, ushering everyone on board his respective bandwagon (Broxton’s, not Sullivan’s). It’s a good feature, and its biggest takeaway is the following: Keon Broxton is hitting the ball pretty damn hard.

Broxton has slipped a bit — he no longer holds the top spot, ceding it to Nelson Cruz, Giancarlo Stanton, and some kid named Gary Sanchez. Stanton hasn’t played in two-plus weeks, so it stands to reason that Broxton’s exit velocity has slipped in the last week. That’s fine. As is, it’s still elite.

Except, woah, the strikeouts. Right? That’s alarming. It’s not so alarming that it’s a dealbreaker. Sullivan even brought up the idea of Broxton being a center-fielding Chris Carter. For a team like the Milwaukee Brewers, that would work just fine.

It’s the composition of the strikeouts — in other words, the way Broxton gets to those strikeouts — that kind of blows my mind.

Because Broxton has a great eye. His 21.0-percent chase rate (O-Swing%) — one of Broxton’s traits upon which Edwards touched in his post — would rank fifth(!!!) among all qualified hitters this season if he had the requisite plate appearances. Fifth — that’s better than Christian Yelich and Matt Carpenter. That’s truly elite company. It’s his contact skills that, uh, well, they need work: his 37.5-percent contact rate on outside pitches (O-Contact%) would rank dead last, behind all three Chrises (and Khrises), surnames Carter, Davis, and Davis.

Granted, Broxton’s skills have not remained static since his debut:

keon broxton

Incredibly, Broxton didn’t connect with a single chased pitch during his first 10 games of 2016 and 12 games of his professional career. Might not be that many total whiffs, really — maybe one chased pitch per game, and a whiff on each. But Broxton did strike out 18 of his first 34 trips to the plate (52.9 percent).

Anyway, one notices Broxton’s contact skills on pitches outside the zone has sort-of-kind-of-steadily improved. Even at its best, though, his rolling 10-game average barely sniffs the league-average O-Contact% rate. Meanwhile, his contact skills on pitches inside the zone has remained mostly constant — which is fine, if you ignore exactly where along the y-axis his graph lies. But his 77.3-percent zone contact rate would rank sixth-worst, just ahead of Carter, the Davises and the Juniors.

I set some pseudo-arbitrary guidelines for all qualified hitters dating back to 2002, which is where the Baseball Info Solutions (BIS) plate discipline data begins on FanGraphs: identify anyone with…

  1. a better O-Swing%,
  2. a worse O-Contact%, and
  3. a worse Z-Contact%.

The list, is, unsurprisingly, very short:

The relative glut of 2002 names makes me a little nervous about measurement errors, given BIS first started coding data that year. I can roll with the Cust comp, though, given his 2008 season also shows up, as do 2007 Brad Hawpe and 2008 Carlos Pena, if you remove the constraint on O-Contact%.

A statistical recap of that handful of seasons: outside of Thome’s monster 52-homer 2007 campaign, those dudes hit roughly 30 home runs a season with a league-average batting average (with a little help from Lady BABIP). None of them posted a wRC+ worse than 119. The game has changed quite a bit in 15 years, especially concerning how pitchers attack hitters. It actually matters a bit; those additional pitches outside the zone means more chased pitches for Broxton relative to his comps, even if the total number of swings remains few.

Still, Broxton could be a generational hitter in a very nontraditional sense of the term, given how unique his production could end up being. It’s wild and seemingly unsustainable, but if it gets him to even league-average production (wRC+), it doesn’t matter what he does.

And what he does could be, as Sullivan noted, Carter-esque. Again, you loosen the constraints, and suddenly Broxton’s closest comps are Chris Carter, Chris Davis and Khris Davis — who, between the three of them, have averaged 39 home runs per 650 plate appearances since 2012 while hitting at least 16 percent better than league-average. (Broxton’s 39.8-percent hard-hit rate nicely parallels their (nearly identical) hard-hit rates of 38.4, 38.8, and 38.7 percent, respectively.)

Except none of them — not his contemporaries, not his elder comparables — run like Broxton does. Which begs the question: what if, instead of stealing a base once every 100 plate appearances, Khris Davis stole a base once every 10?

That’s currently the beast with whom we’re dealing here. Normally, I run from guys with Broxton’s plate discipline, and I run far. The nature of his game screams growing pains, and hitters like him have failed time and again. But the similarities to some of the game’s premier sluggers alongside an elite stolen base frequency — you can’t ignore it. Given everything else, I’m willing to look the other way regarding Broxton’s inevitably low batting average.

The only downside, currently: Broxton hits more than 40 percent of his balls in play on the ground. (So, too, does Khris Davis, and it’s part of the reason why he has hit fewer home runs than his Chris counterparts.) Accordingly, Broxton’s home run total — a mere six in nearly 200 plate appearances — doesn’t validate his currently elite exit velocity. It’s more of a 20-homer pace than a 30-homer pace, and it increases his margin for error.

keon broxton2

There. I’ll leave you with some optimism.

Currently investigating the relationship between pitcher effectiveness and beard density. Two-time FSWA award winner, including 2018 Baseball Writer of the Year, and 8-time award finalist. Featured in Lindy's magazine (2018, 2019), Rotowire magazine (2021), and Baseball Prospectus (2022). Tout Wars competitor. Biased toward a nicely rolled baseball pant.

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baltic wolfmember
5 years ago

Good luck with investigating the relationship between pitcher effectiveness and beard density, lol!
And great follow up article (I read the previous two) on Broxton!