Looking at batting lines over a handful of weeks can be problematic for two reasons. First, it’s a long season. Every player in the majors is likely to have a two-week stretch where they put up Mike Trout numbers. Second, there’s a lot of noise in short-term statistics, and that goes doubly so in the world of baseball. Bloopers find outfield grass. Line drives get caught. Home runs get robbed. Dribblers roll to the perfect spot. This is well understood at this point, and is the very explanation for why the baseball season is longer than all the rest. It’s a quirky game. You need six months for the quirks to even out.
And yet, sometimes those two- or three-week samples actually tell us something meaningful. If the results are dramatically different from what came before, inquiring minds should start percolating. Is there a reason for the change in outcomes? Or is this just the incessant vagaries of baseball once again showing up in grand fashion?
That brings us to Keon Broxton. Through the first three weeks of the season, he couldn’t buy a hit. The promising young Milwaukee centerfielder slashed .119/.196/.214 in his first 46 plate appearances, striking out 21 times, walking twice, and netting all of two extra-base hits. Broxton took plate appearance Nos. 43 through 46 on April 19. On April 20, Craig Counsell gave him the day off. He returned to the lineup on April 21 and went 1 for 3 with a triple and a walk. He went 1 for 3 the next day, and 2 for 4 with a double the day after that.
Two weeks later, that day off looks like the start of a whole new season for Broxton. Over his last 54 plate appearances, covering 15 games, Broxton is hitting .383/.463/.702 with two homers, five doubles, two triples and six walks against 16 strikeouts. With all those times on base, Broxton has become unleashed on the basepaths, swiping six bags in that same timeframe. This is the player many of us believed Broxton would be this season after an impressive debut with the Brewers last year.
So, it’s time for those inquiring minds to start firing. Is there a legitimate reason for Broxton’s sudden turnaround? Or is this just his allotment from the baseball gods of Troutian production for the season?
You know what really helps in figuring this out? When the player himself tells us what’s happening. That’s what Broxton did after that April 21 game, as reported by Todd Rosiak of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel (click to read the full story here).
Indeed, Broxton has been standing farther back from the plate over the last three weeks than he did in the first three weeks of the season. Here he is in an April 4 game against the Rockies.
And here he is again, this time against the Red Sox earlier this week.
Both screenshots are taken from the Brewers broadcast of a game at Miller Park, so we can be sure the camera is in the same place. It’s easy to see that Broxton’s back foot is a lot farther from the plate now than it was back in April. According to Broxton, the reason for moving back off the plate was that he was getting jammed too often. It follows, then, that Broxton would be able to get around on those pitches by giving himself more space on the inside corner. At the same time, his 6'3" frame would still have him capable of reaching pitches on the outer third.
Through three weeks of his new approach, Broxton’s theory checks out. The following zone profiles are courtesy of Brooks Baseball. The first shows Broxton’s batting average by zone from Opening Day through April 19, the last game before he made the change in his setup. The second shows April 21 through the present day.
Look at the difference not only on pitches in zone on the inner third, but those off the plate inside. Broxton has put nine such balls in play, getting four hits. They weren’t just any hits, either. Let’s roll the footage on that screenshot of Broxton against the Red Sox earlier this week.
Drew Pomeranz missed his spot to the inside corner, which probably wouldn’t have been a problem if he was facing Broxton during the first three weeks of the season. Unfortunately for him and the Red Sox, this is the new Broxton, and he deposited this low, inside fastball into the seats in right field. Here’s a screenshot right before contact.
Pomeranz can at least take solace in the fact that he’s not alone. Here’s Broxton’s other homer since stepping back off the plate, a solo shot off Adam Wainwright.
In case you couldn’t tell exactly where that one was, here’s a screenshot right before Broxton hit it at 103 mph toward left-center field.
It appears we have our answer. There is a reason for Broxton turning it on after a dreadful start to the season. Previously, he was getting eaten up by pitches on the inner third and off the plate inside. He noticed that issue, adjusted by getting farther off the plate, and is now crushing those same pitches that got him in trouble early in the year. This isn’t baseball being baseball. It’s Broxton making the necessary changes to succeed at the plate.
Pitchers will soon learn, those that haven’t already received their lesson, that Broxton can’t be attacked inside so easily anymore. They’ll adjust, and it will be up to him to adjust back. Given what we’ve seen from him the last three weeks, there’s good reason to believe he’ll be up to the challenge.