The Mets made a fair number of moves in this past offseason and we spent a fair amount of time discussing them. And now with Grapefruit League play underway, we get to see these guys in a Mets uniform for the first time. After watching about two-thirds of Saturday’s game against the Braves, this morning’s news checkup included a look at the box score to see what was missed. Surprisingly, what stood out the most to me was who wasn’t in the game yesterday at all – Keon Broxton.
Now, nothing is less important than an appearance in the first Spring Training game. As a veteran Met, Juan Lagares deserved the start in center and Jeff McNeil needs all of the outfield reps he can get. No doubt the home fans were thrilled to get a look at Tim Tebow, too. Still, Broxton sitting the whole game stood out to me for some reason.
Broxton has spent parts of four seasons in the majors, including 143 games in 2017. When the Mets got him, most people nodded their heads in agreement, thinking he was someone who was good to have around. Yet there was also agreement that no one wanted to see him play a major role on the 2019 squad.
Ask someone who follows baseball but wasn’t especially invested in Broxton and you get some variant of this – he’s got some power, he can run and he can play defense. Sounds like a pretty good tool kit. So, why don’t we want to see more of him?
It’s really tough to be a quality MLB player when you have a 36.6 K%, which is Broxton’s lifetime mark in the majors. Checking the leaderboards for 2018, it’s almost exactly what Chris Davis (36.8) did last year and he was easily the worst player in baseball, with a (-3.1) fWAR. Joey Gallo was also in the same K% neighborhood – 35.9 – but he was able to put up a 2.8 fWAR, thanks to 40 HR. Broxton does have a 20-HR season on his resume but hasn’t hit 40 in his MLB career to date.
To survive that kind of strikeout rate you either need awesome power, like Gallo, or be extremely fortunate with BABIP. And Broxton had that luck in a half season in 2016, when he posted a .373 mark in 244 PA. That propelled him towards a 1.7 fWAR and a shot at a full-time job, which he had in 2017. As expected, the BABIP took a hit, falling to a still-elevated .323 mark. Still, his wOBA fell from .343 to .308 and his wRC+ tumbled from 111 to 85. And instead of a rebound in 2018, Broxton suffered even worse rates, with wOBA and wRC+ marks of .299 and 84, respectively.
The Mets already have the player who needs a big BABIP season to be useful in Lagares so do they need another one? Are we right in gifting a spot on the Opening Day roster to Broxton? Perhaps we should be more interested in the health and results of players like Gregor Blanco and Rajai Davis. Except those guys are considerably older and haven’t really been productive in the majors recently.
It makes the decision not to go after someone like a Derek Dietrich, who joined the Reds on an NRI, a bit confusing. Now, Dietrich cannot play center field and is likely better in the infield than in an outfield corner. But he can hit at a respectable rate and his lifetime away numbers (.816 OPS) were considerably better than his home numbers (.696) in Miami.
The pro-Broxton argument is that you want someone who can play center because of the injury history of Lagares. But if you’re really committed to playing McNeil in the outfield, then Lagares becomes your fourth outfielder, the defensive replacement. Do you really want to carry two outfield defensive replacements on your 25-man roster? And if Lagares does get hurt, you’ve got Blanco and Davis to call up from the minors to fill the role.
The Mets sent three minor leaguers to the Brewers for Broxton on January 5 and at the time of the trade it looked like a decent move. Would they have made that move if they knew that 11 days later they were going to sign Jed Lowrie? Maybe they would and maybe they even did. It’s not hard to imagine the Mets and Lowrie’s representatives were engaged in contract talks before January 5. However, it’s not the move that I would have made.
It seems that so much of the roster, especially the bench players, have been acquired with the idea of – What if someone gets hurt? This was a refreshing change to what we’ve seen in the past. But here with Broxton, it seems the better question might have been – What if our guys stay healthy? It’s one thing to plan on injuries to your starters. It’s another to carry a guy because of injury concerns to your fourth outfielder.
Are more games going to be won with a fifth outfielder who can hit or one who can play defense? While waiting for Lagares’ annual injury, how many PA is Broxton going to get that could have gone to a better hitter? When the real games start, it might not make any difference at all. But when a key PH appearance comes in a game and we see Broxton go down on strikes, he’s fanned 13 times in 32 lifetime ABs in this role, we might sing a different tune.