Blue Jays: Using Keon Broxton as a comparison for Kevin Pillar

MILWAUKEE, WI - JULY 05: Keon Broxton #23 of the Milwaukee Brewers catches a fly ball in the seventh inning against the Atlanta Braves at Miller Park on July 5, 2018 in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. (Photo by Dylan Buell/Getty Images)
MILWAUKEE, WI - JULY 05: Keon Broxton #23 of the Milwaukee Brewers catches a fly ball in the seventh inning against the Atlanta Braves at Miller Park on July 5, 2018 in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. (Photo by Dylan Buell/Getty Images) /

Keon Broxton, who was recently traded to the New York Mets, could serve as somewhat of a comparable asset to the Blue Jays’ own Kevin Pillar, who might be on the trade block this winter.

In a deal that seemed to come together almost instantaneously, the New York Mets acquired outfielder Keon Broxton from the Milwaukee Brewers in an effort to shore up their outfield depth ahead of their puzzlingly middling 2019 season.

Though Broxton is by no means the acquisition of the offseason, he could add some value to a Mets team that has a confusing outfield picture on their hands. Broxton, who is a controllable, semi-predictable asset, is one of the most impressive defensive outfielders in the game.

Interestingly enough, the Blue Jays are also in a bit of a similar pickle with their own defensively minded outfielder, the fan-favourite Kevin Pillar. With the Broxton trade now ripe for analysis and scrutiny, it’s time to examine it and see if the Blue Jays could (or should) use the Brewers’ return for Broxton as a measuring stick upon which they can base an expected return for Pillar.

The Trade

The New York Mets acquired OF Keon Broxton from the Milwaukee Brewers in exchange for RHPs Bobby Wahl and Adam Hill as well as 2B Felix Valerio on January 5th. It was the second trade of the offseason for both teams.

The Pieces

Broxton, who turns 29 in May, appeared in 51 games for the Brewers in 2018, slashing .179/.281/.410, adding two triples, two doubles, four home runs and five stolen bases. In 2017, he appeared in 143 games, slashing .220/.299/.420, stealing 21 bases and smashing 20 homers while driving in 49 in 414 at-bats.

A glove-first outfielder, Broxton put up 13 DRS (11th among outfielders who logged 150 innings or more in 2018), a UZR of 8.8 (10th), 5.4 RngR (13th) and an ARM rating of 3.1 (16th). Overall, he finished 2018 with a WAR of 1.1 despite only managing a wRC+ of 84.

Wahl, 26, has appeared in 13.0 innings in his two-year major league career, logging innings with both the Mets (5.1 in 2018, 10.13 ERA, 7 K, 2.438 WHIP) and the Athletics (7.2 in 2017, 4.70 ERA, 8 K, 1.565 WHIP), the team that originally drafted him.

Hill, 21, was drafted by the Mets in the 4th round of the 2018 draft and spent the rest of the season with the Low-A Brooklyn Cyclones, pitching to an ERA of 2.35 in 15.1 innings, striking out 26. He is not currently listed as one of Milwaukee’s top prospect on MLB Pipeline’s rankings.

Valerio, 20, is also unlisted on MLB Pipeline’s rankings, having only played 67 professional games, all of them coming with one of two Mets Dominican Summer League affiliates. In 303 plate appearances, he slashed .319/.409/.433 and added 17 doubles, two triples, three home runs and 22 RBI.

Broxton v. Pillar – Contract

Strictly in terms of contractual control, Broxton evidently has the advantage over Pillar. While Pillar is only under control for two more seasons, Broxton becomes arbitration eligible in 2020, making him a free agent after the 2022 season.

Broxton v. Pillar – Offence

Even though his offence isn’t exactly something to write home about, Pillar has arguably been the better overall hitter, albeit in 1750 more at-bats. Still, it’s worth looking at them on an even playing field.

Pillar had his 798th plate appearance (Broxton’s current PA count entering the 2019 season) on August 21st, 2015. At that point in his career, he’d appeared in games in three separate seasons, slashing .256/.295/.362 in 2015, up until the point at which he logged his 798th appearance, .267/.295/.397 in 53 games in 2014, and .206/.250/.333 in 36 games in 2013. Broxton’s career slash is .221/.313/.421 in parts of four seasons, with plate appearance totals spread out roughly the same as Pillar’s over his first few seasons.

In terms of power and production, Pillar had, at that point, racked up 12 home runs, 60 RBI and 34 doubles compared to Broxton’s 33 homers, 79 RBI and 27 doubles. On the basepaths, Pillar managed to steal 16 bases while getting caught six times while Broxton has stolen 50, getting caught 13 times.

While Pillar’s slash lines clearly suggest that he was a better hitter (average wise) at the “Broxton” point in his career, the power and stolen bases numbers shift slightly in Broxton’s favour. It is also worth mentioning that since the start of the 2016 season, Pillar has slashed .258/.296/.401, which could be perhaps more indicative of his future performance and current stock.

Broxton v. Pillar – Defence

It’s difficult to truly compare the defensive prowess of two above-average centerfielders, mainly because Broxton didn’t play a full 2018 season. Still, Broxton’s 2017 season (his best and most consistent) could be used in comparison to Pillar’s rather disappointing 2018.

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There are numerous defensive metrics (UZR, DRS, RngR, ARM, OOZ) that could be used, but ultimately it comes down to this: Broxton has more range, but Pillar has a slightly better arm. Broxton saves more runs, but makes, on average, slightly more errors than Pillar.

Overall, Broxton is probably the more complete fielder, as Pillar’s 2018 season (-2 DRS, 2.7 ARM, 2.3 UZR, 112 OOZ plays, 0.4 RngR) suggests that he’s slowly, but surely, declining as a defensive asset.

What Does This Mean?

Though they would qualitatively appear to be similar players in many ways, Broxton clearly sways more to banking on defence while Pillar would have to put his eggs in the offensive basket if he wants to retain some of his trade value.

If the Blue Jays are serious about wanting to trade Pillar, the Broxton swap could, after it’s all said and done, be looked at as somewhat of a comparable. On one hand, Broxton hasn’t produced at the plate consistently enough to warrant a serious package, whereas Pillar has more or less proven that he can at least hold his own with the bat. On the other hand, though, Broxton has more control and is probably the better glove going forward.

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Of course, this entire argument becomes moot if the Blue Jays decide to keep Pillar to anchor their rather inexperienced crop of outfielders. If they do decide to trade him, looking for the Broxton return plus a little extra could be a starting point in negotiations. Regardless, Pillar will continue to be one of the more perplexing assets on this roster going forward.

All statistics and metrics are as listed on either Fangraphs or Baseball Reference.