Maybe you hadn’t noticed, but Phillies left fielder Domonic Brown was recently named National League player of the week.
This honor was last bestowed upon a Phillies player back in 2009 when fellow left fielder Raul Ibanez took the distinction. We all remember Ibanez’s monster first half of the season in 2009, and looking at Domonic Brown’s game thus far in 2013, the comparisons between an 09′ Ibanez and 13′ Brown stop at the Player of the Week award.
Still, I and my esteemed colleagues here at That Balls Outta Here congratulate the Phillies young outfielder, and in doing so will now dissect his performance. As the title of this piece divulges, in Domonic Brown’s short career, he has shown two distinctly different sides to his game. In 2011, Brown played in 56 games, totaling 210 plate appearances and thus far in 2013, Brown has played in 51 games totaling 194 plate appearances. This almost equivalent amount of playing time gives us a nice manner of comparison.
In 2011, Brown posted a slash line of .245/.333/.391, scoring 28 runs, hitting 5 home runs, knocking in 19 runs, and stealing 3 bases. Brown’s statistics in 2011 were unremarkable for any player, but of all of those numbers, the one positive to garner was Brown’s on base percentage. A .333 OBP meant Brown reached base 1 out of every 3 times he stepped to the plate, which might not place him at an elite or even great level, but none should sneeze as such a rate.
For comparison’s sake, remembering that Brown’s 210 plate appearances pale in comparison sample-wise to a full-time player in 2011, take Jimmy Rollins’ 2011. Despite sitting in the leadoff spot for the Phightin Phils for almost a decade, J-Roll has never been the prototypical leadoff man who puts up consistent OBPs north of .340. This isn’t to say that Brown should have been leading off for the Phillies 2011, but it’s important to put any statistic in perspective.
Unfortunately, with the good comes the bad, and in 2011 Domonic Brown’s case it is vital that we break down his lone attractive metric. Brown’s solid on base percentage came from his 11.9% BB%, which had he qualified for full season ranking in 2011 would have placed Brown in the top 30 in Major League Baseball. Brown walked this much by taking pitches. He swung at just 44.4% of pitches he saw in comparison to the 2011 league average swing percentage of 46.2%. Most of those takes came against pitches outside the strike zone, while Brown actually swung more often than the league average at pitches in the strike zone.
This shows a keen but cautious eye from a young outfielder. Don’t think that not swinging at balls and swinging more at strikes is necessarily a good thing because not all strikes are good pitches to hit and not all balls are pitches above the neck, 2 feet outside, or in the dirt. Not surprisingly, due to Brown’s passivity at the plate, he put up a weak .245 batting average and even weaker .391 slugging percentage.
Now let’s get acquainted with Dom’s alter ego, the strong, hulking, muscular version. Instead of shying away from more pitches than he should have, the 2013 version of Domonic Brown has made a 180 when it comes to the aggressiveness department. So far in 2013 Brown has posted a slash line of .257/.294/.486, scoring 21 runs, knocking in 31, hitting 11 home runs, and swiping 2 bases.
First let’s point out the drop in Dom’s OBP. In 2011 it was .333 and in 2013 he’s gotten on base at a .294 clip. While a .294 batting average is above average, for on base percentage, this isn’t what you’d like to see. To compare, players in 2013 with a similar on base percentage include Justin Ruggiano, Lyle Overbay, and Chris Carter. Now, this isn’t to say that Brown’s in all bad company, Yoenesis Cespedes, Josh Hamilton, and Ian Desmond all have worse OBPs than Brown’s.
More interestingly, of the 60 worst players in 2013 in on base percentage, Brown has the highest wRC+ of all of them at 110. The next closest is Jason Kipnis at 109, but his OBP comes in at .311. How has Brown put up better overall offensive numbers while seeing a dramatic drop in his OBP? It all comes down to power. As the Oakland Athletics franchise has shown everyone in the last 15 seasons, the two most important aspects to performing well offensively are to get on base and hit for power. The “Moneyball” A’s got on base, but last year’s Oakland Athletics won the AL West by mashing the 7th most home runs in the majors at 195.
Domonic Brown has 11 home runs through the first two months of the season, posting a career high in isolated power at .230 as well as slugging percentage at .486. Brown has a walk percentage south of 5%, which isn’t close to his 11.9% of 2011, but he’s hitting much more now for power. Simply put, this metamorphosis has come about due to Brown’s increased aggressiveness at the plate. Instead of being overly patient, and seeing deeper counts, and thus more 2-strike pitches, Brown is jumping on pitchers early, swinging more at pitches outside of the strike zone 33.3% and pitches in the strike zone 77%. Both of those numbers are well above the league average and both significantly higher then the numbers he posted in 2011.
Power hitters hit pitches that are balls more than singles hitters. Pitches up in the zone are more drivable. More importantly, fastballs, easier pitches to hit for power, generally reside more in the middle or up in the zone. Add in Brown’s altered batting stance (hand placement and sometimes shortened stroke), and you’ve got a solid equation for more home runs and extra base hits.
Brown may be sacrificing his on base percentage, but his improvement in hitting the ball, both for average (slightly) and for power, has allowed Brown to improve his wRC+ from 101 in 2011 to 110 in 2013. While everything said so far about Brown’s change has seemed positive, we cannot forget that good hitting derives from two categories, getting on base and slugging for power. Brown has the ability to do both, but thus far in his career, Brown hasn’t put the two together. As we’ve seen in his young career, Brown does not adapt or improve overnight, he matures slowly. Given the Phillies sub .500 record and lack of an impact farm system, the franchise can give Brown time to combine the two Browns, the patient and the powerful, to create Superbrown, a hero made to dazzle Philadelphians and baseball fans alike for years to come.