In baseball, there is the old adage that, if a player does have a quality hitter hitting behind him, the quality of pitches that hitter sees will be poorer.
This old adage got wedged deep into my brain at some point and came to the forefront of a discussion today concerning Domonic Brown‘s down month of July.
Obviously, these numbers are a far cry from his incredible May and solid June…
Clearly, the results haven’t been there for Brown the way they were in the two months prior. So, what gives?
I proposed the theory that Brown was not getting as many good pitches to hit lately since he has absolutely no protection in the lineup. When Delmon Young is hitting behind you, the theory went in my head, you’re not going to see nearly as many fastballs and other good pitches to hit.
On this point, I was rebuked by a couple of folks.
— Bill Baer (@CrashburnAlley) July 24, 2013
To get to the bottom of this, I went to the numbers to see if my anecdotal memory was flawed, or if I am smarter than I thought I was.
I think you can see where this is going (thanks to Fangraphs.com for the data).
This is what Brown saw in May, when he was NL Player of the Month…
Brown saw a fastball 46% of the time, a slider 12%, a cutter 7%, curveballs 12%, changeups 15% and split-fingers fastballs 5% of the time.
Brown saw a few more fastballs at 50%, as well as a few more sliders at 16%, fewer cutters, a slight uptick in curveballs, a drop in changeups and close the same number of split-finger pitches.
And so far in July:
He’s seen 10% MORE fastballs than he saw in May when he hit a staggering 12 HRs and has an OPS of .991. He’s seen the same amount sliders in July that he saw in May, a decrease in curveballs, about the same amount of the other pitches.
However, percentages can be misleading without having an idea on sample size. So, let’s also take a look at the raw pitches Dom saw in each of these months.
According to Brooks Baseball, in 109 May plate appearances, Brown saw 218 “hard” pitches, 106 “breaking” pitches and 79 “off-speed” pitches.
In 121 June PAs, he saw even more “hard” pitches, 269, more “breaking” pitches, 139, and fewer “off-speed” pitches, 65.
And so far in 75 July plate appearances, Brown has seen 187 “hard” pitches, 68 “breaking” pitches and 45 “off-speed” pitches.
If you assume Brown would get 109 PAs this month (he’ll probably end up with more), the same as he had in May, that would equate to 271 “hard” pitches for this month.
That would seem to indicate that, given the same number of plate appearances, Brown will have seen about 53 more fastballs this month as opposed to May. In other words, Brown is either seeing as many, if not more, fastballs this month than he saw in May.
So what’s the problem?
Take at look at Brown’s plate discipline numbers for May…
Brown actually swung at fewer pitches outside the zone in July than he did in May (37.3 to 36.8%), meaning he’s chasing less. He’s swung at almost the same exact number of pitches in the zone as compared to May (79.7 to 79.6%) and his overall swing percentage is down only slightly.
He’s making contact with fewer pitches outside of the zone this month, 63% of the time, compared to 71% in May. He’s also making contact with fewer pitches inside the zone as well, down from 87.5% to 83%. And his overall swinging strike percentage is 12.6% in July, compared to 10.2% in May.
There doesn’t seem to be a whole lot of disparity between what pitchers were throwing him in May and July, and his approach at the plate doesn’t seem to be overwhelmingly different either. He’s swinging and missing a tad more, but not so much so that you’d see a huge impact in his overall numbers.
So, perhaps he’s just been unlucky? Well, that doesn’t hold a lot of water, either.
Here are his May numbers…
…his June numbers…
And his July numbers…
While his BAbip is the same in May and July, indicating he hasn’t been overly unlucky all of a sudden, a small eureka moment happens upon us here.
Brown is hitting far fewer ground balls and far more fly balls this month, meaning there are fewer chances for those “lucky” hits that can aid a player’s batting average.
And to go along with all those extra fly balls, his HR/FB ratio this month is down from the two months prior. In May, a completely unsustainable percentage of his fly balls went for home runs, 42.9%. And many of them, if you’ll recall, didn’t leave the yard by all that much. In June, that ratio decreased to something more realistic, 18.2%. This month, it’s only 12%.
Based on the data regarding pitches that are being thrown to him, in addition to the pitches he’s swinging at and the luck involved with putting balls in play, the only conclusion one can draw is that Dom is hitting more fly balls at the expense of ground balls this month, and that more Dom’s fly balls are being caught in the outfield rather than going over the fence for home runs.
Why is that? The answer doesn’t seem clear. What is clear is that my earlier statement that Brown was being pitched differently now that there was a hodge podge of nothingness behind him in the batting order doesn’t hold water.
Pitchers are certainly pitching him a little bit differently, but that’s likely more because of scouting reports and knowing his hot zones. Dom’s approach at the plate has likely changed a bit as well, although the numbers don’t bear out a huge shift in any one direction.
What we probably have to say here is that Brown had a ridiculously fortunate month of May, and that June and July are likely going to be the kind of production and numbers we can see out of him most of the time.
And that ain’t bad.
I’m sure Domonic Brown will have stretches where he gets homer happy, like he did a couple months ago. But his slumping July numbers don’t appear to have anything to do with a weaker lineup hitting behind him.