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Is Domonic Brown Having a Good Year or Not?

May 23, 2013, 12:53 PM EDT

MLB: Miami Marlins at Philadelphia Phillies

Even if the Phils ended up a .500 team or worse this season, I think I could be pretty OK with that if I was convinced by year end that Domonic Brown was gonna be a really good player for years to come. Talking to my dad about Dom recently, he hit the nail on the head: “He’s Evan Turner.” True: Like perhaps no other Philly athlete of recent years besides the Extraterrestrial, Dom tantalizes with his seemingly boundless ability, showing flashes that assure you of his inevitable superstardom, but spacing them out over 1-9, 2-12, 3-15-type stretches at the plate, and mixing them up with fielding and base-running blunders that make you wonder to what degree he really gets it.

I want to believe in Dom. I take a game like last night, where he laced an RBI triple and hit another couple balls hard on the nose, and I want to take it as evidence that he’s turning the corner. But then I look at his actual line for the evening: 1-4, no walks–and think that if that’s a particularly good game for Domonic, that’s maybe not such a good thing. I want to be patient, to say he’s still young and learning, but at age 25 (and he’ll be 26 by season’s end), he’s not really all that young anymore, and if he can’t do it this year–his first with uninterrupted opportunity to prove himself in the Phils’ outfield–it just might not happen for Dom, at least not in Philly.

However, as there often is with Evan, there’s an argument to be made that he’s improving this year, that he’s actually doing pretty well, that there’s reason for encouragement. Is there? Let’s take at the cases for the pro, the con, and the confusing:

DOMONIC BROWN IS HAVING A GOOD YEAR:

  • Slugging. Dom is leading the team in homers with eight, already easily a career high, and on pace to at least approach the “30-homer potential” that so many have long cited him having. His slugging percentage of .442 is also an unchallenged career high, and ranks third on the team, just barely behind Ryan Howard’s .444.
  • Staying in the lineup. Partly due to a lack of competition here, but Domonic’s role as a starter in the outfield was never a certain thing going into this season, and it was previously thought that the return of Delmon Young could result in a diminished role for Dom. But he’s played in all but one of the team’s games this year, ranking fourth on the team in plate appearances. The job is Brown’s to lose, which is the first time you could say that about our prodigious young outfielder.

DOMONIC BROWN IS NOT HAVING A GOOD YEAR:

  • Getting on base. Any criticism of Dom’s play this year has to start with (and be mostly comprised of) this. His batting average certainly isn’t great to begin with, a paltry .248, though remarkably, that still rates as the career high from Dom’s three seasons in Philly. That’s not really the problem–the problem is that he doesn’t walk anymore. In fact, in the month of May, he’s taken zero walks, after taking a decent-but-unremarkable nine in April. Dom’s batting eye used to be one of his greatest assets as a hitter, but now, perhaps in the name of being More Aggressive at the plate, he’s an even bigger OBP sinkhole (.290) than Ryan Howard (.297) or even Delmon Young (.304). It’s a disturbing trend, to say the least.
  • Baserunning. He’s not having a particularly miserable year here, but wasn’t speed supposed to be an asset of our athletic young outfielder? He didn’t even attempt a stolen base–partly because of lack of opportunities due to that miserable OBP, sure, but even still–until last week against the Reds, a solid quarter of the way into the season. FanGraphs, which originally rated his speed at 75/100 during his debut year with the Phils, now rates it at just 64, another disturbing trend for a player who hasn’t even reached his supposed baseball prime age yet.

DOMONIC BROWN IS MAYBE HAVING A GOOD YEAR?

  • Fielding. Nobody’s going to be confusing Brown with Jason Heyward in the field just yet, but by his own standards, Domonic’s defense has been…better, anyway. FanGraphs still has his UZR as being a pretty subpar -5.5, but he ranks fifth in the NL in assists and fielding percentage from left field, and Baseball-Reference has him breaking even in runs saved per year (after posting a -23 and -16 in the last two seasons). Baby steps.
  • Righties/Lefties. Dom’s got it a little backwards this year at the plate–despite being a left-handed hitter, he’s done a disproportionately large chunk of his damage against lefties, batting like an All-Star (.293/.302/.585) against southpaws. But of course, that means that he’s been fairly brutal against righties, where about 80% of his ABs come from, posting just a .248/.286/.395 against them. No idea what to make of that–Dom’s career splits still have him being more effective against righties, so it probably won’t continue, but it’s hard to tell which of the two averages will regress to the mean first, and which will have a greater impact on his overall line when it does.

In the end, it’s still hard to say with Dom. It’s easy to get on him for his walk-less May–seriously, how the hell do you get 23 days into a month without a single free pass?–but that non-existent walk rate has come with the best hitting month of his career, with five dingers and a .515 slugging percentage, so maybe it’s a worthwhile trade-off? Meanwhile, Baseball-Reference has him breaking into the positives with his WAR (0.4) for the first time in his career–though according to FanGraphs, he’s still at a -0.2.

In the end, as with Evan Turner, it’s probably still too early to tell with Domonic Brown. It’s always too early to tell. We just have to keep watching and waiting, whether we like it or not.

  1. Enrico Campitelli Jr. - May 23, 2013 at 12:59 PM

    I tend to think he’s having a pretty good year this season given it’s his first chance to play everyday. Corey Seidman had some good stuff on him recently, pointing out he’s on pace for 28 home runs as a 25-year-old, which puts him in some pretty good company. http://www.csnphilly.com/baseball-philadelphia-phillies/first-full-season-brown-trading-patience-power

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  2. gino - May 23, 2013 at 1:36 PM

    Jeezum! Lighten up. This is Brown’s first year as an everyday player, lots of room to improve…and Evan Turner’s had waaaay more time as a “regular” to prove himself (agreed, he basically hasn’t) so that’s an apples to oranges comparison. While I don’t believe he’s going to be much of a base-stealing threat, he has in the past shown decent base-running instincts, he’s likely to start taking those walks again (he’d see better pitches if there was much behind him), and the ball just jumps off his bat. Not too many guys start out as explosively as Harper and Trout (which is why they, rightly, get the acclaim they do) but have to learn to harness and develop their abilities with everyday repetition – pressure for instant results doesn’t help…

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  3. baritenortone - May 23, 2013 at 2:31 PM

    They screwed up his development so badly by pulling him out of AAA to sit on on the bench that as long as he’s making strides toward reaching his potential, I’m happy.

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  4. Bill W - May 23, 2013 at 3:40 PM

    he’s having an ok to good year (a lot of games left!) He is still a very suspect fielder, no fluididity, and a herky-jerky baserunner. He seems to be improving at the plate and showing some power.
    )

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  5. TheMick - May 23, 2013 at 6:50 PM

    I agree with Baritenoretone that the Phils really screwed Brown up the first time he was called to the majors. You don’t take a developing young hitter to give him a couple AB’s a week because you have an injury to a backup and you need a fresh body on the bench. He should have stayed at AAA and got is four AB’s a night and kept progressing as a hitter.

    Brown has to take some of the responsibility too. He pouted when he was sent down in 2011 and didn’t regain his stride for quite a while. Is he good…all things considered I’d say he’s a slightly above average player who still has the potential to be a very good player. I doubt we’ll ever see the 5-tool player we were told he could be, but if he can get his average up to .280, hit 25-30 HR’s and drive in 80-90 runs a year I’d consider him to be a very good player. I also think he has the capability to reach those numbers.

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  6. mark - May 23, 2013 at 7:09 PM

    Give the dude a break. You even site the positive with such a negative tone.

    This man is the victim of his own success in the minors – he was drafted by the Phillies in the 20th round of the draft meaning the Phillies gave up nothing more than that to get him.

    The is the first time in his career he’s got the everyday job and if you go by the fact that he’s only making 500k per year, he is outperforming everyone else on this team by a wide margin, especially the 25 million dollar a year first baseman.

    The Phillies need more players like Dom Brown (young talented and cheap), if they did they would be in a much better position.

    The even turner comparison doesn’t work – Evan has had many more opportunities to prove himself and hasn’t while getting paid millions.

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    • Collin - May 24, 2013 at 12:22 PM

      Speaking of the ET comparison…if Domonic Brown wasn’t black, would we be comparing him now to Kevin Kolb?

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  7. Collin - May 24, 2013 at 12:19 PM

    Finally given an everyday role, I think he’s been fine. It’s a shame it took the Phillies so long to give Brown a real opportunity to play as a starter. In 2011, he was on such a short leash that bringing Hunter Pence in probably messed with his confidence and stunted his growth as a young player. Between switching positions with the different corner outfield duties, I’d say the kid might finally have a shot at becoming a decent player.

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