Domonic Brown: Curb Your Enthusiasm?

UPDATE: Brown has been called up. (via Jim Salisbury of Comcast SportsNet)

Shane Victorino came up limping last night. Given the Phillies’ season-long bout with bad luck, it was to be expected. The reactions to the injury on Twitter were less than “to be expected.” In fact, some people were downright giddy because it increased the likelihood of phenom prospect (#1 in baseball actually, according to most prospect mavens) Domonic Brown getting his much-anticipated call up to the show.

Prior to Victorino’s injury, fans were looking forward to a trade of Jayson Werth. Why? Well, the majority of Philadelphia — including the sports media — had developed some kind of hatred for the bearded fellow but also because it signaled Dom Brown Time. The prevailing thought was that Werth was an expendable part and Brown would have no problem coming up and replacing the lost production. After all, Brown has a .951 OPS in Triple-A Lehigh Valley.

The problem is that Minor League statistics don’t translate exactly into Major League statistics. Context is very important. You wouldn’t consider 20 home runs in the confines of Safeco Field equivalent to 20 home runs at Yankee Stadium. Nor should you consider Brown’s production at Triple-A equivalent to what he will produce at the Major League level. He could; it’s not impossible. But it’s not likely.

To get an idea as to how a player’s Minor League stats equate to Major League competition, we use a method called Minor League Equivalency (MLE). Steve Slowinski of DRays Bay has written a nice overview of MLE at SaberLibrary. A snippet:

For example, if a minor leaguer is playing in the International League (Triple-A), their numbers will be adjusted to account for the fact that the competition isn’t as strong as in the major leagues, but is marginally stronger than the other Triple-A league, the Pacific Coast League.  If that player was to go on to the National League, their adjusted numbers would be different than if they went to the American League, since the National League is a slightly weaker environment than the American League.  Park effects are also taken into account, meaning that an offensive player’s numbers will be adjusted higher in Fenway Park than they would be in PETCO Park.

I went to Minor League Splits, where they have a MLE calculator. Brown’s current .346/.390/.561 triple-slash line for Lehigh Valley changes to .306/.348/.479 at the Major League level. An .827 OPS isn’t bad at all, but it also isn’t enough to make us forget about Jayson Werth.

It is, however, more than enough to make us forget about Victorino, who has been very underwhelming offensively. Shane’s .250 batting average is about 30 points below his career average; his .311 OBP is 30 points below; and his .438 SLG is right near it. Overall, his .749 OPS is one of the reasons the Phillies haven’t quite lived up to expectations offensively.

As much as it pains me to say it, Victorino’s injury couldn’t have come at a better time for the Phillies. Right before the trading deadline, Ruben Amaro will now be much less likely to trade Werth unless he receives a ridiculously good offer, i.e. Jesus Montero and six of his clones. (Be honest: you were afraid that the reports were true, that Amaro would flip Werth for as little as a “#4 starter“.) Additionally, the Phillies retain that all-important right-handed bat in the middle of their lineup. Sans Werth, the team’s most fearful right-handed hitter is Placido Polanco. He’s not chopped liver but he also doesn’t OPS .900.

All that remains is for Amaro to send Brown a car to get him to Philadelphia in time for tonight’s game (otherwise the Phillies would be operating with a 23-man bench, given Jimmy Rollins‘ recent limp). A team very rarely gets such an easy opportunity to upgrade the offense, essentially for free. This is a lay-up the Phillies should easily make.

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15 comments

  1. Scribbs82

    July 28, 2010 12:29 PM

    Nice insights, Bill. What do you make of what the Iron Pigs manager just said about it not being a good idea for the phillies to call up brown because it would “start the clock” and give him a faster track to salary arbitration/Free Agency?

    Since, as you just demonstrated that Brown can provide a measureable impact at a spot they need right now, do the phillies simply pull the trigger and let the clock start? Or would they go the route of calling up a replacement level guy like mayberry who would provide a warm body for the 2-3 weeks before victorino returns?

    I guess if the phillies had their sights on calling dom up at some point this season (werth trade, expanded rosters in september…) it doesnt matter when it happened, but if they didnt then this puts their prospect philosophy to the test.

  2. Phillies Red

    July 28, 2010 12:30 PM

    Hey Bill, looks like you’ve got Brown’s tripA numbers wrong. He’s 346/390/561, per baseballreference.com and his minor league page. Perhaps it’s only a typo and you entered the correct numbers into the adjustment tool, but either way thought you’d like to know.

  3. Bill Baer

    July 28, 2010 12:34 PM

    Red, thanks. Looks like the stats on Minor League Splits haven’t updated in a while. They have him at 89 AB at AAA but he has 107 per BBref.

    I’ll double-check the numbers, but I’m pretty sure I used the BBref numbers with the calculator, as I noticed that problem while I was writing the article; I just forgot to edit that line about his triple-slash numbers.

    EDIT: Yep, I used the BBref numbers in the MLE calculator.

  4. Phillies Red

    July 28, 2010 12:42 PM

    So, hypothetically, if we assume the Phils will put Vic back in center once he’s healthy, and not go with a Raul/Werth/Brown outfield, or for that matter, a Brown/Vic/Werth outfield, how many points of ops or wOBA are worth a cost controlled, multi-year 3/4 starter?

    In other words, again hypothetically, how good does Brown need to be for the Phils to trade Werth and come out ahead? (btw, I in no way advocate trading Werth, I’m just wondering when it becomes the smart move, if ever; considering “the smart move” would be based on the bad choice to play Vic or Raul over Brown, the discussion does get a bit convoluted, I know).

  5. Bill Baer

    July 28, 2010 12:46 PM

    Scribbs, the bigger concern earlier in the year was ensuring that he didn’t qualify for Super Two status, as that would get him to free agency quicker.

    See: mlb.mlb.com/pa/info/faq.jsp#arbitration

    Beyond that, I don’t think the Phillies were too concerned because he has to hit that sixth year before he can hit free agency. If my analysis is correct, the Phillies’ thoughts were, “Avoid Super Two” and then “Try not to call him up at all until September” (September call-ups don’t accrue MLB service time).

    Red, I think there are way too many variables involved to give you a black-and-white answer to that. Werth is at least a four-win player (worth about $25 million if Matt Swartz’s estimate of $6 million per FanGraphs WAR is correct) and his comp picks are worth about $5 million. So the Phillies would have to get about $30 million in production from Brown and whatever they get for Werth in a trade. That’s looking strictly at this season. Since you said the starter would be cost-controlled, that would have a lot more value than a late first-round and a sandwich comp pick.

  6. E

    July 28, 2010 01:33 PM

    I think once brown goes back down when Vic comes off the DL.. they should move him to CF.

    If he is passable, imagine what his bat could be like at Cf.

  7. Bill Baer

    July 28, 2010 01:37 PM

    I think he should catch! (jk)

    NL average OPS by outfield spot…

    LF: .781
    CF: .762
    RF: .781

    The Phillies have traditionally been averse to making waves in the ocean, so I don’t think they’d make a move so controversial as to kick Victorino out of center field.

  8. corey katz

    July 28, 2010 02:36 PM

    I feel like Brown has too much to overcome to receive the starting role at this point in this year. Calling up a guy like Mayberry would have made more sense here to me. Why would they bring up Brown knowing he may be back in the minors in a week?

  9. KH

    July 28, 2010 03:35 PM

    Nobody hates Jayson Werth thats ridiculous. The Phillies are not going to pay him the 75-90 million over five years he is going to get on the open market. Thats why people want to trade him and I agree with that line of thinking as long as Brown is ready and the return on Werth is better then a first round draft pick

  10. KH

    July 28, 2010 03:39 PM

    Its not about coming out even or ahead either for this season. I personally believe the Phillies can afford for Brown to be significantly worse then Werth, in the near term, and if other players play like they can and the Phillies bring in some pitching help at the deadline. It would all depend on what came back for Werth. How the heck can you say it would be bad or good without knowing what is coming back for Werth.

  11. e

    July 28, 2010 04:15 PM

    Bill, saw on your twitter.

    Lilly= Blanton is quite harsh.

    Lilly is a type A. Happ isn’t. Cost controlled, but not good.

    Phillies have a good D, neutralize the BABIP.

    a bit risky, but its a great draft next year, and Lilly fits into the — go for it– mode.

    I’d do it.

  12. Sophist

    July 28, 2010 04:24 PM

    Lilly’s last 14 starts:

    93 IP, 7.4 K9, 2.4 BB9, 3.39 ERA // .231/.285/.389 against

    Think his BAbip is related to his FB/PU tendencies. Looks like SIERA has been pretty high on the guy in recent years.

    Could take the Happ loss, maybe, if they remember to offer the guy arbitration.

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