As Phillies fans brace for the loss of right fielder Jayson Werth, they look towards a bright future that includes phenom prospect Domonic Brown. Brown was not impressive in his 35 games at the Major League level, finishing with a triple-slash line of .210/.257/.355. Even worse was his performance against left-handed pitching: .077/.071/.077 in 14 plate appearances.
Brown’s struggles can be blamed partially on his irregular playing time in August and September. He battled a quadriceps injury as well as reduced playing time, since Charlie Manuel refused to cut into 38-year-old Raul Ibanez‘s time on the field.
With the off-season bringing a flurry of rumors, many fans are speculating on platoon partners for Brown in 2011. SI.com‘s Jon Heyman writes that the Phillies have interest in re-acquiring San Francisco Giants outfielder Aaron Rowand or signing free agent Magglio Ordonez. David Murphy notes that Jeff Francoeur and Matt Diaz are lesser-known, cheaper options to join Brown in a platoon.
It seems like the platoon is a foregone conclusion. Why platoon Brown, the only prospect the Phillies have guarded, in his first full season in the big leagues? Why stifle his development? Why try to fix something that isn’t broken? Matt Gelb reported, as of his writing in late July, Brown had been hitting .318 against southpaws with Triple-A Lehigh Valley prior to his promotion. Bill Root made a similar observation for SI.com, saying, “Impressively, the left-handed power hitter has hit left-handed pitching at a .282 clip in his career; his ability to hit southpaws will only accelerate his learning curve in the majors.”
Why not platoon Ibanez, who has an OPS 90 points lower against southpaws than against right-handed pitching in his long career? Ibanez is older, much worse defensively, and has less to offer with his bat.
Another foregone conclusion seems to be that the platoon partner will come from outside the organization. Cash-strapped as it is, it would make more sense for the team to use Ben Francisco — who will likely be awarded less than $1 million in arbitration — in a platoon. Francisco has a career .350 wOBA against left-handers compared to Ibanez’s .330.
Platooning Ibanez and Francisco in left field allows Brown to rack up north of 600 plate appearances in 2011, which is exactly what he needs to develop into an elite Major Leaguer. By sheltering young players from environments in which they struggle, the problem is only exacerbated. Brown will never learn how to hit Major League lefties unless he is exposed to them. Sure, he may struggle, but this is the route the Phillies chose to take by coveting him as a prospect and being unable to budget in a new contract for Werth.