Dom Brown’s Plate Discipline Against Southpaws

In yesterday’s post, we discussed Domonic Brown and why he should get regular playing time in 2011, rather than platoon with a right-handed hitter. The idea of platooning Brown stems from reliance on a small sample of chances against left-handed pitchers in which he struggled. In total, Brown faced lefties 14 times and saw 56 pitches — essentially four games’ worth of data.

His .069 wOBA against lefties was not impressive in the least, but you can chalk that up to small sample variance and an adjustment period between Triple-A Lehigh Valley and the Major Leagues. The left-handers in the Majors are significantly tougher to hit than those in the Minors.

Furthermore, as noted yesterday, Brown had a history of hitting well against lefties in the Minors.

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, 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.”

I went to look at some of those pretty heat maps from Baseball Anlaytics and I left feeling confident about Brown’s ability to progress.

As the top prospect in the Phillies’ organization, Brown was heralded for his elite plate discipline. Dave Huppert, manager of the Lehigh Valley Iron Pigs, said:

I am most impressed with his plate discipline and how he can cut down on his swing with two strikes.

In his Minor League career, he drew walks at a 10.5 percent clip, which is good for a Major Leaguer let alone a prospect. Plate discipline entails not only laying off unfavorable pitches, but swinging mostly at the favorable ones as well. The following heat map shows that Brown had a great idea of the strike zone, even against left-handers.

Almost all of the red is in the strike zone, and the blips outside are extremely small samples — individual pitches. The heat map above includes all pitches.

Against hard stuff Brown is almost exclusively in the strike zone.

By process of elimination, you can deduce where Brown swung at the soft stuff, but just for sake of completion:

Against soft stuff, Brown stayed mostly within the strike zone.  The two pitches inside — one by his ankles, one by his belt — are change-ups. The three pitches outside include two sliders and one curve.

Even with two strikes, Brown didn’t go out of his way to swing. Against all pitches with two strikes:

This approach is impressive for any player, let alone a young player with just 70 Major League plate appearances. Brown is already ahead of many of his hitting peers in terms of simply handling same-handed pitching. There is no reason to retard that progress by putting him in a platoon.

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  1. Jake

    November 05, 2010 08:07 AM

    Any chance you could pull comparative heat maps for lefties…like Ibanez, Utley or howard so we could compare his discipline to those we know in practice?
    Love the work.

  2. Ken

    November 05, 2010 09:24 AM

    Very nice work, Bill. I’ve never understood the platoon talk. It’s the need for defensive growth that makes me feel like the none part of the all or none still stands in the way. I’m hopeful that winter ball and spring training bring his defensive ability up to a lower level of risk that he can at least be so productive on defense (the arm seems terrific, the routes are an adventure) that you let him play and be patient. But be it with the Phils, or the Pigs, the kid, who hasn’t played all that much baseball,
    definitely needs to play.

  3. Scott G

    November 05, 2010 09:27 AM

    I don’t know where this platoon talk even started. It seems like every source I find cites how Brown isn’t awful against lefties. Citing Baseball Prospectus, “Unlike many left-handed power prospects, he has no distinct platoon disadvantage”.

  4. Drew

    November 05, 2010 12:16 PM

    @Scott It comes from having a strong suspicion that Charlie won’t want to use him full time because he’s young. There isn’t much evidence of how Charlie likes to use young players since he inherited a veteran club but if Werth is an indication, Brown will have to split time and earn his full time role.

  5. Mike T

    November 05, 2010 12:58 PM

    It seems that everyone is convinced that Brown is ready to take the next step in 2011. I wonder if the Phillies are not so sure and need to have a backup plan for right next year. It appeared that Brown was working on lowering his hands and shortening his swing once he went back to the bench when Victorino returned. If these changes are necessary for him to hit in the majors then it stands to reason that he may need a half season in triple A to make this work. Might it not be a good idea to have Francisco and another player (left handed) ready to platoon in right and bring Brown up half way through the year for Raul if he struggles?

  6. mike

    November 06, 2010 03:50 PM

    great analysis, Bill. the bottom line is that no one, especially young players, gets better by sitting on the bench.

  7. CH Phan

    November 09, 2010 12:40 PM

    I don’t see why he shouldn’t have to “earn his time” especially given what we saw from him this season. He didn’t look like the ‘Superman’ everyone has touted him to be. When the fans are happily willing to lose games so Brown can have fulltime professional play, well then great. Until then, I guess he’ll have to platoon.

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