Domonic Brown: Turning Lemons into Lemonade

If the Phillies had plans to open the 2013 season with a formidable outfield, those dreams have quickly vanished. As Nick Swisher went off the board just before Christmas, signing a four-year, $56 million deal, so too did the final option for a full-time corner outfielder for the Phillies. Among those remaining are Michael Bourn (whose price is prohibitive), Matt Diaz, Scott Hairston, Ryan Sweeney, and bigot Delmon Young — players best fit in a platoon.

There has been speculation that the Phillies will use four outfielders in the two corners, utilizing John Mayberry, Laynce Nix, Domonic Brown, and Darin Ruf depending on the match-ups. While a platoon involving Nix and Mayberry makes sense, a platoon involving Brown does not.

A team utilizes a platoon when players at a particular position complement each other’s strengths and weaknesses. For instance, a Mayberry/Nix platoon works because Mayberry hits LHP well and RHP worse (.371/.301 wOBA), while Nix hits RHP passably well and LHP significantly worse (.317/.235 wOBA). When he was healthy and playing every day, Brown showed an ability to hit left-handed pitching nearly as well as he hit right-handed pitching:

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.

The above quote from Bill Root on Sports Illustrated’s website was posted on July 13, 2010. A few weeks later, Matt Gelb noted how well Brown was hitting lefties with Triple-A Lehigh Valley:

Huppert declined to share his opinion on whether he believes Brown is ready for the big leagues, but he was certainly impressed by the rightfielder’s ability to hang in for a two-run triple against sidewinding lefthander R.J. Swindle in the bottom of the eighth inning.

“He doesn’t give in at the plate,” Huppert said.

Brown is hitting .318 against lefthanded pitching.

There is a difference between Major League-quality left-handed pitching and Minor League-quality left-handed pitching, though. In his brief Major League career, Brown has posted a .260 wOBA against LHP and .321 against RHP. That gap has prompted Brown’s suggested use as a platoon player.

With 492 career trips to the plate, Brown has faced right-handers in 383 of them (78 percent); lefties in only 109. 109 plate appearances isn’t nearly enough for us to ascertain a player’s true talent. The standard deviation for his RHP performance is 24 points of wOBA, meaning that we are 95 percent confident his true RHP talent is between .273 and .369. The standard deviation for his LHP performance is 42 points of wOBA, so his 95 percent confidence interval is .176-.344.

Saying that Brown’s true talent against southpaws is .176-.344 is just about worthless, which should tell you that 109 PA is also just about worthless. When you have such scant information, you want to regress towards the league average. Last season, the average non-pitcher posted a .320 wOBA with a standard deviation of .001.

In this post at Athletics Nation back in 2008, Sal Baxamusa illustrated the best estimate of Travis Buck‘s true OBP skill based on the amount of plate appearances in which you observe a .377 OBP.

Notice how much further from the league average (.330) the estimate gets as your sample size increases.

Because we have hardly any information to use, we heavily regress Brown to the league average. As a result, our best estimate of his true LHP skill is a .320 wOBA, virtually identical to his performance against right-handed pitching. We either need to accept this or get some more data before making any conclusions.

Additionally, platooning the 25-year-old would simply further stunt his development. Brown has been in the Majors since 2010, but has accumulated only 492 PA in total, an average of 164 per season. The timeline:

  • 2010 (70 PA): Brown was promoted to the Majors on July 28. He started 13 of 35 games in which he appeared, but 9 of those 13 starts came in his first 11 games. He was a bench bat by mid-August. He suffered from a strained quadriceps in September, forcing him to miss 15 games.
  • 2011 (210 PA): Brown was hit on the hand by a pitch, fracturing his hamate bone. He had surgery to fix it, then was sent to Triple-A. Keith Law estimates that it takes 12-18 months for a player to regain power after such an injury, effectively a timetable of May-October 2012. The Phillies recalled Brown at the end of May and he played regularly through the end of July, when they senthim back to Lehigh Valley. Brown was brought back up in mid-September only to pinch-run and pinch-hit once before the season ended.
  • 2012 (212 PA): Injuries continue to sabotage Brown, as he suffered from a left hamstring injury in May and inflammation in his right knee in June. Matt Gelb noted, “[the injury] comes at an inopportune time for Brown, who was finally finding his stroke at triple-A Lehigh Valley while playing regularly. Brown was hitting .300 in 11 June games with three home runs and a .939 OPS.” Once healed, the Phillies recalled him at the end of July, giving him regular playing time for the final two months.

Brown has never had more than two months of uninterrupted regular playing time at the Major League level. Platooning him in 2013, at age 25 in his fourth season, would only further impede his growth as a player. Brown either is or isn’t going to be a good enough player to be a part of the Phillies’ plans; they are never going to learn this by using him as a part-time player.

If the Phillies don’t intend to give Brown 600 PA this season, they should trade him. As Brown becomes increasingly older and more expensive, both the Phillies and their potential suitors will have little need for a player who hasn’t played a full year at the Major League level. Put another way, when it comes to Brown, the Phillies need to [crap] or get off the pot.

Leave a Reply

*

30 comments

  1. James Kerti

    December 27, 2012 11:30 AM

    In all my years of watching baseball, I can\’t remember a prospect being handled quite like this by management.

  2. Ring the Bell

    December 27, 2012 11:34 AM

    I could not agree more. Put Dom out there and let\’s see what we have. I think if the Phils would finally just do that the right field problem is solved.

  3. EricL

    December 27, 2012 11:56 AM

    Can we add Rick Ankiel to the list of remaining OF options? He hits just about as poorly as Sweeney or Diaz, but he\’s got that amazing laser arm which could be fun to watch as a late inning defensive replacement for Ruf or whatever.

    If the Phillies are looking at crap, lets include crap that might be entertaining!

    mlb.mlb.com/video/play.jsp?content_id=20672793&c_id=mlb

  4. Ben

    December 27, 2012 12:47 PM

    A standard deviation of .001? This cannot be right, can it? That would mean Miguel Cabrera was 97 standard deviation above the mean.

  5. Bill Baer

    December 27, 2012 12:56 PM

    Hmm, yeah. I don’t have my spreadsheet anymore, since I wrote this at work. Could just be a typo, but I can’t check my formula at the moment.

  6. Pat

    December 27, 2012 01:14 PM

    Bigot Delmon Young? Bill, I like your writing, but that\’s unnecessary. I\’m not condoning Young\’s incident, but we don\’t know how he thinks. Laynce Nix has a DUI and is mentioned in the article, but he\’s not \”drunk Laynce Nix\”. If you\’re going to attach character flaws to people, it\’s kind of lousy to do it arbitrarily.

  7. pedro3131

    December 27, 2012 01:21 PM

    the mean wOBA for qualified players was .327 with a standard deviation of .03 as per fangraphs. They have a .01 variance which might be where you got that from. I think it\’s safe to say wOBA doesn\’t have a normal distribution though considering that 2/3 of players aren\’t in the .324-.330 range

  8. Ben

    December 27, 2012 01:48 PM

    I think survivor bias probably explains your PA vs True OBP graph to some extent as well.

  9. whitstifier

    December 27, 2012 02:01 PM

    Yeah, if the Phillies could just let him play a full season, that\’d be great.

  10. Pat

    December 27, 2012 02:09 PM

    Bill, yes I did. What part of my post seemed uninformed? I just didn\’t get why you were singling out Young. You can attach a negative adjective to many players based on a single incident, but choose not to. If Young is a \”bigot\”, why isn\’t Nix a \”drunk\”?

  11. Bill Baer

    December 27, 2012 02:17 PM

    I didn’t know Nix had a DUI. I’m not sure why you’re A) sticking up for an anti-semite, and B) attributing malice to my pointing out his anti-semitism, and my not pointing out Nix’s DUI.

  12. Pencilfish

    December 27, 2012 02:48 PM

    There are still OF available via trade. There are rumors the Phillies might be interested in Jason Kubel. Since Kubel is a lefty, trading for him makes either Nix or Brown redundant.

  13. hk

    December 27, 2012 03:44 PM

    It would be compound RAJ\’s mis-management in not tendering Schierholtz if they give up an asset for Kubel and pay him ~$8M. Schierholtz has been a better fielder and base-runner and only a slightly worse hitter vs. RHP\’s than Kubel over the past 3 years. If they do this and replace Brown and not Nix, RAJ will have really outdone himself.

  14. Jeff P

    December 27, 2012 03:48 PM

    I said this on twitter, but it boggles my mind that platooning Dom is even a question.

    We\’re out there looking for value deals on BJ Upton, hoping Hamilton falls to a lower price, pushing 40M on Angel Pagan, considering going 50M on Swisher and so on. We have a player who is 25, pre-arb and has a high ceiling. Will he ever be any of the above guys? Maybe, maybe not. But the potential for a 4.5 WAR player is certainly not crazy.

    We potentially HAVE that OF in Brown. Maybe not. But we certainly don\’t know that.

    Even considering platooning him with a Hariston or a Mayberry or the like is basically saying \”we give up.\” Maybe Brown never is more than an average 3rd OF. But it\’s absolutely asinine to platoon him now and never find out. I\’m fine if someone wants to argue that he\’ll never hit his ceiling of two years ago. But I\’m not fine with someone who says he needs to be platooned because the ship has sailed on him. It might end up being the case that he\’s a platoon guy, but it\’s terrible management

    I realize this is kinda redundant to Bill\’s post, but it just kinda smacked me today how even Brown supporters have kinda thrown in the towel either on him, or the Phillies management of him.

    Go out there and make me proud Rube, give this kid 600 PA.

  15. John Paul

    December 27, 2012 03:56 PM

    Character flaw? I didn\’t know white supremacists or Nazi\’s or the KKK just had character flaws. Driving drunk and a hate crime harassment charge are not equivalent and I too wonder why you would stick up for an anti-Semite. You may not know what he thinks, unless you

    Getting away from stats, Dom Brown has never played a single season with the same club. I hope he works his ass off, works on his swing during the off season, wins the starting job and they let him determine his own fate whether he stays a starter or not.

  16. Dan

    December 27, 2012 03:58 PM

    Pat, I don\’t know why you\’re bothering. Bill isn\’t being unprofessional or immature; he\’s simply embracing his calling as the hero of the common people.

  17. Frank Reynolds

    December 27, 2012 07:08 PM

    I am hoping they are already committed to giving him 600PAs this year. I have been assuming that they are going to give him a starting job on the team. I also think he has to prove himself to be at least an average player. I thnk it\’s make or break time for both sides here(the oraganization and Dom). I just hope he does not get hurt,

  18. Pat

    December 27, 2012 08:59 PM

    I honestly don\’t know why I\’m sticking for Young either. I hate prejudice. I just don\’t know whether he\’s a bigot or a guy who made a bigoted statement once while drunk. Laynce Nix (not to pick on him, his name\’s just in the article) could be a drunk or a guy who made the mistake of driving while having too many one night.

    Anyway, it\’s semantics I\’m arguing over, so sorry for the tangent. This is probably the best Phils site out there and you do good work. No harm meant.

  19. Lee

    December 27, 2012 09:02 PM

    right field, left field, right field…I\’ve never seen so many accomodations for a \”five tool\” player. Domonic Brown still has problems playing the outfield. His hitting has improved, he waits on the offspeed stuff … my two cents…Spring Training determines if he\’s everyday.

  20. Bill Baer

    December 27, 2012 09:24 PM

    Pat,

    No worries. I will take any and every opportunity to jab at jerks like Delmon Young and Josh Lueke. It’s always deserved, in my humble opinion. :)

  21. Pete

    December 27, 2012 09:59 PM

    @John Paul

    True. Driving drunk and using hate speech are not equivalent. Driving drunk is worse. It is actively endangering the lives of others. I understand why we have zero tolerance for a decision to engage in hate speech, but I am at a loss why we are so much more tolerant of a decision to drive drunk. If I had to choose between a drunk going on a hate speech rant or getting behind the wheel…well, I guess I choose the hate speech rant.

  22. John Paul

    December 27, 2012 10:34 PM

    I didn\’t say that drunk driving was better or worse, just that they shouldn\’t be compared as equals.

    Without civil rights, hate speech turns in to genocide, enslavement, lynchings, discrimination, um world wars…I particularly like learning about history and where we come from and why we are here and while drunk drivers are selfish individuals, they are seldom evil. Hate speech that have turned in to crimes HAVE killed more people than drunk drivers and they are quite ugly and evil. I am in no way condoning drunk driving but to me it\’s the difference between being a wreckless and selfish individual (drunk) and being an ego centric and possibly dangerous individual; neither or good but the lesser of the two evils comes down to how you interpret their intent to be malicious and in this case, Nix didn\’t go get smashed with the intent of killing someone on the way home but in Young\’s case he was yelling \”Effing Jew!\” at a panhandler wearing the star of David and then tackled a bystander who stood up for him. Drunk driver or violent racist, I\’ll take the drunk driver in this case.

  23. Jake

    December 28, 2012 12:31 AM

    Good article Bill, I agree; it is time to let Brown sink or swim.

  24. EricL

    December 28, 2012 01:22 AM

    Lee, it\’s probably not best to determine how you\’re going to play any of your players based on a couple weeks of performance against AAAA-level competition and pitchers working on getting back into live game shape.

    Spring training tells you essentially nothing about how well a guy is going to perform for the next 6 months.

  25. Scott G

    December 28, 2012 06:27 AM

    Lindros,

    What part of Matt Diaz\’s career .863 OPS vs. lefties is crap to you?

  26. hk

    December 28, 2012 07:18 AM

    Scott,

    Over the past 3 seasons, his age 32 to 34 seasons, Diaz has produced a .754 OPS and a 104 WRC+ vs. LHP\’s. He\’s also not a particularly good base-runner or fielder. If you are looking for a corner OF to get the short side of a platoon, JMJ is a much better option and hopefully Ruf will be, too. Would it be okay if they signed Diaz to a minor league contract to compete with the lesser of JMJ and Ruf for the last roster spot? Sure, but other than that, Diaz is not even worth discussing.

  27. Scott G

    December 28, 2012 09:06 AM

    \”That\’s when I realized: nerds have ruined baseball.\”

    That\’ll show me for using my phone to look up stats. Sorry, Big E.

  28. HB

    December 31, 2012 04:52 PM

    Completely agree. Time to see what Brown can do for us (pun intended).

    Also, I think Manuel’s time has come. I will always love him for getting a WS but this isn’t the type of team he is suited for. His strength is managing star personalities and motivation. His weakness is strategy and developing young players. This team needs a manager who can make the in game moves, platoon the right players and develop the young guys (Galvis, Revere and Brown etc). I’m thinking a Maddon type manager. Not sure if they exist anywhere but I think Manuel’s time has come. I don’t think he can be successful with this type of team.

Next ArticleCrash Bag, Vol. 34: One Night in Pankot Makes a Hard Man Humble