Will Pitchers Catch Up to Domonic Brown?
Domonic Brown was easily the most pleasant surprise for the Phillies throughout 2013. He finished with a .351 weighted on-base average, third-best on the team behind Chase Utley and Darin Ruf. He also finished with a .222 ISO, which left him in the top-20 among all Major League hitters. After years of fighting tooth and nail for playing time, he has finally secured a starting role for himself going forward.
Brown had a remarkable month of May, smashing 12 home runs en route to a .991 OPS over the 31-day period. He won Player of the Month honors and earned himself a spot on the National League All-Star roster. Unfortunately, he wasn’t able to completely replicate his success in the months that followed, though he did remain fairly productive. Along with a concussion (July) and tendonitis in his right foot (September) hampering his offensive output during the second half, pitchers also became less willing to challenge him. Instead, they relied on pitching him on the outer portion of the plate.
The re-emergence of inside pitches could be attributed to September call-ups, as teams want to see what their young players can do without limits.
Brown’s OPS by month went: .681, .991, .884, .765, .772, .670.
Additionally, Brown was exclusively a pull hitter. As his home run chart illustrates, only one of his 27 home runs went to right center or center; the rest were hit to right field; none to left or left-center. Overall, Brown posted a .226 wOBA on batted balls to the opposite field and never went above .282 in a single month. He had a .000 ISO on balls to the opposite field in May, July, and August, and finished at .086 for the season. In other words, if you force Brown to hit it to left field, you sap him of his power.
Brown also showed a bit of a platoon split, posting an .857 OPS against right-handed pitching and .724 against lefties. As the season went on, opposing managers attempted to neutralize Brown with lefty relievers. As a percentage of his monthly plate appearances, Brown faced lefty relievers in 10 percent of PA’s in April, 13 percent in May, then 15, 16, 16, and 15 percent in the remaining four months. While a difference of two to three percent may not seem like much, Brown only saw a lefty reliever one or two times a game.
Lefties approached Brown by throwing “soft” pitches slightly less than once out of every two pitches low and outside, not unlike Ryan Howard.
There is now a book on Brown and with the prevalence of data readily available to coaches and players, I am not stating anything the opposition doesn’t already know about him. They will use this knowledge just as they used it on Ryan Howard — to neutralize Brown, to allow him to use his strengths as rarely as possible and to take advantage of his weaknesses as often as they can. Brown will have to adjust by developing power to the left side or by utilizing his great plate discipline to work the count and force the pitcher to challenge him in a more favorable location. 2014 is a big year for Brown and the Phillies as both parties will find out if he truly will be the team’s outfielder of the future. He can cement his status with the team by continuing to improve and become the backbone of the offense.