Domonic Brown By The Numbers

Ben Revere has stepped to the plate 1500 times in his Major League career without recording even one Major League home run, yet he currently has a higher slugging percentage (.320) than Phillies’ left fielder, Domonic Brown (.317). So far in 2014, Brown is batting a paltry .253/.314/.317, a stark departure from a breakout 2013 campaign in which he hit 27 home runs and made his first All-Star Game. Let’s see if the numbers provide any clues as whether or not to worry and what to expect going forward from Brown.

First, the good news. Brown raised some eyebrows last May when he hit 12 home runs in the month but failed to draw a single walk. In case you were concerned that a player who had demonstrated good plate discipline throughout his entire career had suddenly forgotten how to take a pitch, I think it’s officially safe to exhale. Since June 1st of last year, Domonic Brown has reached base via the base on balls at an 8.9% clip and while that’s not exactly a Joey Votto-esque rate, it’s above the 8.1% league average for non-pitchers.

Unsurprisingly, Brown’s April struggles have been impacted at least somewhat by small sample size weirdness as evidenced by his platoon splits. Brown is a typical left-handed batter in that he has historically been more successful against right-handed pitchers than lefties. Consider his splits from last season:

2013 BA OBP SLG BB% K% BABIP
vs. LHP .252 .296 .429 5.7% 19.5% .277
vs. RHP .281 .336 .521 7.9% 17.3% .292

This season has been a different story for Brown. Note the complete reversal of his platoon splits:

2014 BA OBP SLG BB% K% BABIP
vs. LHP .385 .429 .538 7.1% 10.7% .409
vs. RHP .203 .273 .232 9.1% 19.5% .255

Through April, Brown has a .967 OPS against lefties and just a .505 OPS against righties, but the number that stands out most in the above chart is his babip. A .409 batting average on balls in play (babip) against LHP’s as opposed to a .255 mark against RHP’s is a sign that we’re likely looking at small sample variation here and he’s getting disproportionately lucky against same side pitching. It’s reasonable to expect his inflated success against lefties to regress as the season wears on. The hope, of course, is that his numbers against right-handed pitchers will take the opposite trajectory and improve to a point where they begin to resemble their 2013 counterparts.

As previously discussed here by Bill Baer, another notable development for Brown this season is that pitchers have altered their approach by challenging him more frequently with pitches down and away. An expected adjustment on Brown’s end would be taking those pitches to the opposite field and that’s exactly what he’s been doing. In 2013, he hit the ball to the opposite field 20.4% of the time and this season he’s going the other way 26.9% of the time. Conversely, the percentage of balls in play Brown pulled to right field has decreased from 45.9% in 2013 to 39.7% this season. If this is a true adjustment and not an aberration, it bodes well for Brown to continue implementing successful strategies at the plate going forward.

Considering the fact that Brown still doesn’t have a home run to left field at the Major League level, it might be surprising to note that this increased tendency for going the other way doesn’t appear to be chiefly responsible for the dip in his power numbers. This season he is slugging .500 to the opposite field, but just .419 when pulling the ball. Instead, the statistic that is the most damaging to Brown’s present power numbers may be his soaring ground ball rate.

 Year GB% FB% LD%
2013 42.4% 37.2% 20.4%
2014 56.4% 24.4% 19.2%

Rather than elevate the ball, Brown is regularly putting the ball on the ground and you don’t need sabermetrics to tell you that extra base hits are exceedingly more common on fly balls than ground balls. However, given that his other peripherals indicate a healthy approach at the plate and the unreliable nature of early season numbers, I’m inclined to chalk up his early season struggles as an anomaly rather than an alarming trend. At age 26, he should theoretically be entering his prime and there are still plenty of reasons for Phillies fans to find optimism in that fact.

On the other hand, if for some reason his ground ball rate remains high and his numbers against right-handed pitching don’t bounce back, it could be a very rough season for Domonic Brown.

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14 comments

  1. Beez Nutz

    May 02, 2014 11:32 AM

    I know this is a saber heavy site … but sometimes the eye test reigns supreme. I’m not optimistic on Dom at all. I think his peak is average to slightly above average left fielder.

    • Bill Baer

      May 02, 2014 11:48 AM

      The stats bear that out though. I assume you think 2013 was his peak year? Baseball Reference had him at 2.1 WAR (0.1 above average) and FanGraphs had him at 1.6 WAR (0.4 below average).

    • Corinne Landrey

      May 02, 2014 12:10 PM

      I mostly agree with you, Beez. I might be a shade more optimistic in that I don’t think another All-Star Game or two is out of the question, but my point here is more “have patience, Dom’s abilities haven’t cratered” than “have patience, Dom is going to be an MVP candidate.”

      • Beez Nutz

        May 02, 2014 01:07 PM

        I think that’s a fair enough statement Corinne, but lets at least hope the MVP part could be true though!

        @Bill – Unfortunately I do think we may have seen Dom at his best last year, at the plate. Which is fine if that is what we can expect to get, I just dont think he will consistently produce those types of numbers year by year. Hopefully, his defense begins to improve enough to compensate for any decline in offensive numbers, which it cant be much worse.

      • Beez Nutz

        May 02, 2014 01:09 PM

        Regardless …. id be ecstatic if I was wrong.

  2. JonCheddar

    May 02, 2014 11:44 AM

    It SEEMS like he is just not hitting the ball hard. I’d be very interested what his average speed off the bat has been, and his average fly ball distance has been, relative to last year.

    • Tim

      May 02, 2014 12:08 PM

      Well here are charts of batted ball type for this year and last year. Obviously the home runs are generally missing this year, but so far his flyballs in general don’t seem to be going as far.

      FanGraphs

      [Ed. Note: Edited comment to fix link overrun. -Baer]

  3. Bob

    May 02, 2014 01:17 PM

    Nice piece. A lot of good information and analysis here.

    • Corinne Landrey

      May 02, 2014 02:43 PM

      Thanks, Bob!

  4. Eric

    May 02, 2014 03:59 PM

    Great article, loved seeing GB rate and his splits.

    However, I honestly think Brown will be nothing more then a .260, 20-25 HR guy. Plus his OF play his tough to watch.

    This guy had so high expectations, that is the reason why we want more out of him. I would honestly take his play if we had some type of better OF all together.

  5. mark66

    May 03, 2014 08:46 AM

    Dom Brown is not doing anything like the front office has expected for 2014. The offense is not scoring what’s needed to offset the poor pitching performance of the staff. It continues to be one excuse after another. Watch the attendance continue to fall. Changes need to be made in the front office. They blew it with letting Frandsen go.

  6. George Callanan

    May 03, 2014 06:56 PM

    D. Brown will turn it on in May again. If he did it last year in May he can do it again. This team has too much talent to be in last place. They are Home and 4-7 in their House is unacceptable. D. Brown will lead the turn around in our stadium. We need bigger leads after Seven because the back end besides Pap is not holding up their end of the bargain. Go DB!

  7. Dang

    May 04, 2014 08:52 AM

    Dom brown’s May last year has fluke written all over it. 40% hr/FB? Lol. Sure, his current 5% hr/fb is a bit unlucky and will regress closer to his career 10%, but I don’t expect him to ever hit 25 homers in a season ever again. I said before the season, he’ll probably hit 17-18 this year.

  8. BobSmith

    May 04, 2014 01:08 PM

    Simply continues to try to pull pitch after pitch after pitch and is hitting a ton of weak GBs to the right-side of the field. It doesn’t help that teams seem to be shifting him almost as much as Howard too.

    The other issue too is that despite letting him settle in LF he has shown very little defensive improvement. Gone from horrendous to merely below average/poor defensively.

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