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:

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:

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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