The Phillies Have to See Domonic Brown Through His Struggles
Domonic Brown‘s offensive futility continued last night as the outfielder went 0-for-3 with a walk against the San Diego Padres. His slash line fell to .211/.263/.312 and his weighted on-base average declined to .252. It’s the fourth-worst mark among all qualified hitters, ahead of only Jedd Gyorko (.215), Brad Miller (.242), and Zack Cozart (.251). The MLB average is .313.
Brown’s problems have been well-documented here. Starting in the second half of last season, following Brown’s productive May and June months, opposing pitchers started throwing Brown more and more pitches on the outer edge of the strike zone. To his credit, Brown tried to work with what he was giving, taking those outside pitches to the opposite field. As a result, Brown’s ability to hit for power vanished and his ground ball rate has sharply risen. If he isn’t hitting a weak fly ball to left field, he’s rolling over and hitting a weak grounder to the second baseman. Compare his spray charts from 2013 to 2014, via FanGraphs:
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And it’s been right-handers who have given Brown the most trouble. His .661 OPS against lefties is 104 points higher than his performance against right-handers. Brown just doesn’t have the power to go to the opposite field. His numbers bear that out clearly: his ISO is down to .102 from .222 last season and his .173 career average. His line drive rate is down from 23 to 16 percent, and his fly ball rate has fallen from 35 percent to 28 percent, commensurate with his ground ball rate increasing from 42 percent to 56 percent.
Brown tried to adjust and he has failed thus far. It happens, but he is recoverable. Players who have hit 25 home runs in a single season by age 25 are not exactly common. Brown was one of four last season, along with Paul Goldschmidt, Justin Upton, and Mike Trout. Looking at the list over the years, one sees a laundry list of productive players. Some have flamed out (Ian Stewart, Hank Blalock), but by and large, if a young player has that kind of strength, he has staying power in the Major Leagues.
Evolution is the next step. The Phillies and Brown need to work together to come up with a way to deal with pitches low and away that results in consistent line drives or allows him to add more muscle to fly balls to left field. Or he needs to go back to being a strictly pull hitter. Whether that’s a complete mechanical overhaul or a small tweak, the two sides should be open to all of the possibilities.
The Phillies have no other choice. Brown has zero trade value now, even though he’ll be arbitration-eligible for the first time in his career after the season. The Phillies are also bereft of other legitimate Major League-ready corner outfield candidates to experiment with in his stead. As painful as it sounds, the Phillies are married to Brown for the time being and they have no other choice but to do everything in their power to see him through his struggles. If and when the team is competitive again in a couple years, they might be glad they did.