Don’t Give Up On Domonic Brown

A few weeks ago, I wrote about the sentiment among some Phillies fans that the club missed on Brandon Moss, who was briefly in the organization at Triple-A Lehigh Valley. I did the same with Jason Grilli last year. It’s tough to see marginal players pass through your fingertips only to go onto major success elsewhere.

Seeing Phillies fans long for Moss and Grilli is humorous, juxtaposed with a loud swath of Phillies fans fed up with Domonic Brown, calling for the organization to demote him to Triple-A, trade him, or just plain release him. I’d be willing to wager there’s a high percentage of crossover between the two groups.

The criticism of Brown has been completely warranted through the first three months of the season. Aside from his 12-homer May last year (now 27 percent of his career home runs), he hasn’t done a whole lot against major league pitching. He has a career wRC+ of 97, which means he’s been slightly below average over 1,338 at-bats.

Oh, and the defense. It has been spectacularly awful. We knew he wasn’t going to be a Gold Glover even when he was still a young prospect, but he has actually regressed with regular playing time. Switching from right to left field likely didn’t help any, nor did the injuries and the Phillies’ jerking him around early in his career. Brown’s poor defense means he has to be even more consistently productive at the plate to justify his continued presence in the everyday lineup.

One can understand the frustration with watching Brown on an everyday basis — the rolling weak ground balls to second base, the easy misses in left field, the memory of the time the Phillies could have traded him for Jose Bautista.

For those of you who’d like to see Brown shipped out of town as quickly as possible, keep in mind that Brown could be the next Moss or Grilli: a former Phillie who slips through the cracks and turns into a superstar. While it’s unlikely he’ll ever do it again and the sample was certainly chock full of outliers, Brown did hit 12 home runs in May last season. Players don’t just luck into 12-homer months. Here’s a list of players to accomplish the feat since the start of the 2010 season:

Player Month G Year PA HR
Edwin Encarnacion May 30 2014 130 16
Nelson Cruz May 30 2014 129 13
Justin Upton Apr/Mar 26 2013 112 12
Chris Davis June 28 2013 116 12
Miguel Cabrera May 28 2013 132 12
Domonic Brown May 28 2013 109 12
Matt Kemp Apr/Mar 23 2012 98 12
Giancarlo Stanton May 29 2012 125 12
Josh Hamilton May 25 2012 111 12
Jose Bautista June 27 2012 120 14
B.J. Upton Sept/Oct 30 2012 129 12
Jay Bruce May 28 2011 122 12
Adrian Beltre Sept/Oct 24 2011 104 12
Jose Bautista May 29 2010 116 12
Jose Bautista August 28 2010 123 12
Troy Tulowitzki Sept/Oct 30 2010 134 15
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Play Index Tool Used
Generated 7/1/2014.

B.J. Upton is the only player on that list who you wouldn’t want on your team right this very moment. Brown’s road back to success in the major leagues is a matter of strategic adjustments and mechanics — certainly within the realm of possibilities, even if it will be the Phillies trying to facilitate those adjustments and mechanical changes.

Consider a pitching example. On Monday night, Chicago Cubs starter Jake Arrieta was four outs away from a no-hitter in Boston against the Red Sox until Stephen Drew broke it up with a single to right field. Arrieta finished with 10 strikeouts, shutting them out over 7 2/3 innings, allowing just the one hit and a walk. His June line includes a Clayton Kershaw-esque 0.92 ERA and a 48/6 K/BB ratio in 39 1/3 innings. He has a 1.81 ERA over 11 starts overall. The ERA retrodictors agree that Arrieta is pitching very well — he has a 1.95 FIP and a 2.48 xFIP.

Arrieta was a top-100 prospect for the Baltimore Orioles going into the 2009 and 2010 seasons, after having been drafted in the 5th round in 2007. He didn’t exactly dominate minor league competition, but he was polished, jumping from A-ball in 2008 all the way up to Triple-A the next season at the age of 23. The Orioles brought him up to the big leagues in June of 2010 and Arrieta struggled, finishing with a 4.66 ERA over 18 starts. While Arrieta would occasionally flash greatness, his time with the Orioles was mostly forgettable. Entering 2013, he had a 5.33 career ERA over 334 1/3 innings.

On July 2 last season, the Orioles decided to end the Jake Arrieta experiment, sending him along with reliever Pedro Strop to the Cubs for starter Scott Feldman and catcher Steve Clevenger. While the ERA retrodictors weren’t fond of him, Arrieta pitched well in his three months with the Cubs last season, posting a 3.66 ERA over nine starts.

What has been the change for Arrieta? He has been using his four-seam fastball less and using a cut fastball more. Left-handed hitters, typically his bane, haven’t been a problem for him, as his platoon split has nearly vanished.

While there’s still time for the pendulum to swing the other way, Arrieta is far from the only player who eventually reached his potential after initially struggling in the majors. There’s Carlos Gomez with the Brewers, Bautista and Edwin Encarnacion with the Blue Jays, Josh Donaldson with the Athletics, Phil Hughes with the Twins (though the jury is certainly still out on him), and Kyle Lohse with the Brewers (but it started with the Cardinals), among plenty more.

Here’s the real meat of the matter with Brown: he’ll be eligible for arbitration for the first time after the season. Coming off of his 2014, in which he made a measly $550,000, it will cost the Phillies virtually nothing (around $1 million) to keep him and see if he can turn things around. His value is about as low as it can be right now, so the Phillies aren’t likely to get anything useful in return — certainly not a talented young player who would help the team years down the road. It’s a no-brainer to keep Brown in tow, and to keep giving him regular playing time now that the team is assuredly out of contention. Thus, here are the two possibilities:

  • Brown turns it around — This is excellent, and though his price will rise over the next two years of arbitration eligibility, the Phillies would eventually be able to sign him to a contract extension and make him a part of the future corps of players on a more competitive team.
  • Brown’s struggles continue — Brown’s salary stays relatively low, giving the Phillies roster flexibility. The Phillies won’t be competitive in the immediate future anyway, so his continued presence won’t roadblock anyone or hamstring the team’s ability to get 25 players onto the roster.

So, Phillies fans, learn to love Domonic Brown, or at least tolerate his presence. If you happen to be part of the vocally frustrated calling for his ouster, I certainly don’t want to hear you in a couple years if and when he becomes the next Brandon Moss, hitting dinger after dinger in another uniform for pennies on the dollar.

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18 comments

  1. Ryne Duren

    July 03, 2014 07:30 AM

    -
    -12

    Oh please! I agree with a lot of what you said on the other players. But there are far more players that Brown would fit in very comfortably with. Those players you mentioned were “polished”? Yes to some degree that’s why other teams took a chance on them and they came around. Brown is so far away from being any kind of polished player. He’s actually regressing! One good month doesn’t mean he’s going to break out. I don’t care how good he did. There has to be something he could remember from that month and recognize what he was doing and apply it to be maybe not as good, but something better than he is now. Remember Joe Charbonneau of the Indians? One great rookie season then what? And that guy had better tools than Brown. Browns biggest missing tool is his brain.

    • hk

      July 05, 2014 06:23 AM

      How were Edwin Encarnacion and Carlos Gomez polished before they figured things out and went from double-digit OPS+’s to OPS+’s in the 150 range?

  2. tom b

    July 03, 2014 08:01 AM

    you sound a little insecure to spend another article bashing the fans for their opinions on moss and grilli. if making the adjustments were as doable as you imply shouldn’t howard have done it by now. shouldn’t revere be drawing some walks,aumont throwing strikes etc.

    • Beez Nutz

      July 03, 2014 08:24 AM

      I didnt take it as him bashing us (the fans) … he’s just saying you cant quit on prospects so easily and then be shocked if they do turn it around eventually / complain that they are succeeding somewhere else.

      I just disagree on Brown ever turning it around. As I said before, we’ve already seen his best.

      • tom b

        July 03, 2014 10:07 AM

        bashing was probably harsh, but still not sure his reasoning is correct. i’m no expert but not sure how long you can allow a player to get it. with his athleticism i can’t for the life of me understand zero progress in his fielding. to me his defense should’ve been repairable by now. i’ve seen a lot of hitters that could never adjust. i wouldn’t get rid of him for the sake of change. we have nothing ready to replace him with. not sure why we even do this,it’s not going to matter until the front office is fixed

  3. Dante

    July 03, 2014 08:24 AM

    You can’t compare Grilli/Moss with Brown. They had shown improvements while at triple A that the Phillies apparently didn’t think were sustainable. They were wrong. Other teams were able to accurately assess their abilities, while the Phillies failed to understand what they had under their nose. Brown is regressing, and many are calling him a “change of scenery” candidate. There is a lot of merit to this stance: guys like Bautista, Gomez, Lohse, and Encarnacion are prime examples that you mentioned. All of these guys changed something fundamental to how they played the game. For Dom to improve, he will likely have to do so as well. It may be that the ONLY way he can improve is to go somewhere else, where he can hit the reset button and simplify what he does. Each player is a different story, with different circumstances. You say we should be patient. I say we should have people in the organization who can accurately evaluate a player’s abilities so we can find these re-tooled bargains and ship off over-performing duds.

    • Carmine

      July 03, 2014 08:51 AM

      Very good points. And I would add to your last sentence that we should have people in the organization who are capable of getting through to young players and instructing them on what adjustments to make. As Tom B says, it isn’t as easy as it sounds, but other teams seem to do it. Of course, ultimately it’s all up to the player to listen and learn. Maybe Domonic isn’t capable of that.

      • Pete

        July 04, 2014 01:41 AM

        Perhaps it sometimes requires being shipped elsewhere for a player to become reachable. It must be pretty jarring to a prospect whose been with only one organization, which has bent over backwards to groom and protect the player, to suddenly find himself elsewhere in an organization that will have much less patience. I’m not saying that’s the case with Dom, as the Phillies have been pretty rough with him over the years. But for others, maybe that’s what it takes.

  4. SteveH

    July 03, 2014 09:24 AM

    Great piece Bill. I hate that everyone wants to let Brown go. People seem to forget that not everyone is Bryce Harper or Mike Trout, and even Trout struggled on his first small go around. The issue is, as many have pointed out, the Phils developmental staff just seems to not be able to get it done lately. One would hope that by now someone would have found a way to tweak his swing so he shortens it up some. They haven’t. Now I know some of that comes down to a players willingness but they also need someone who can positively get through to these young guys on a more consistent basis.

    • Francisco (FC)

      July 03, 2014 01:16 PM

      Well one difference between last year and this year is Wally Joyner. I wonder if Wally would have found the solution by now and helped Dom adjust.

  5. Matt

    July 03, 2014 10:24 AM

    I’d love to share the possibility of potential optimism here, but sometimes bad players have good months, and I’ve seen no indication Dom’s month last year was anything but that.

    On the plus side Rube & Monty have yet to reward him with a 6 year deal.

  6. Richard

    July 03, 2014 10:32 AM

    Good points all around.

    Couple of minor quibbles though:

    “We knew he wasn’t going to be a Gold Glover even when he was still a young prospect, but he has actually regressed with regular playing time.”

    This is presented as obvious fact, yet it’s disputable. For what it’s worth, his UZR/150 this year is rather better than it was last year. (DRS, though, not so much.) Yes, we can all point to some bad plays he’s made, and the fact that he seemed to make several blatant ones in the span of a week or two puts it in sharp relief. But we shouldn’t trust our eyes. Not saying we should “trust” the metrics, either. Just saying a little more equivocation is in order.

    He’s likely never going to be a good defender out there, but I think it’s at least arguable that he’s shown some improvement with regular playing time.

    • iwatch

      July 03, 2014 07:47 PM

      Totally agree with you. I’ve Watched every single game this year and last, and the D is much improved. Highlights can be deceiving.

    • Pete

      July 04, 2014 01:52 AM

      Dom’s defense has been spectacularly horrendous at every level of his professional career. I suspect it was one of if not the most important factors behind the trade for Hunter Pence. If Dom could’ve played defense, at all, then the trade doesn’t happen. But no way could you put him on a playoff team during the post-season with his abysmal defense. And give it a few more seasons and those defensive metrics will catch up to what everyone’s eyes have been telling us.

      • Richard

        July 04, 2014 09:50 AM

        “give it a few more seasons and those defensive metrics will catch up to what everyone’s eyes have been telling us.”

        this literally makes no sense whatsoever… the metrics graded him as indeed horrendous early on, and very bad last year… this year he’s just bad.

  7. John

    July 03, 2014 12:13 PM

    Scott Boras is Brown’s agent. Do you really think he’ll agree to a ‘relatively low salary?’ Really? Trading this guy for another ‘change of scenery’ head case, is about the best this highly faulted organization could hope for.

    • Buster

      July 03, 2014 01:05 PM

      Do you think because Boras is his agent arbitration is magically going to give him a $10 million salary?

      If he doesn’t perform well he won’t get much in arbitration, so it really doesn’t matter who his agent is. The Phils are not a good team right now, Brown is not costing them a playoff spot, may as well keep running him out there. The upside is he puts it together and starts to hit to his potential. The downside is he continues to struggle.

      The Phils are going to be bad either way, and he isn’t holding anyone in the minors back, so they have nothing to lose by trying to let him get it together right now.

  8. Drew

    July 03, 2014 01:33 PM

    Sorry. Dom Brown is no baseball player. He has no baseball instincts, those things that cannot be acquired, only honed. He will never, EVER, start for a serious baseball team.

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