Analyzing Domonic Brown’s Base Running Gaffe

The Phillies swept the Washington Nationals out of Philadelphia with an easy 8-4 victory last night, making them winners of six of their last seven games. Though the Phillies pounded out 15 hits, three of which were home runs, the game wasn’t without mistakes.

One of those mistakes occurred in the bottom of the sixth inning. Domonic Brown had doubled in a run, reducing the Phillies’ deficit to 4-3. In the next at-bat, Wil Nieves went ahead 2-0, then fouled off three consecutive pitches. On Nats starter Doug Fister‘s sixth pitch of the at-bat, Wil Nieves hit a ground ball to shortstop Ian Desmond. Brown went on contact and was easily thrown out at third base for the first out of the inning.

Thankfully, the base running mistake didn’t end up costing the Phillies, as Grady Sizemore eventually put the Phillies ahead 5-4 with a two-run home run later in the inning, and the Phillies would tack on three more runs before the night was over. For Brown, however, it was the latest mistake in a season that has been littered with them. Despite his athleticism, FanGraphs rates Brown as a negative-value base runner in a virtual tie with catcher Carlos Ruiz. Baseball Prospectus rates Brown as an equivalent base runner to a handful of Phillies pitchers: Cliff Lee, Kyle Kendrick, A.J. Burnett.

Here’s what happened in .gif form:

Notice how Brown isn’t taking account of the defenders as the pitcher gets ready to deliver the pitch to home plate. (He swivels his head but isn’t looking at anything in particular.) Brown could have been using this time to observe the defensive positioning of the Nationals’ middle infielders, which would have allowed him to better gauge his decision to advance to third base.

In fairness to Brown, this is a ground ball hit behind him. Runners are taught to advance to the next base on this type of hit. However, this ball was sharply hit right at the shortstop; it’s not a seven-hopper where the shortstop’s momentum is taking him away from third base. All Desmond has to do is turn and make an accurate throw to third baseman Anthony Rendon to complete the play. Brown should have been able to guess how easy of a play it was going to be for Desmond if he had recognized his positioning prior to the pitch.

Here’s Chase Utley on second base prior to the second pitch of Ryan Howard‘s at-bat against the New York Mets on August 8.

You can see Utley observing the positioning of all of the Mets’ infielders and outfielders, even spinning around to do so quickly.

Look at Utley again in the bottom portion of this .gif doing the same thing prior to Jenrry Mejia‘s first pitch to Marlon Byrd in that same game:

You’ll see Utley do this every single time he’s on second base, regardless of the situation. It’s a habit and it’s part of the reason why Utley consistently rates as an above-average base runner year after year. Not only does analyzing the positioning of the defense allow Utley to make the correct split-second decision, it allows him to get a good jump to take an extra base if necessary.

Brown is not the only player who fails to consistently analyze the game state. Most players rely on their instincts and athleticism. Utley, however, was never blessed with blazing speed and had to utilize other tools to put himself ahead. Brown can avoid base running gaffes in the future by taking a page out of Utley’s book and being a more observant runner on the bases.

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26 comments

  1. Dan

    August 28, 2014 07:13 AM

    These sort of mistakes are the sort of thing young players should have been drilled on early in their careers, before they even make to the big leagues. Maybe Brown just has frequent lapses in concentration but this seems like something that would have been eliminated (or greatly reduced) with targeted minor league coaching, particularly with the top prospect in the system at the time.

    • Beez Nutz

      August 28, 2014 08:08 AM

      Man you guys are unreal .. every single day its a problem with the system or the coaching staff.

      DOM BROWN SUCKS – ITS NOT THE COACHING / SYSTEM

    • Renmiked

      August 28, 2014 08:14 AM

      Show me the other player, on this team, that came through the system, that has the same lack of concentration issue as Brown. He seems to be the outlier. It could be that he is just a bad player, who will make mental errors on a regular basis.

      • Keith

        August 28, 2014 10:38 AM

        You can’t because their aren’t any other decent players to come out of the system… other than brown what was the most recent player to come out of our fan system to make an all star game? Or even come close? This system/management has done a horrible job either drafting or producing talent.

      • Keith

        August 28, 2014 10:40 AM

        *there

      • Mark

        August 28, 2014 10:43 AM

        Show me the last talented player the Phillies actually developed? How many years do you have to go back? 7 or 8 at least. This isn’t excusing Brown’s mental mistakes, but the Phillies have clearly demonstrated that as an organization they are horrible at player development.

      • Ryan

        August 28, 2014 11:50 AM

        Our entire core was developed by the “system”. They may be aging and not-so-good now, but they were elite players in their day.

        You can’t forget that those good draft picks were the result of how horrendous the Phillies were in the late 90’s and early 2000’s. It stands to reason that once those talented young players came up and started impacting the major league club they started winning, thus giving the team lower draft picks.

        Then couple all of that with management mortgaging the future in trades to “win now” and you have our current situation. Blame management (and possibly poor scouting for not finding talent in the scrap heap the way the A’s do), but the coaching is not to blame.

      • Mark

        August 28, 2014 12:31 PM

        The organization that drafted and developed the aging core (Rollins, Howard, Utley, etc.) is not the organization in place now. It’s been almost a decade since the Phillies developed a quality Major League-level position player. How are they not to blame partially for Brown’s miscues? I would understand not assigning them any blame if this was an organization that consistently develops quality players regardless of what round they were drafted, but it’s not. They have to be considered near the bottom of the league in regards to player development.

    • kidsusedtoplaypickle

      August 28, 2014 04:13 PM

      This is what you get when you don’t “play the game the right way.” People like to make fun of fundamentals, but there you have it.

  2. Carmine

    August 28, 2014 08:33 AM

    I wonder if any of the veterans on the team call Brown out for his many lapses. I wonder if Sandberg or any of the coaches either show tough love or the good cop routine, but at least talk to him about it. From an outside perspective, it seems everybody just shows up and does the same old “stuff” over and over again. Even with the sweep of Washington, the result is 11 games under .500 on August 28.

    • Keystone

      August 28, 2014 09:07 AM

      www.csnphilly.com/baseball-philadelphia-phillies/bowa-phillies-arent-playing-big-leaguers

      Bowa called Brown out in early June.

      “A lot of it has to do with instincts,” Bowa said of baserunning. “And if you don’t have good baseball instincts — you can’t teach instincts — if you don’t have them by the time you reach the big leagues, you’re not going to get it.

      “And there are some people right now who are showing they don’t have the instincts that we thought they had.”

      Brown just might not be a big leaguer.

      • Pete

        August 28, 2014 11:32 PM

        Exactly right. The guy doesn’t know how to play baseball. Never did. And looking more and more like never will. Exhibit A in the age-old blunder of drafing toolsy athletes who never played or played little baseball growing up and thinking you can teach them to be baseball players.

      • ASK

        August 29, 2014 05:44 AM

        “Exhibit A in the age-old blunder of drafing toolsy athletes who never played or played little baseball growing up and thinking you can teach them to be baseball players.”

        Do teams really ever draft players who played little or no baseball? It seems unlikely and I doubt it happens much if at all in the top rounds. Brown was 7-1 with a 1.29 ERA and hit .455 in his senior year of high school. The Phillies drafted him in the 20th round. The reasons that he dropped to the 20th round were (a) he moved from Florida to Georgia after his junior year in high school and fell off the map of a lot of scouts and (b) he accepted a scholarship to play college football. I wouldn’t think it’s hyperbole to say that making it to MLB makes Brown one of the more successful 20th round picks in MLB history. It surely wasn’t a blunder.

  3. Josh G

    August 28, 2014 10:37 AM

    I’ll take “Things Chase Utley is good at for 200, Alex”

  4. ambiguator

    August 28, 2014 12:08 PM

    Revere was in a similar situation last night on 2nd when Howard hit his single up the middle. Revere jumped when the ball was hit, but quickly did a 180 and headed back to the bag until the ball got past the infielders. Good base running from someone other than Chase Utley.

  5. SOB

    August 28, 2014 12:41 PM

    This is not exactly about Dom, but I was wondering if anyone sees the same thing I do. The Contact Play. Runner on third and less than two outs, and they run on any ground ball. I’ve been noticing this before Ryno took over as well. I’m not sure if I’m just nit picking because of the struggles the last few years, or if the manager really is sending basically everyone on contact as soon as they get to third. Normally I would just mark it down as poor base running, but as stated, Chase is a very astute base runner, so watching him run into easy outs at home convinces me that it is coming from the dugout. Even Howard and Ruiz have been running on contact. Those two are more likely to get thrown out at first by the right fielder than making it safely home on a sharp grounder to the short stop.

    Am I just imagining this? Has anyone else noticed it? The guys at the VFW look at me like I have Tourette’s when I just random shout “Ugh! Goddamn contact play!” I haven’t heard this particular gripe yet this season, and I would love some feedback.

    • Major Malfunction

      August 28, 2014 01:14 PM

      I concur. It seems that the running on contact has turned into blind execution like what Brown did. Yeah, you can be aggressive, but if the wheels aren’t there, it just isn’t going to happen.

      Even when I play beer league softball and I’m on 2nd, I look around where all the defenders are in the infield AND where the outfielders are playing. I watch when people throw the ball in even on routine plays because it shows you who’s got an arm and who doesn’t.

      I do this in beer league. Brown doesn’t do this as a professional? Bowa was right. You can’t teach instincts, I guess. But how hard is it for a professional baseball player to LOOK AROUND before the pitch?

    • kidsusedtoplaypickle

      August 28, 2014 04:18 PM

      That’s exactly what “The Contact Play” is: the runner is supposed to run on every play at the moment of contact to make the defense have to execute a play. There is no “reading” anything on a contact play – it’s a play that the manager puts on. Of course, unless one knows the Philly signs, we don’t 100% know if the play is on v. the runner making a read – we just guess from watching replays.

      • SOB

        August 29, 2014 12:28 AM

        Every time I see Chooch or Howard just bolt for home I have to assume it came from the dugout. I feel the same about Utley too. He’s such a good base runner, I have a hard time believing that he runs into those outs on his own. I just get the feeling that the contact play is always on when there’s a runner on third and less than two outs. No matter who the runner is.

  6. kidsusedtoplaypickle

    August 28, 2014 04:27 PM

    Dom’s play was dumb, no question, as the runner is supposed to freeze on any ground ball hit in front OR at you (the ball was hit at Dom & it just looks like it was hit behind him because he ran forward by the time the ball got to the SS). However, he does seem to look around to check the infielders positioning (beginning of 1st gif) – it’s not fair to say he isn’t based on the main part of the 1st gif because 1) the pitcher is looking at him at that point & you’re not supposed to turn your head at those times and 2) these infielders are jocking & deking during the whole play, so its not as simple as just checking their pre-stretch positioning.

    Furthermore, your crediting Chase a bit too much, as the 3rd gif shows that Howard is up & the defense is in a shift with no SS playing behind Chase to deke him; so there is nothing to be “aware” about. If you look at the 4th gif, it looks identical to the 1st gif all the way up to the point of contact (minus that Chase seems to be stealing 3rd in the 4th gif & a ground ball was not hit).

    In short, this article is really lacking in its baseball fundamentals analysis. No hate, as I think BB provides incite on baseball matters regularly.

    • Major Malfunction

      August 28, 2014 04:39 PM

      Actually, it is a fundamental analysis. The point was that Utley is obviously attempting to be situational aware. He’s looking in all directions as he plots his next move. Brown, on the other hand, comes off the base and never looks to see the position of the defenders, etc. That is a fundamental skill that any player should know when taking a lead off a base. So if the SS or 2B was going to deke in behind him, did he have any idea how far away they were for how safe a lead he could take?

      Regardless of that, if the contact play was on, none of that mattered for he’s following orders. But still, his situational awareness appeared to be zero.

      • kidsusedtoplaypickle

        August 28, 2014 05:35 PM

        The Contact Play is only used with a runner going from 3rd to home.

    • Bill Baer

      August 28, 2014 05:21 PM

      Utley isn’t only looking at infielders in the Ryan Howard (shift) .gif; he’s also looking at the outfielders.

  7. GB

    August 29, 2014 03:12 PM

    Bowa is the last guy I would advocate having around developing players….if Sandberg needs a tough cop, Bowa was the wrong choice as that is all Bowa is, a ball breaker who ran himself out of town before with his bad managing & treatment of players. To be an effective tough cop, you need to have earned the trust of the player and treat them with respect so they know your criticism comes from you wanting them to develop…Bowa’s continued usage of the media to send messages poorly serves both himself and the players.

    Brown has had a bad year and it seems clear the Phillies continue to have little confidence in him as their handling of him for years now supports…they should trade him for what value they can so both parties can move on.

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