This past offseason, Ruben Amaro drew quite a bit of criticism when he told reporters that he didn’t value walks very much. The quote, taken from Phillies beat writer Matt Gelb, went like this:
“I don’t care about walks. I care about production. To be frank with you, I’ve said this all along. All of the sabermatricians and all of the people who think they know exactly what makes a good club… to me, it’s more about run production and being able to score runs and drive in runs.”
If you’re anything like me, you had a good laugh after reading that one (laughter to keep from crying). After that laughter subsided, though, I was left wondering how Amaro could say he doesn’t care about walks and then go on to say winning is about driving in runs, something that is made possible from teams getting baserunners, which sometimes come from–you guessed it!–guys getting walked. Logically, Amaro’s statement just didn’t add up.
By now, you’re probably beginning to wonder what exactly this has to do with Domonic Brown. So, I’ll get there: Amaro’s quote above was particularly alarming for Brown supporters like myself. This is because, as Brown has struggled the last few seasons to catch on full-time, many of his believers (again, me) would point to his excellent plate discipline and ability to draw walks as a reason for optimism when there was little else to be encouraged by.
Finally, it seems Brown is beginning to “get it.” His success over the last few weeks has been widely reported, and with good cause. Check out his numbers since April 24: In 79 plate appearances, he’s hitting .286 with an .811 OPS, 5 home runs, 3 doubles, 9 runs, 13 RBI and 17 strikeouts.
Compared to his first 20 games, in which he hit .206 with a .623 OPS, 2 home runs, 1 double, 6 runs, 6 RBI and 13 strikeouts over 72 PAs, Brown’s recent stretch has been a revelation.
You’ll notice that there is one statistic conspicuously missing from Brown’s lines above. That is the number of walks he’s had. One would assume that because he’s been hitting better, Brown has been walking more since April 24. That is far from the case. From the beginning of the season through April 23, Brown walked eight times, with two intentional walks and one hit by pitch for a grand total of 11 walks of some form. Since April 24, he’s walked one time, period. No IBBs, HBPs.
As much as I don’t like to admit it, because I still think walking is a very valuable tool (you only need to check the Phillies walk rates since 2007 and how their decline has coincided with a steep decline in offense to see how important patience is at the plate), but maybe this is what Amaro meant when he said he doesn’t care about walks.
Brown’s success seems to be more approach-based than anything else.
It’s not as though Brown is expanding the strike zone more often (his current 32.8% swings at pitches outside of the strike zone rate is only 2.8 percentage points higher than his career average of 30.0%). Instead, he is recognizing hittable pitches when he gets them, and he’s not missing them. Some might say he’s going up there looking for a hit instead of waiting out a walk, something he seemed to be in the habit of doing in his younger days. He’s being more productive.
And while I still think patience is something every lineup needs to exhibit, I’ll take a lineup full of guys who OPS over .800 if it means they walk only once every 20 games or so, the way Brown has done since April 24.
Still, with an OBP of just .291 in his last 20 games, imagine where Brown’s OPS would be if he got back to walking the way he knows how. If he can get there, then we may finally see the special player we all expected Brown to be three years ago.