Thursday morning on WIP, MLB.com’s Peter Gammons questioned the sustainability of Domonic Brown’s recent hot streak, largely due to the absence of walks in his May outburst. He compared Brown’s torrid stretch to that of free-swinging Jeff Francoeur when he first was called up to the Braves in 2005. Gammons is just the latest national analyst to weigh in on Brown, who has been the talk of baseball over the past week.
To his credit, Gammons did suggest that Brown’s hand injury may have made him the Phillies next version of Jayson Werth; a late-bloomer who was at one time a highly thought of prospect. But Werth’s status as a legitimate blue chipper was derailed long before Brown’s, and never reached the heights of being considered one of baseball’s best minor league talents. Is Brown’s emergence really that much of a surprise?
Outside of the raw home runs totals, there is no doubt that what makes Dom’s offensive explosion especially unique is the lack of walks – exactly zero in 109 May at-bats. But to me, the most compelling part of that – and what makes Gammon’s Francoeur comparison nonsensical – is that a big chunk of Brown’s value as a prospect (and what I loved about him) stemmed from a patient approach at the plate.
In nearly 2,000 minor league at-bats, Brown was the owner of an impressive walk rate of 10.8 percent. Through 433 major league at-bats entering this season, he nearly replicated that at 10.5 percent. Burnt out by the swing-at-everything version of the Phillies offense that evolved after the departures of Pat Burrell and Jayson Werth, I welcomed Brown’s approach despite the lack of production, with the assumption that part would eventually follow suit. Obviously, this version of Brown is better – 18 home runs with a walk rate around five percent – but shouldn’t we expect the truth to lie somewhere in between rather than writing off his arrival as a free-swinging fluke of sorts?
Several articles have sprung up this week in the wake of Brown being named the NL’s Player of the Month for May, the most interesting of which are from ESPN’s David Schoenfield, Grantland’s Bill Barnwell and Fangraphs’ Jeff Sullivan (of course, besides our own Pat Gallen’s). All are worth a read, but I thought I’d summarize the points that were prominent and consistent in all three:
- Brown’s 12 home run, zero walk May is unprecedented
- Certain baseball circles believe sabermetrics is creating passive hitters, as Eric Wedge indicated last week after the highly-touted Dustin Ackley was demoted to AAA
- Brown’s walk rate plummeted in May as his swing rate skyrocketed, which is particularly compelling since he previously had a patient approach
- He swung at significantly more pitches in and out of the strike zone in May, and most of his home runs came on pitches down the middle or up
- A huge (and therefore unsustainable) percentage of his fly balls turned into home runs, many of which barely made it over the fence
- He is pulling EVERYTHING, and hitting more balls on the ground than is typical for power hitters
- There is no ideal approach at the plate, just successful and unsuccessful ones, and Brown has found a successful one
- The walks still matter, however, because they are indicative of an unsustainable approach
Some of this is common knowledge to Phils fans, but it is still undoubtedly a lot to take in. While this level of analysis is certainly helpful, I don’t think I remember a specific player being so thoroughly dissected… unprecedented indeed. It is true that all of these statistics point to the reality that Brown can’t keep this up. But didn’t we know that? Brown believers certainly don’t expect 50+ home runs. He won’t hit 12 home runs again in a month. On the other hand, he also he won’t draw zero walks again in a month.
The important thing, as many of these guys state, is that Brown has figured out a way to go from an under-performer to a productive performer. And the reality likely is, as Barnwell states, “Pitchers will adjust, and then Brown will make adjustments back toward being the more patient hitter he used to be.” Or at least that is the hope.
In theory, stuck in a punchless lineup, Brown recognized that he was seeing more meatballs than he ever has, and adjusted accordingly by swinging at nearly everything and depositing balls into the bleachers every night. Shouldn’t he be lauded for that? Assuming those tasty pitches become less frequent, Brown should adjust the other way and his production will then begin to also be measured by a rising on-base percentage. If that happens, Brown deserves a lot of credit for having an approach beyond his 25 years.
This is certainly not an empirical measure, but much of Brown’s success has been locally attributed to his newfound comfort level in the major leagues. Believe it or not, I don’t find that notion that difficult to buy into. This is an extremely talented guy that, after being jerked back and forth between the majors and minors, begged for the coziness of an everyday job in spring training. He basically guaranteed that he would produce if his name was permanently put into the lineup. All he has done since is make good on that guarantee.
This is a far less reported trend than the home runs, but do you know what else happened in May? Brown attempted four steals, three of which were successful. It is only June 7, and he already has three steals this month. In April, Brown attempted zero steals. This was a guy that racked up double-digit steals in the minors six times, hitting 20 twice. If his recent activity on the base paths doesn’t scream comfort and confidence, I don’t know what does.
To me, Dom has the look of a guy that is just realizing he can shine at the major league level and – whether he’s bat flipping, doing his thing with Ryan Howard or swinging at everything – he’s decided to have a blast while he shows off his tools to the rest of the world. He is flexing his muscles. Enjoy it. Why don’t we give it a couple more months before we set anything in stone regarding his approach at the plate?