June 5, 2013
Can (Domonic) Brown Do Enough for You?
In his last game in the month of April, Domonic Brown earned a walk. In his first game of June, Domonic Brown earned a walk. Brown did not earn a single walk in the month of May, but fantasy owners are not complaining. Brown won Player of the Month honors in the National League, as he hit .303 in the month with a .688 slugging percentage—an outburst very few saw coming.
It was not that long ago that some wondered if Brown could maintain success with the swing he brought to the major leagues. Harold Reynolds did an excellent job breaking down that swing in late 2011:
Not only has Brown fought through issues with his swing, he also fought through issues with leadership. When Brown was called up, Charlie Manuel and Ruben Amaro Jr. allotted him very little time to improve. Brown would be in and out of the lineup, in and out of Triple-A, and in and out of the doctor’s office after breaking his hamate bone in 2011. After returning from that injury, Brown had hit just 20 home runs in roughly 850 major- and minor-league plate appearances over the past two seasons.
Brown and Joyner clicked very quickly in camp this year; maybe coming from the same high school had something to do with that. Joyner reviewed the changes he made with Brown to Matt Gelb of the Philadelphia Inquirer in late February:
The changes were to Brown's hands, specifically, how he gripped the bat. At times, Brown would wrap his hands and wrists around the bat.
"We straightened his hands out a little bit, allowing his wrists to cock," Joyner said. "He's a big boy. He looks great. We want to take advantage of that size and leverage. That's one of the assets that Ryan Howard has. And he uses it. He has a lot of leverage. He stays behind it."
Bill Baer captured some of these changes for his Crashburn Alley blog during spring training, illustrating the adjustments in Brown’s stance and where his hands were for the swing. Just watching Brown in 2013 compared to old video showed people that a change in process was afoot.
Like with most changes, it can take some time to see results. Early on, Brown found a lot of success in the Grapefruit League, as he hit .356/.414/.633 with seven home runs in just 90 at-bats. March became April, and Brown’s numbers fell back into a familiar form, as he hit .233/.309/.372 with just six extra-base hits. On the positive side, he walked nine times and struck out just 17 times in 97 plate appearances. Then, May happened.
It is unclear why the league was throwing him a higher percentage of strikes last month while Brown was hot, but that is what happened. Brown’s impatience at the plate showed up in both a dramatically reduced walk rate as well as a noticeable increase in the percentage of pitches he swung at. When Brown did put a ball in play, it increasingly went to his pull side compared to what he had done in the past, and 38 percent of his fly balls became souvenirs.
Doing all of this while walking just twice in 127 plate appearances is rather unprecedented. Rod Barajas came close to doing that in 2004, as he went 116 plate appearances between walks, from April 22 to June 24, while hitting 12 home runs and posting a .284/.289/.655 slash line. Barajas finished the 2004 season with 15 home runs.
I am a believer in the changes Brown has made to his swing and believe that it has put his career on a brighter path than where it was this time last season. That said, Upton has hit .233 with a 670 OPS since his home-run binge ended, and pitchers will eventually figure out a way to adjust to the changes Brown has made at the plate.
I strongly feel it is your best interest to shop Brown around and look for a team that is need of power that has a player who has struggled to hit for power up to this point. Michael Cuddyer has just 10 home runs, but is hitting the ball very well in Colorado, and players like Alex Rios and Yoenis Cespedes have nearly half of the home runs Brown has to date. In April, an offer of Brown for Cespedes would have been laughed at, but now it might be entertained.
Even if Brown were to hit just half the home runs he hit in May over the remaining four months, that puts him at over 40 home runs at season’s end. If you do not feel that is a realistic projection, ask yourself how high of an average he can hit for walking once for every 10 times he strikes out.