It’s been five years since Domonic Brown cracked the public consciousness as a five-tooler in the Phillies system. Five up and down years. Three of those years, he failed to impress in short samples with the big league team, and yet the team’s outfield crumbled around him gradually. So this year, playing time in the outfield is embarrassingly available. Domonic Brown made some changes, and looks to be ready to capitalize, finally.
One thing that sticks out in Brown’s profile is his batting average on balls in play. Despite owning above-average speed and power, and hitting the ball on the ground more than he hits it in the air, Brown’s career BABIP in 492 plate appearances is .269. It might only be bad luck, but his 19.7% line drive rate, though close to average, is doing him no favors. Nor are his nine infield fly balls in less than a full season’s worth of plate appearances.
Speaking of infield flies. We can’t ask Joey Votto what he would do, at least not right now, he’s busy, but we could guess: maybe Brown should level his swing plane a bit. Joey Votto isn’t Brown’s hitting coach, but Wally Joyner is. And Joyner was known for using the whole field, making a lot of contact, and having some plus BABIPs in his time. Joyner helped Brown make some changes:
Joyner, now 50, and hitting coach Steve Henderson have lowered Brown’s hands. Most of the time, his once-hyper lower body stands as still as a tiger’s before attacking its prey.
The videotape backs up the hitting coaches. Check out Brown’s 2012 swing on the left, and the 2013 version on the right. Both were singles to center-ish field off a right-handed pitcher. One came September 11th of last season off of Nathan Eovaldi, and the other just yesterday off of Brandon Morrow. Both pitches were reasonably low in the zone.
It certainly looks like a different swing plane. Most stark is the placement of the hands. In 2012, Brown had to adjust his hands downward as the pitch was moving towards the plate. In 2013, his hands are ‘readier.’ You can also see in the finish that his bat plane is more level, if that might be slightly obscured by the particular placement of the ball in each case. It also looks like Brown is trying to keep both hands on the bat through the end of the swing.
In any case, it’s working. We’ve talked a lot, recently, about how important spring stats are. Carson Cistulli has attempted, with SCOUT, to focus on the more ‘controllable’ aspects of a small sample such as spring training. Jeff Sullivan tried to quantify how important spring results were to the participants. I pointed out how some pitchers are working on things, so results can be obscured by irregular spring processes. John Dewan once found that a 200-point difference between spring slugging percentage and career slugging percentage can be a harbinger of good times.
Domonic Brown is at the nexus of all of these aspects. He can control his swing, and has made some changes. But he can’t control how hard pitchers are trying, or what pitches they are using. So most likely his numbers are inflated by the rites of spring. And yet they are so impressive that they probably mean something. His .671 slugging percentage this spring is well beyond his .388 career slugging number.
Domonic Brown has made some changes! We might have to wait until the regular season to see how important they are.
With a phone full of pictures of pitchers' fingers, strange beers, and his two toddler sons, Eno Sarris can be found at the ballpark or a brewery most days. Read him here, writing about the A's or Giants at The Athletic, or about beer at October. Follow him on Twitter @enosarris if you can handle the sandwiches and inanity.