It appears, once again, that Domonic Brown’s name is out there cooking up in the hot stove. Dave and Jeff each touched on Brown when his name last came up in rumors last month when a Brown for Jose Bautista rumor was floated out of Philadelphia. Both pieces laid out the caveats of such a move in that Brown’s career is still immature enough that it could go in either direction. 2013 could as much be his baseline as much as it could be his peak.
Brown’s major league career has consisted of just 1032 plate appearances. Prior to 2013, Brown was on the Philly to Reading shuttle a number of times and also had to recover from a hamate injury, which sapped some of his power through the recovery process. The amount of plate appearances he received in parts of three seasons from 2010 to 2012 were nearly identical to the ones he received in his 2013 as a full-time player for the first time. Not only were the plate appearance totals nearly identical, so were the skills.
The decline in Brown’s walk rate was a result of a slightly more aggressive approach at the plate, as the percentage of pitches he saw within the strike zone did not change. After all, Brown went the entire month of May 2013 without walking a single time. Pitchers, for whatever reason, preferred to challenge him within the zone 49% of the time rather than forcing him to expand his zone. 17 extra base hits, including 12 home runs later, pitchers changed their approach Brown saw pitches in the strikezone just 44% of the time.
During that hot stretch, Brown’s pull tendencies exceeded his career baseline as he pulled the ball 53% of the time. Once the pitchers adjusted their plan of attack, Brown’s skills returned to their previous levels as he used all fields hitting the ball where it was pitched and accepted his walks.
For 109 plate appearances in May 2013, Domonic Brown had a .432 wOBA. For the other 923 plate appearances in his career, he has had a .324 wOBA. We are reminded, after a season in which Raul Ibanez defied Father Time, that once a player owns a skill, it can resurface. For 11% of his playing career, Brown hit a lot of home runs as pitchers stubbornly threw him a lot of strikes. Once pitchers changed their approach, Brown reverted back to his previous career norms.
The other two elephants in the room are his defense and issues against lefties. His overall defense grades out very poorly and he has a 51-point split in his wOBA for his career. Against righties, Brown has a career .340 wOBA but just a .291 wOBA against lefties in 268 plate appearances. Defensively, a UZR/150 of -15.1 over 2151 innings of play in the outfield corners will be very tough to overlook for a potential National League suitor. Of all outfielders that played at least 2000 innings in the outfield from 2010-2013, Brown ranks 94th in UZR/150. Only Logan Morrison, Carlos Quentin, Matt Kemp, and Michael Morse grade out worse. In terms of defensive runs saved, Brown is tied with the likes to Jonny Gomes at -23. Simply put, there is not a way to polish Brown’s defense before putting him in the storefront window for barter.
The initial reported goal by Jeff Passan of Yahoo! Sports was that the Phillies wanted to trade Brown for controllable starting pitching. There is no fault in aiming high, but controllable starting pitching is one of the toughest assets to acquire on the trade market. Teams ultimately strive to develop such pitchers so they do not have to attempt to trade for that commodity on the open market. The supply for such pitchers is very low because they are hoarded by teams as a very effective method to control costs when the average player contract value grows annually.
Thus far, most of the pitchers that we have heard about on the trade market are ones nearing the end of their current contractual situations. Justin Masterson is reportedly out there, but he is heading into his final year before becoming a free agent. Brett Anderson’s name has been floated around, but he is due $8M this season, and has a $12M team option or a $1.5M buyout for 2015. The one team that has been rumored to make available what the Phillies are looking for is the Chicago White Sox.
Jose Quintana and Hector Santiago are two young and controllable pitchers the White Sox have that could realistically be traded. Chris Sale‘s contract would involve a king’s ransom in a deal while John Danks’s AAV on his deal makes his contract an immovable object unless Chicago were to offset some of the cost. Santiago is team-controlled through the 2017 season, as is Brown, while Quintana is controllable through the 2018 season.
Chicago trading young controllable pitcher seems odd on the surface as their farm system does not have much ready to step in and fill any gaps. Quintana would be the type of pitcher they would want to retain as the 25-year old pitcher has been worth 6.5 RA9-WAR p over 55 major league starts. Santiago has worked as a swingman for the team, and his skills have held up in both roles while being worth 3.8 RA-9 WAR over 78 games.
To date, Brown has been worth 0.4 WAR, and was worth 1.6 WAR as a full-time starter. Oliver projects 7.1 WAR for Brown through his remaining controllable years. Santiago’s swingman role is maintained through his projections s he projects for 1.0WAR through his controllable years. Quintana is viewed much more favorably as he projects for 14.9 WAR through his remaining controllable years in Chicago. Even in a need-based situation which does not exist in Chicago at the moment, it is tough to imagine Santiago being dealt for Brown. Conversely, it is unlikely Philadelphia would accept Santiago in return for Brown.
Brown has overcome both inconsistent playing time and inconsistent health to accomplish what he has thus far. There may indeed be more in the bucket for him, but outside of one magical month, his skills have been rather consistent while his defense remains below-average. If Philadelphia’s goal is to sell high on the player, they will be better off selling their projected vision of Brown over the actual results, to date.