To say that Domonic Brown has employed a new approach towards hitting would imply that he had an old approach to begin with. But Brown hasn't been in the major leagues for all that long- strengths and weaknesses can change, or be recalibrated, in an instant. Plenty of highly-touted prospects who had 'advanced' approaches and high walk rates in the minors see their on-base percentages crater upon being promoted. See: Desmond Jennings and Dustin Ackley. If you can't hit, pitchers aren't going to walk you. And Brown hadn't hit.
I'm qualifying and burying my lede, but you know where this is going: Domonic Brown hasn't drawn a walk in May, and that's neither definitively damning nor particularly shocking. But it's not good, and the circumstances surrounding the Phillies can't be helping.
Let's start with the facts, on Brown's career walk rates:
Minor leagues (2,274 PA): 10.6%
Majors through April 2013 (587 PA): 10.2%
2013 (176 PA): 5.1%
May 2013 (79 PA): uhh...zero over anything is zero.
The decline in walk rate is corroborated by his plate discipline profile:
Brown is swinging more all around, and most importantly, more frequently out of the zone. Since we've established that we don't really know who exactly Brown is and what his tendencies are yet, his 33.3% O-Swing rate would put him in company with Hunter Pence, Omar Infante, and Michael Young over full seasons in 2012. All have known strengths as hitters, but pitch selectivity is not one of them.
However, whether directly related or not, he's displayed the sort of power scouts thought he could achieve. After just missing a home run on Wednesday but settling for a triple, Brown now has nine extra-base hits in the month, including five round-trippers. Since we pointed out his 0% walk rate in his tiny May sample, he's also sporting a .253 ISO.
Clearly, Brown hasn't decided he'll never take four balls again, nor is he one of the best power hitters in the league. He'll settle somewhere in between. But if he's listening to his employer, that 'somewhere' may not be in the middle.
From Phillies GM Ruben Amaro, after the 2010 season: "(Ibanez) was still a pretty productive player, and his numbers are not all that different from (Werth's) last year. What did Ibanez have, 83 RBIs? Jayson had 85. Ibanez didn't have as many opportunities as Jayson did to drive in runs."
"Clearly, Jayson had more runs scored and his on-base percentage and stuff were better, but Ibanez had 37 doubles and five triples or something like that. The difference in their production was not all that great."
Yes, Werth was far superior in on-base percentage, and many other stuffs. If we're in the business of recording counting stats, as Amaro does, Werth had 46 doubles to go along with his 27 home runs and 2 triples. I'll spare the number spouting for now- Raul had fewer.
Put more succintly, Amaro said in January of this year, "I don't care about walks. I care about production."
Now, this isn't the first article that has rehashed these quotes, and you'll find plenty of Dusty Baker gems elsewhere too. And yet, Joey Votto still walks.
But Domonic Brown is a young player who has yet to meet some lofty expectations, and has been shuttled back and forth between the big leagues and AAA over the past few years. On the back of a 13 RBI month (good for 10th in the NL), he has an everyday job that was previously in jeopardy due to, of all people, Delmon Young. Amaro's message is clear: RBI = production. Who cares that Ibanez had a lot of RBI largely because he batted behind the ever-on-base Werth? RBI = production. This is what your boss is telling you, and as recently as last year some people thought you wouldn't cut it as a major league regular. And while he still has some time to emerge, 25 years old isn't that young, and he'll be 26 in September. This is a critical season for Brown.
Just yesterday, Amaro called out virtually every Phillies hitter, saying they need to produce (his favorite word) more. But there was one player who was doing just fine in his book.
"I'm happy with what Domonic Brown has been doing," Amaro told Philly Inquirer writer Bob Brookover.
If you were Brown, would you change your approach?
Granted, I don't know how much influence Amaro has on an everyday basis, or what hitting coach Wally Joyner is telling Brown. But I do know who's writing Dom's paycheck.
Brown has to maintain a decent walk rate to be an effective hitter. Despite his recent power surge, he still has put up a .334 wOBA and .266 OBP in the month. If that's the ballpark of his current ceiling as an aggressive swinger, it's not a worthy sacrifice.
I'm just afraid that Philly's management doesn't see it that way, and what bearing that may have on his maturation at the plate. Fittingly, Delmon Young serves as a cautionary tale.
All statistics courtesy of FanGraphs and Baseball-Reference.