Revisiting Domonic Brown, Considering Brandon Belt

Ball meet bat. - USA TODAY Sports

Domonic Brown is raking with his new aggressive approach. Should Brandon Belt make a similar adjustment?

[Editor's Note: Welcome to Beyond the Box Score, Andrew Shen! This is Andrew's first post as a staff member on site, so please welcome him aboard!]

By now, you are surely aware of Domonic Brown's extraordinary extra-base hit binge. The NL home run leader has gone yard nine times in his last ten games, starting on May 25. On May 24, this was written by some silly internet writer. On May 24, Brown's OPS was .732. On June 4, it's .921.

Now, I won't get on my own case too much. The genesis of that article was pointing out the oddity that Brown had yet to walk in the month of May, but was hitting baseballs farther than he ever had. That has continued, to a historic degree, as Brown is the first player ever to hit at least ten home runs in a month (he had 12, for good measure), while not drawing a single base on balls.

That previous article's conclusion was that Brown would need to re-adjust and start walking more. Over the next ten days, that would prove to be the opposite of clairvoyant. Still though, the topic remains salient.

As Jeff Sullivan from FanGraphs discusses, Brown drew an unintentional walk on Sunday for the first time since April 30. Sullivan outlines how Brown has emerged, namely by swinging more frequently at strikes, and pulling more of those strikes:

Brown says he's more prepared to hit early-court fastballs, and the data supports the idea that Brown's been more aggressive at the plate, generating encouraging results. He's swung at more strikes, and while he's also swung at a few more balls, he hasn't been hacking. He's been hitting, in the classic sense.

While Brown hasn't drawn ball four many times, he's still been patient enough to work himself into favorable counts, and has punished pitchers in those situations:

He's swung in 16 of 20 3-and-1 counts. Before this year, he swung in 29 of 53. He's swung in four of 14 3-and-0 counts. Before this year, he swung in three of 23.

Over at The Good Phight, Catz Corner refers to Brown's selective-aggressiveness, and how we should not be nit-picking over his walk rate when he's blasting 400-foot bombs:

So before this year, Dom Brown was really good at taking pitches, and getting ahead in the count, but he wasn't SWINGING AT ENOUGH STRIKES.

On May 24, Brown wasn't doing enough damage on his swings to overcome the number of outs for which he was responsible. Now, it's more clear what his power potential is, and Brown's line over the last 30 days is one of the most sparkling you'll ever see that also includes a .308 on-base percentage. And going forward, assuming Brown hasn't lost his batting eye, the walks will follow. From Sullivan:

Brown know he's going to be pitched differently, but that's going to happen because he's earned it. Baseball is a game that's just constantly adjusting, in both directions, and Brown's made an adjustment that's gotten him closer to breaking through...we'll see if Brown's able to blend both power and walks. That's the destination.

Sullivan also notes that "walks can follow power, more than power can follow walks."

With all that said, I wondered which other young player could take a page out of Brown's book. Dom had power and presumably still has discipline, and he's flashing the former to earn results from the latter. That makes sense. When you achieve both at the same time, life is swell.

So who else has sported admirable walk rates, but has not yet tapped into his power potential scouts saw in the minors?

Brandon Belt immediately came to mind.

Belt displayed more power than Brown in the minor leagues, and before Brown's recent surge, had experienced more overall success as a major leaguer. But while the bar is higher, Belt still has some ways to go before meeting the expectations that come with a 1.052 career minor league OPS.

In 2012, Belt's walk rate was an impressive 11.4%, and this year is still a healthy 9.8%. For all that's made about Brown's increased aggressiveness, the two players' 2013 plate discipline profiles are fairly similar:

O-Swing% Z-Swing% Swing%
Brown 34.1% 76.5% 52.4%
Belt 32.2% 80.8% 51.1%

Particularly noteworthy is the fact that Belt is the one swinging at more strikes. Even in Brown's incredible May alone, his Z-Swing was 77%, lower than Belt's 80.8% for the year. In fact, Belt ranks fourth in the entire league in Z-Swing%.

It should be noted that Belt is also hitting for more power this year than he has in the past, with a .180 ISO. However, his 81.4% Z-Swing in 2012 was second in the league, sandwiched between renowned hackers Josh Hamilton and Delmon Young. Yet, his ISO was just .146 that year.

Brandon Belt knows how to swing at strikes. He also has a minor league track record of hitting for power. One may notice his excellent walk rates but middling home run totals, and wonder if he would be greeting McCovey Cove more frequently if he simply went after more pitches. That hardly seems to be the case, and even his fly ball rate is higher than Brown's.

Of course, there are a ton of other factors. They are two different players. Keith Law is on the record for not loving what the Giants have done with Belt's swing mechanics. Also, AT&T Park is also a far less favorable home field for hitters compared to Citizens Bank Park, especially for lefties.

Still, it's apparent that the change in Brown's plate approach is only one of the keys to his newly found power. Law, Eno Sarris from FanGraphs, and others I'm sure have noted Brown's changed swing and the readier positioning of his hands.

When I started writing this article, I genuinely thought there would be room for more aggressiveness in Belt's profile, given his predilection for the base on balls. As it turns out, Belt's swing rates are the one outlier among batters with strong walk rates. From 2012- current:

Name O-Swing% Z-Swing% Swing% BB%
Joey Votto 21.5% 64.3% 39.6% 19.1%
Carlos Santana 22.5% 60.0% 39.0% 14.8%
Dan Uggla 22.8% 65.7% 41.9% 14.7%
Adam Dunn 24.4% 65.6% 41.9% 14.6%
Carlos Pena 28.0% 68.3% 44.1% 14.4%
Ben Zobrist 23.2% 57.3% 37.6% 13.7%
Joe Mauer 22.9% 54.1% 36.6% 13.6%
Josh Willingham 21.5% 62.1% 39.8% 13.1%
A.J. Ellis 21.2% 54.6% 37.1% 12.9%
Prince Fielder 27.7% 66.6% 43.2% 12.8%
Dexter Fowler 23.6% 72.6% 44.4% 12.8%
Mark Reynolds 26.6% 68.1% 45.0% 12.6%
Miguel Montero 30.2% 72.4% 47.9% 12.4%
David Wright 25.3% 67.0% 43.9% 12.3%
Nick Swisher 24.4% 66.7% 41.6% 12.3%
Edwin Encarnacion 25.2% 62.6% 42.0% 12.2%
Chase Headley 27.1% 71.1% 44.6% 12.1%
Shin-Soo Choo 23.0% 64.8% 41.7% 12.0%
Mike Napoli 25.2% 61.4% 42.1% 11.9%
Lucas Duda 24.3% 61.3% 38.8% 11.9%
Buster Posey 26.8% 60.7% 42.2% 11.3%
Justin Upton 26.4% 67.6% 44.8% 11.3%
Rickie Weeks 21.8% 61.6% 40.3% 11.1%
Brandon Belt 31.4% 81.2% 51.2% 11.0%
Paul Goldschmidt 28.1% 63.4% 44.0% 10.9%
Curtis Granderson 29.4% 62.8% 43.0% 10.8%
Matt Holliday 31.0% 75.2% 48.6% 10.7%
Adam LaRoche 26.8% 66.7% 42.8% 10.6%

Only Miguel Montero and Matt Holliday join Belt in having O-Swings above 30%, and Holliday's 75% Z-Swing is the only figure that comes even close (if you could even say that) to Belt's 81%. No other batter swings more than half the time, yet Belt is at 51%.

So maybe Belt is the exception here. Even still, he is a reminder that players can't just switch their production on and off based solely on their approach. Sullivan's analysis on Brown's ability to work himself into hitter's counts is spot on, but it only paints part of the picture (not that he claimed otherwise).

Brown changed his approach, and combined with a change in his swing, discovered his power. Belt already has the rare ability to draw walks in bushels, while still attacking strikes at exceptionally high rates.

It's just a matter of what he does with them.

All statistics courtesy of FanGraphs.

Andrew is a contributor to Beyond the Box Score. Follow him @AndrewShen_SF.

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