Even if the Phils ended up a .500 team or worse this season, I think I could be pretty OK with that if I was convinced by year end that Domonic Brown was gonna be a really good player for years to come. Talking to my dad about Dom recently, he hit the nail on the head: "He's Evan Turner." True: Like perhaps no other Philly athlete of recent years besides the Extraterrestrial, Dom tantalizes with his seemingly boundless ability, showing flashes that assure you of his inevitable superstardom, but spacing them out over 1-9, 2-12, 3-15-type stretches at the plate, and mixing them up with fielding and base-running blunders that make you wonder to what degree he really gets it.
I want to believe in Dom. I take a game like last night, where he laced an RBI triple and hit another couple balls hard on the nose, and I want to take it as evidence that he's turning the corner. But then I look at his actual line for the evening: 1-4, no walks--and think that if that's a particularly good game for Domonic, that's maybe not such a good thing. I want to be patient, to say he's still young and learning, but at age 25 (and he'll be 26 by season's end), he's not really all that young anymore, and if he can't do it this year--his first with uninterrupted opportunity to prove himself in the Phils' outfield--it just might not happen for Dom, at least not in Philly.
However, as there often is with Evan, there's an argument to be made that he's improving this year, that he's actually doing pretty well, that there's reason for encouragement. Is there? Let's take at the cases for the pro, the con, and the confusing:
DOMONIC BROWN IS HAVING A GOOD YEAR:
- Slugging. Dom is leading the team in homers with eight, already easily a career high, and on pace to at least approach the "30-homer potential" that so many have long cited him having. His slugging percentage of .442 is also an unchallenged career high, and ranks third on the team, just barely behind Ryan Howard's .444.
- Staying in the lineup. Partly due to a lack of competition here, but Domonic's role as a starter in the outfield was never a certain thing going into this season, and it was previously thought that the return of Delmon Young could result in a diminished role for Dom. But he's played in all but one of the team's games this year, ranking fourth on the team in plate appearances. The job is Brown's to lose, which is the first time you could say that about our prodigious young outfielder.
DOMONIC BROWN IS NOT HAVING A GOOD YEAR:
- Getting on base. Any criticism of Dom's play this year has to start with (and be mostly comprised of) this. His batting average certainly isn't great to begin with, a paltry .248, though remarkably, that still rates as the career high from Dom's three seasons in Philly. That's not really the problem--the problem is that he doesn't walk anymore. In fact, in the month of May, he's taken zero walks, after taking a decent-but-unremarkable nine in April. Dom's batting eye used to be one of his greatest assets as a hitter, but now, perhaps in the name of being More Aggressive at the plate, he's an even bigger OBP sinkhole (.290) than Ryan Howard (.297) or even Delmon Young (.304). It's a disturbing trend, to say the least.
- Baserunning. He's not having a particularly miserable year here, but wasn't speed supposed to be an asset of our athletic young outfielder? He didn't even attempt a stolen base--partly because of lack of opportunities due to that miserable OBP, sure, but even still--until last week against the Reds, a solid quarter of the way into the season. FanGraphs, which originally rated his speed at 75/100 during his debut year with the Phils, now rates it at just 64, another disturbing trend for a player who hasn't even reached his supposed baseball prime age yet.
DOMONIC BROWN IS MAYBE HAVING A GOOD YEAR?
- Fielding. Nobody's going to be confusing Brown with Jason Heyward in the field just yet, but by his own standards, Domonic's defense has been...better, anyway. FanGraphs still has his UZR as being a pretty subpar -5.5, but he ranks fifth in the NL in assists and fielding percentage from left field, and Baseball-Reference has him breaking even in runs saved per year (after posting a -23 and -16 in the last two seasons). Baby steps.
- Righties/Lefties. Dom's got it a little backwards this year at the plate--despite being a left-handed hitter, he's done a disproportionately large chunk of his damage against lefties, batting like an All-Star (.293/.302/.585) against southpaws. But of course, that means that he's been fairly brutal against righties, where about 80% of his ABs come from, posting just a .248/.286/.395 against them. No idea what to make of that--Dom's career splits still have him being more effective against righties, so it probably won't continue, but it's hard to tell which of the two averages will regress to the mean first, and which will have a greater impact on his overall line when it does.
In the end, it's still hard to say with Dom. It's easy to get on him for his walk-less May--seriously, how the hell do you get 23 days into a month without a single free pass?--but that non-existent walk rate has come with the best hitting month of his career, with five dingers and a .515 slugging percentage, so maybe it's a worthwhile trade-off? Meanwhile, Baseball-Reference has him breaking into the positives with his WAR (0.4) for the first time in his career--though according to FanGraphs, he's still at a -0.2.
In the end, as with Evan Turner, it's probably still too early to tell with Domonic Brown. It's always too early to tell. We just have to keep watching and waiting, whether we like it or not.