One year later: Do we know if Domonic Brown's good or not yet?

One year later: Do we know if Domonic Brown's good or not yet?
May 23, 2014, 3:04 pm
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One year ago today, in the midst of what was then a very confusing season for the 25-year-old outfielder, I asked the fateful question: "Is Domonic Brown Having a Good Year or Not?"

Most of the article's commenters seemed to think that he was, at least for a young player in his first season as a full-timer, and Dom would go on to validate those believers by hitting 11 homers in his next 16 games, one of the hottest hitting tears in the history of the Philadelphia Phillies. He won Player of the Month in the NL for May, made the All-Star team in July, and held the NL's home run crown for a short while, looking for all the world like he was becoming the star for the Phillies he had once been projected as.

But Domonic's post-All-Star break numbers were but a pale shadow of his first few months, as he hit his 27th homer of the season on August 14th and failed to go yard again a single time after that. In fact he had just three extra-base hits of any kind in his final 31 games of the season, a worrisome power outage that saw his slugging percentage drop over 40 points. Some wondered if maybe playing a full season for the first time was taking its toll on Dom, if maybe he had just hit the rookie wall a couple years late.

But now we're over a quarter way through the 2014 season, and the power is still out with Domonic Brown. Through 44 games, he has a total of ten extra-base hits, good for a slugging percentage of .317--second-lowest among the team's regulars, behind Ben Revere's historically (and predictably) anemic .294. Going back to last season, he now has just 25 extra-base hits in his last 100 games. (For contrast, Chase Utley has 25 XBHs in just 41 games so far this season.)

This would maybe be forgivable if Dom was contributing in other facets of the game, but power hitting is really just about all he has to recommend him as a player. He doesn't hit for average (a team-low .211 BA), he doesn't walk a ton (12 BBs so far, tied for fifth on the team), and he's lead-footed in left field. He rates as a negative on both sides of the ball, and his -0.7 WAR total on Baseball-Reference feels generous, if anything.

What's going on with Dom at the plate? Well, a Philly.com article from late April suggests that pitchers caught up to his weaknesses a little bit, pitching more low-and-away, occasionally on the inside, and rarely down the heart of the plate, where he did the majority of his damage during his hot streak last season. Dom also believes that he's streaky by nature, and GM Ruben Amaro suggests that he's been a little unlucky with some of his outs, as might be suggested by his rather low batting average on balls in play (.240).

But bad luck and needing to make adjustments only works as an excuse for so long. With over half a season's worth of evidence of slumping between the end of last year and the beginning of this year, it's pretty hard not to wonder if maybe this current rough stretch isn't the fluke for Dom, but rather the one month or so that he was super-hot last season. With Philly.com now writing that maybe it's time to send Domonic back to Triple A, maybe the Domonic Brown Actually Being Good dream is already close to over.

The really crazy thing about Dom's struggles this year, though? Philly's hitting, not predicted to be hugely productive even with a competent DomBro, has been decent regardless. The team is only 12th of 15 NL teams in runs, but they rank 5th in total OPS, with every Phils regular besides Dom and Ben Revere posting an OPS+ of over 100. With Brown producing at non-black-hole-type levels, this actually might be a half-good offensive ballclub. And maybe Domonic's turning it around a little: He's hit two homers (his second and third of the year) in the last week, though he's still gone just 4-21 total over that span.

Or maybe it's just like my Dad suggested to me one year ago: Domonic Brown is really just the Phillies' Evan Turner. As long as we have him, there'll be good stretches when he's scoring in bunches and looks like an All-Star and you think he's finally turned the corner and will be this way forever, then it'll disappear without warning and the shots will stop falling and he'll barely even look like a replacement player until one day he turns it around again. It's livable, as long as you don't let yourself get suckered in by the good times too much, too often.

The question of whether Domonic Brown is having a good year or not is a pointless one this season: He's not, and in fact he's probably been one of the worst regular players in all of MLB. But as for whether or not he's good at all...I'm not 100% ready to rule definitively on that one just yet. In baseball, you're never more than one white-hot 16-game stretch away from being good again, so here's hoping one of those comes sooner rather than later for Dom. This weekend against the Dodgers wouldn't be a terrible time to start.

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