By Mike Angelina
PHILADELPHIA (CBS) – If you have low expectations for something, any marginal return seems great. Maybe that’s why Domonic Brown’s 2013 is be perceived as a great season on its surface. My fear is that the accolades and good feelings from his two great weeks translate into organization overconfidence and relying too much on Brown for next season
Brown certainly had, if not the best, the second-best offensive year for anyone on the Phillies in 2013, and exceeded the expectations of many, including myself. His season saved his career in Philadelphia, as he was coming off three unimpressive seasons at the Major League-level and was challenged to show something in Spring Training by Ruben Amaro. It was decorated with an All-Star Game appearance, as well as two Player Of The Week” awards and a Player Of The Month award for May. For a few weeks, the town was nuts over Dom Brown, feeling more secure with the fact that Amaro did not use him to acquire Roy Halladay to join Cliff Lee atop the rotation at the 2009 trading deadline.
The Phillies, right now, are looking at one thing only: putting together a competitive club for 2014. That was confirmed when they decided to get a preview of what Ryne Sandberg would bring to the helm in mid-August, at the expense of Charlie Manuel’s 1,000 win celebration ceremony.
So it may be worthwhile to step back and think about what you really have in Brown for 2014, in terms of how much you will rely on him when constructing next year’s team. This year, the Phillies were burned by counting on Ryan Howard and Chase Utley to both stay healthy and produce at their 2005-09 levels, assuming that they only needed to be supported by Brown, Delmon Young, Michael Young and Ben Revere for a production output that was enough to be competitive.
Brown’s numbers are bloated by a 16 game stretch of legendary proportions. In his two-week-plus stretch of being the Player of the Week, Brown hit 11 HR, drove in 24 and had a slash line of a .380 batting average, .400 on base percentage and 1.000 slugging. It was perhaps no coincidence that the stretch began when Utley went on the disabled list. Brown has attributed much of his success to Utley, and perhaps Utley served a big role in the stretch, being that he had more time to focus on Brown. In the tremendous stretch, Brown did look incredible, seemingly knowing where exactly every pitch was coming.
For the rest of the season, both before and after the two-week stretch, he has been very mediocre. His numbers in those games are 16 HR, 58 RBI and a slash line of .255/.309/.427 over about 120 games.
He has just four home runs in the second half of the season, only being able to hit a home run every 31 at bats. He did miss nine games this month, but the last time he hit a home run, he drove in Mike Young and Charlie Manuel was in the dugout managing, so far back when both were here to give him a high-five.
Is the real Brown the one we saw in 16 games that got him all the accolades? The much larger sample of 120-plus games should be more revealing of what to expect.
Looking at the advanced stats on his overall season, they are even less impressive. He has a Wins Above Replacement of 1.9, which means he has contributed less than two wins to the Phillies as a marginal “AAAA”, replacement-level player would. That ranks 158th in the league, and is 100th among hitters.
Statistically, he is the worst defensive everyday leftfielder in Major League Baseball, by a wide margin, according to Fangraphs.
He’s shown a propensity to suffer minor injuries, as he did this year and in previous years, that linger more than you would like, especially for a player only 27 years old.
It’s easy to sit back comfortably and think that since Brown was an All-Star, he will be a lock to go out and produce every day and carry the offense. But a wiser stance would be to minimize the risk of leaning too heavily on him and compliment him with other offensive pieces. A defensive upgrade late in the game would be what the stats suggest too, though the Phillies, regardless of who was managing, stayed away from this all season so it is not something to anticipate.
Looking at the bigger picture of Brown raises question marks. The same kind of question marks that Ryan Howard, Chase Utley and now Jimmy Rollins bring into next season, in addition to the younger players such as Freddy Galvis, Cesar Hernandez, Darin Ruf and Cody Asche.
It’s all the more reason to do whatever possible to bring in a reliable productive bat to compliment what is already there. Delmon Young will not do. Ben Revere, especially when downgrading from Shane Victorino will not do.
The year before, it was a similar story. Assuming Ty Wigginton, Laynce Nix, John Mayberry Jr., Freddy Galvis, Michael Martinez and Juan Pierre can replace Raul Ibanez and the injured Ryan Howard and Chase Utley did not work.
But that’s what the Phillies do, and that is why it is so concerning going into next year. They take risks and make assumptions that, when calculated and analyzed closely, should never be made.
And so just like assuming Howard can play 150 and hit 40 home runs is foolish, assuming Brown will again be an “All-Star”, which was the product of a small 16 game sample is just as foolish.
A key difference between Howard and Brown the Phillies can take advantage of is the fact that Brown is working on a very low salary, still on his rookie deal. He will get a marginal raise from his $500,000 salary this year, which is even less than you would typically pay a bench player. His WAR suggests he is a substitute-level player (any WAR between 0-2 typically mean a player is best served as a substitute), and he is being paid like one so it is not eating up the payroll.
Instead, it gives the Phillies an opportunity to insure their risk of Brown playing more like the 120-game version and not the 16-game version of himself. They can bring in additional offensive support, and hope he can take a step forward with less risk than say assuming Ryan Howard would be healthy and producing at his optimal levels every year through 2016 (or possibly 2017).
If the Phillies have any chance to be competitive in 2014 like they say they do, they need a lot of support offensively, and to stop taking the major risks they have in the past two seasons. Brown is the perfect set up for the organization to be blinded with fools’ gold, but looking deeper, Amaro should be careful when figuring out just how much of a contribution Brown will make.
Mike Angelina is a Producer at 94 WIP-FM / 610 WIP-AM and contributes to CBS Philly on both local and national sports. Follow Mike on Twitter @MikeAngelina