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Doctor Strangeglove: On Body Type and Domonic Brown’s Swing

Posted by Michael Baumann, Fri, June 17, 2011 09:04 AM | Comments: 24
Dr. Strangeglove, Opinion, Posts

Did you ever notice how many great baseball players have what could loosely be described as a Hack Wilson type body?…Just perhaps, the short, powerful body is actually the best body for a baseball player. Long arms really do not help you when you’re hitting; short arms work better…Lousy players outnumber great players a hundred to one–but can you name a dozen guys like that who had bodies like that and were lousy players?

Bill James, “Yogi Berra,” in The New Bill James Historical Baseball Abstract, 2001

We all sort of imagine that the ideal athletic body type is tall, with long, spindly arms and legs. This is absolutely true in basketball, a game that’s all about long strides, long leaps, and long reach. In other sports, this is not necessarily the case. For pitchers, the tall, long-limbed body type is often the ideal, because of the tremendous leverage that can be generated when throwing the ball, to say nothing of the intimidation factor of staring up at a Goliath figure on the mound. When one considers the great power pitchers of the last 50 years, there isn’t really much doubt that this is true–Randy Johnson (6-10), Steve Carlton (6-4), Roger Clemens (6-4), Sandy Koufax (6-2 and a former basketball player at the University of Cincinnati), and so on. There are exceptions, of course (Chad Billingsley might have the shortest legs in baseball), but you get the idea.

For a position player, I’m not convinced that this is true. Albert Pujols, while he is 6-foot-3 of quivering muscle, actually has rather short appendages, leading to a shorter swing. Babe Ruth was hardly Cole Hamels in appearance, but somehow, he rode his stubby little legs to become baseball’s all-time leader in slugging, WAR, and OPS+. Perhaps no one in the game today uses his fire hydrant body to greater advantage than Chase Utley, whose swing is among the shortest and most powerful in baseball, and who generates his speed on the bases, not from a few loping Usain Bolt-style strides, but from many shorter ones.

But this, ultimately, isn’t about Babe Ruth, or Randy Johnson, or even Chase Utley. It’s about Domonic Brown.

Enough metaphorical digitized ink has been spilled over Domonic Brown, I think, since he first appeared on the mainstream Phillies fan’s radar about two years ago, so I’ll try to hit the highlights without belaboring the point. Domonic Brown is the ideal of the Phillies’ current draft strategy, which is to draft a bunch of young, athletic players without a lot of polish but with a ton of upside. The theory is that most of them won’t work out, but the few that do will be really good. It’s high-risk, particularly in the early rounds, but with a tremendous potential reward.

Let’s compare the Phillies’ first draft pick in 2011, Larry Greene a high school outfielder from Nashville, Georgia, to the guy I wanted the Phillies to draft, University of South Carolina center fielder Jackie Bradley, who went one pick later to the Red Sox. Greene, a linebacker in high school, has prodigious raw power and very little else in terms of well-established major league skills, having played in a relatively noncompetitive high school environment. Greene has (these are by no means exact figures, so don’t go too hard on me) maybe a 30 percent chance of becoming a major league regular, but a 3 percent chance of turning into someone like Prince Fielder or Mike Stanton.

Bradley, by contrast, has been a star for three years for a top-flight college program, having played against competition in the SEC equivalent to the low minors, and is the defending MOP of the College World Series. He’s a known quantity who has maybe a 60-70 percent chance of becoming a major league player, but if he does, he’s more likely to project as a solid-but-not-spectacular MLB player, maybe someone in the vein of Angel Pagan. Let’s say Bradley has a 10 percent chance of being an all-star, a five-tool player as valuable as Jayson Werth or Andrew McCutchen. If you draft Bradley, you almost certainly get something for the pick. But if Bradley and Greene both reach their absolute peaks, Greene will be more valuable.

This is the thinking that led the Phillies to draft Brown 607th overall in 2006. He was, essentially, a football player who came late to the sport, and the Phillies coached him and promoted him until he got to a level of pitching he couldn’t hit. Which hasn’t happened yet. If Dom Brown isn’t starting in a corner outfield spot every day for the next five years for the Phillies, something is wrong. He’s the goal of the high-risk, high-reward draft strategy.

So much for not belaboring the point.

What I find absolutely captivating about Brown is his appearance. He’s the diametric opposite, in the way he looks and the way he moves, to Chase Utley. Brown is not only four or five inches taller than Utley, without weighing much more, but that extra height seems to reside almost entirely in his legs and neck. The difference when they’re running, between Utley’s churning, mouselike scamper and Brown’s gliding, long-legged gait, is evident enough, but it’s in the swing that the difference in body type shows up most.

Here’s a young Chase Utley doubling to the opposite field gap. Look how compact his swing his, how quickly his hips turn, and how the bat goes from vertical, through the zone, and through in almost literally the blink of an eye. It’s compact, an almost binary motion, like throwing a switch.

Ryan Howard is different. This is a video of Ryan Howard’s RBI double on Saturday afternoon against the Cubs. Notice the long, looping, effortless motion, almost in the style of a golf swing. Ken Griffey Jr. had this kind of swing, and it generates a lot of power, but because it takes so long, it also generates (as you may have noticed by now) a ton of strikeouts.

Domonic Brown has the motion of Howard’s swing with the intensity of Utley’s. If Utley’s swing is the on/off switch, and Howard’s is dropping the head of a hammer, Brown’s swing is like opening a jack-in-the-box. He starts compressed, then drops his shoulder and explodes onto the ball, throwing his hips through the motion and extending his arms with incredible force before relaxing into the follow-through. He’s a physics lesson in cleats; you can see him unwinding as the potential energy turns into kinetic, resembling not so much a ballplayer as a medieval trebuchet.

I love watching Dom Brown not only because he can hit the ball into the second deck, but because of how he looks while doing it. It’s an extremely complex swing, but when he connects, it’s incredible to watch. When Ryan Howard hits the ball, it rockets off his bat in a way that makes you wonder where the force comes from. With Brown, the source of the power is evident in the violence of his motion, and while the spider crab body type might not be the most ideal physique for hitting a baseball, Brown, representing the extreme both in his own construction and in his athleticism, has adopted a manner of playing the game which is fascinating both in its aesthetics and its results.

Avatar of Michael Baumann

About Michael Baumann

Michael Baumann has written 229 articles on Phillies Nation.

Michael is a graduate student at Temple University who lost his childlike innocence when, at the age of 6, his dad let him stay up for the end of Game 6 of the 1993 World Series. Unsettled by the Phillies' recent success, he has threatened over the years to leave the team he loves if they don't start losing again, but has so far been unable to follow through. Michael spent 4 years as an undercover agent in Braves territory at the University of South Carolina, where he covered football and soccer for The Daily Gamecock before moving back up north. He began writing for The Phrontiersman in June 2009 before moving to Phillies Nation in January 2010.

 
 
  • Posts: 2068 Brooks

    Avatar of Brooks

    I am in love with this guys swing. Long and powerful yet even though the swing is long, its fast as a bullet (or as you said, Chase’s swing) too. Watching his swing I have asked my buddy, how does he do that? (Get around so fast)

    If he starts to hit with some consistency the league has to be on guard, this guy is something special. I dont know if Heyward (about the same size physically) or any other phenom is close to matching what we see but D Brown looks to have everything we could possibly want – yes, the 5 tool guy come to us.

     
  • Posts: 880 betasigmadeltashag

    Avatar of betasigmadeltashag

    i know I am going to come across again like I do not like Dom, I do like the kid, and think he has the potential to be a really good player, but this swing you are in love with is a problem I see, I by now means am a hitting coach, but I do not see Ken Griffey Jr swing, not close, it is long and from the short sample can not catch up to inside fastballs. I will say his plate discipline is getting better along with pitch recongnition. He can hit the ball a long way and I want to give him props for his two HR game. I would really like to see him take some guidance from the coaches and not neccisarily shorten the swing but get it to the hitting zone quicker. I would also like to see him work on his defensive fundamentals, he did make a great catch the other day, but some basic stuff with his glove positioning. Sometimes it just seems to be awkward on basic fly balls. I do want him to do well and think he can become a great player but he still needs some work

     
  • Posts: 0 SJHaack

    Chase Utley strikes out a lot. He doesn’t strike out at the monstrous rate Ryan Howard does, but he has 4 100K seasons to his credit.

    And that’s perfectly fine, because those strikeouts come from plate discipline and not hacking wildly. He’s a fairly typical K/HR power hitter in that respect, actually. It’s just not a good counterexample to a free-swinging slugger.

     
  • Posts: 13 riccaboni

    Avatar of riccaboni

    He has such a fluid swing but I do agree with it’s “looping” nature. When he connects, he can put the ball all over the field, but one of his biggest problems now appears to be catching up with a Major League fastball, as noted by John Kruk during yesterday’s game. I think if they are really invested in this guy as their right or left fielder of the future, they need to let him play every day as they have enough pitching and offense around them to carry him, he’s probably better as-is than Francisco, even against lefties, and the only way he’ll catch up to the FB is to see it frequently.

     
  • Posts: 13 riccaboni

    Avatar of riccaboni

    @betasigmadeltashag I agree about the defense. He takes some odd routes to balls he should catch routinely. I saw him do this in Lehigh Valley a few times and it’s worrisome but I really think it’s something he will be able to correct. You’re absolutely right about the defensive fundamentals. His arm, however, is a thing of beauty.

     
  • Posts: 0 TheDipsy

    So, you’re in love with sweet swinging lefties, eh? Von Hayes ring a bell? I think he’s got plenty of bat speed but he holds his hands up too high. Guys that hold there hands up like that get tied up on fastballs underneath the arms. I hope Dom is the exception.

    The Dipsy

     
  • Posts: 13 riccaboni

    Avatar of riccaboni

    @TheDipsy – Same number as Von and everything. Coincidence?

     
  • Posts: 1435 Pat Gallen

    Avatar of Pat Gallen

    Oh don’t start with the Von Hayes talk!

     
  • Avatar of The Original Chuck P

    If the “long-looping” swing was such a huge problem, Dom would be striking out… which he isn’t. He has a great eye and tends to put the ball in play. He has been a bit unlucky in terms of batting average of balls in play but I love what he brings to the table. I think he has the bat speed to hold those hands high. He’ll have problems catching up with fastballs up and in but there’s not a whole lot you can do with those pitches anyway.

     
  • Posts: 4341 Lefty

    Avatar of Lefty

    I hadn’t noticed that Pujols had quivering muscles before. And how do you know how long his appendage is?

    Just playing around Michael, just playing, that was another great read as usual.

     
  • Posts: 0 MP

    Kudos. This was an extremely well-written piece.

     
  • Posts: 0 John Kruk

    I’m really, really enjoying this series of articles. A lot.

    Nothing in particular to add to this topic, just wanted to say that. Keep ‘em coming.

     
  • Posts: 13 riccaboni

    Avatar of riccaboni

    @PGallen – If he turns out to be half as good as Von Hayes, we’re in for a real treat! #ChristmasVacation

     
  • Posts: 2068 Brooks

    Avatar of Brooks

    Seriously riccaboni?
    What exactly did ole 5 for 1 do for the Phillies?

     
  • Posts: 1435 Pat Gallen

    Avatar of Pat Gallen

    I hate even putting the name Dom Brown in the same sentence with Von Hayes.

     
  • Posts: 2068 Brooks

    Avatar of Brooks

    Probably niether of you were born when the Phils made that terrible deal to pick up Von Hayes

     
  • Posts: 0 Andrew From Waldorf

    The Hayes trade isnt as bad as its thought to be.
    The only player the Phillies gave up who ever amounted to anything was Julio Franco.
    Manny Trillo was at the end of the line.

    The deal wasnt a good one or a highlight of Phillies history but it wasnt one of the worst deals in baseball history either.

    Von had a decent career with the Phillies and if he hadnt been traded for 6 players and had that baggage to carry he’d be seen in a better light.

    One could make the arguement that his career stats with the Phillies are as good or better than some of the guys like Kruk who are on the wall of fame and beloved.

    But perception is everything and he will always be seen as the bust they traded 6 players for.

     
  • Posts: 0 Andrew From Waldorf

    Yes I know I dont go in for these things. But to just prove a point. Which is why they invent these stats.

    Baseball reference has this elorater thing that ranks all the players all time.
    Kruk is 531
    Hayes is 546

    Same ball park

     
  • Posts: 1435 Pat Gallen

    Avatar of Pat Gallen

    I was alive, but wasnt old enough just yet.

     
  • Posts: 2948 Chuck A.

    Avatar of Chuck A.

    I loved them both.

     
  • Posts: 13 riccaboni

    Avatar of riccaboni

    @Brooks just a little sarcasm and a reference to Clark Griswald to make the day brighter. Hayes was good for what he was but I agree with Andrew that he gets plagued by the five-for-one thing. And no, I was not alive for Hayes time with the Indians or for the trade, but I was alive for his lone All-Star appearance and remember his departure from the Phillies to the Angels.

     
  • Posts: 0 TheDipsy

    I remember when that deal went down and I didn’t know squat about Von Hayes. I just knew we gave up Franco, which is all we really cared about because he was the jewel of the system. Von was a good player. Great swing.

    The Dipsy

     
  • Posts: 574 Brian Sr. of CO

    Avatar of Brian Sr. of CO

    I happen to agree about Von Hayes. Sure he was not a great ball player, but at the same time I never understood the Von Hayes hatred that sometimes comes across on this site. IMO, he was solid. Steve Jeltz on the other hand deserves it. LOL. It is astounding how bad he was with a CAREER .210 AVG, 5 HR’s and 130 RBI’s. LOL Hell, 2 of thos HR’s were in one game against the Pirates. take out that one game from his entire career, and he only has 3. But I digress. Dom Brown has alot of potential, I am not sure he will be a great ball player, but I think one thing is for sure. He is better than Ben Fran. Ben Fran had an insane Spring Training…But thats it! His arm is lame, he is not a great hitter. Dom on the other hand has speed, may need some polishing on defense, but still not bad. Brown does have an insane arm which really seperates him from Ben Fran. Not sure Ben Fran has the ability to thrown home without bouncing from anywhere in the outfield, where as Brown can. But that is also a bad comparison, but I am not all that high on Ben Fran. I dont know that Dom Brown will be this glorious all-star potential HOFer that many fans are pegging him as, but he should be solid.

     
  • Posts: 0 pkljhgfd

    If you think Dom Brown’s swing is too long, look at Jayson Werth’s swing, and by the way Jose Bautista holds his hands high

     
 
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