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Should the Phillies Consider Selling High On Brown?

Posted by Eric Seidman, Wed, September 18, 2013 08:00 AM | Comments: 31
Acquisitions, Analysis, Commentary, Statistical Analysis

Domonic Brown entered the season with the promise of regular playing time and promptly delivered all-star caliber production. He hit a robust .290/.326/.613, with 18 homers, during May and June and had a .274/.321/.545 batting line at the end of that stretch. He was finally delivering on his potential and showing why he was untouchable in past deals.

He took major strides forward offensively this season and could have approached 35 home runs if not for a couple nagging injuries. He sacrificed some patience for power, walking just 6.4% of the time, compared to 11.9% in 2011 and 9.9% last season. However, that trade-off was very much necessary, as injuries depleted the Phillies lineup and left him the only serious power threat for much of the year.

Despite his offensive improvement, Brown has only produced 1.7 WAR this year. He has never rated positively in the field and his -7 fielding mark eats away at his bat’s value. Switching positions and lacking consistent playing time in the majors from 2010-12 plays a role, but it’s hard to attribute all of his fielding woes to those circumstances.

He figures to play 140 games this season at 2 WAR. That equates to league average performance over almost a full season, which has value, especially considering his meager salary. He’ll be 27 years old next year, which is the point that players typically begin their peak, so he’s no longer a young prospect finding his way. Aside from that torrid stretch in May and June, he has hit similarly to his batting lines in 2011-12. That isn’t bad, in and of itself, but it invites the question of Brown’s true talent level.

As the Phillies look to retool their roster, it’s interesting to wonder whether Brown might benefit them more as a trade chip than as a building block. He is young and cheap enough to attract suitors and is major league ready. Retooling teams don’t often trade talented and cost-controlled assets, but in Brown’s case it’s worth asking whether the team would be selling high by pursuing a trade this offseason. If the answer is yes, should the Phillies consider unloading Brown while the iron is hot?

Brown absolutely raked in May and June, but in April and from July-September, he hit .255/.312/.415. In 2011, he hit .245/.333/.391. In 2012, he hit .235/.316/.396. Aside from that stretch earlier this season, Brown looks the same as he did the last couple of years.

Now, extended hot streaks cannot be ignored. Some players cobble together solid seasons by combining average-ish offensive production for a longer span with a torrid spurt or two. Others are more consistently good. Brown’s season shouldn’t be written off because the bulk of his productivity occurred in a concentrated period, but the nature of his production raises questions of what to expect moving forward.

Is Brown’s true talent really in the .275/.320/.515 range? Or is he more likely to hit around .246/.322/.403 — his numbers from 2011-12 and April, July-September 2013? Or, perhaps somewhere in between, like .260/.320/.450?

This question is important on account of his fielding and baserunning. Brown has value as the .500+ slugger with 25-30 homers and a league average on-base percentage; remember, the league average has fallen quite a bit, so his rate is still decent. If his true talent level at the plate resembles the latter pair of slash lines the situation grows murkier.

With average or slightly below baserunning and a -6 fielding rating, Brown would hover around 1-1.4 WAR over 140 games with those lines. While that range still technically creates value, given his salary, it isn’t indicative of the type of player you want to build around.

It is also possible that Brown continues to improve and grows into a .280/.335/.515 hitter and a perennial 30-HR threat. This was, after all, just his first full season in the majors. With experience and repetition he may be able to improve his fielding and ability to recognize pitches. It’s entirely possible that right now isn’t the ‘high’ at which he could be sold.

It’s a tricky situation because he is at the perfect age where teams could be convinced that he is primed to break out, but where, if he doesn’t, the Phillies are frankly going to be left with a mediocre overall player that could have potentially brought back much more.

It might seem odd to consider trading Brown this offseason, but what if the Marlins finally decide that they would consider dealing Giancarlo Stanton? And what if they wanted some package including Brown, Jesse Biddle, Freddy Galvis and a decent-but-lesser prospect?

What if other stars become available and Brown is the desired price? The Phillies wouldn’t dare deal him for Roy Halladay or Cliff Lee, but in seeing him play everyday and getting a better sense of his skill-set, might they now?

It’s very difficult to build through free agency these days and it takes the right confluence of events for a Stanton or another star to become available via trade. In those rarer situations teams really need to know what they have. Right now, it’s tough to say that the Phillies know what they have in Brown. He might hit 30 home runs this season, but how confident are you in his ability to repeat that next season?

He may be just as much a question mark as Cody Asche, Darin Ruf and Cesar Hernandez, only with the top prospect pedigree on his side. In all likelihood, the Phillies will hold onto Brown and hope he can replicate, or improve upon, this year’s performance. But the team should at least consider the possibility of trading him to improve in different areas.

His offensive productivity is reduced by his fielding problems, lowering his overall value to the Phillies, but the bat could still prove enticing to other teams. The ideal situation is for Brown to continue improving and develop consistent patience, power and fielding, but the Phillies shouldn’t enter the offseason supremely confident in that scenario.

For the first time in his career, Brown should be considered very much touchable.

Avatar of Eric Seidman

About Eric Seidman

Eric Seidman has written 64 articles on Phillies Nation.

Eric offers his unique analytical perspective to Phillies Nation and is a regular contributor on FanGraphs.com.

 
 
  • Posts: 0 Rabbi

    As a lifelong Phillies fan, I seen many lean years, and I’ve seen limited periods of extended success. The periods of success have come from the development of a “core” of home-grown talent. I think we are seeing the emergence of a new core of players!! The idea of trading a player like Brown, who is just breaking out, is ludicrous. The whole reason a team has a farm system is to develop the type of talent like Brown…and Asche…and Ruf…and Hernandez. Yeah, it would be nice, on paper, to have Stanton in the everyday line-up. But is he that much more of an upgrade?

     
    • Posts: 0 Ben

      Stanton is a lot better defensively, great arm compared to brown and he’s a little better at batting. So I’d say it would be a pretty good trade

       
  • Posts: 0 George

    Brown may still be developing, but how much he progresses is definitely a huge question mark.

    Sandberg recently commented that they need to upgrade the outfield defense, so that’s one strike against Brown. The team needs righthanded power, and Brown is lefthanded. That’s strike two.

    I’d say look around, send out feelers. If the potential return isn’t good enough, keep Brown, and hope he doesn’t strike out. There’s really no other way to handle the situation.

    And the same should apply to anyone else on the team right now.

     
    • Posts: 0 Doc

      Go back to school George and read Rabbi’s comment. By the way, baseball teams very rarely get a player entering his major league prime via a trade. What they normally get is a veteran who has produced but is getting long in the tooth age wise. Our great but aged core players got us a World Championship and since then the Plhillies have tried the veteran free agent/trade route in trying to stay on top. I agree with Rabbi, now is the time to let the home grown talent have a chance to develop into a new great core group of players. Let them grow. We did it with Utley, Howard, Rollins and Hamels. If it takes a season to let our young players grow into the game to let us know their worth, then so be it. Patience is a virture. Especially in baseball.

       
      • Posts: 0 George

        I said nothing whatsoever about trading anyone for an aged veteran. It’s someone else who needs to go back to school, concentrating on reading comprehension.

        Trades have been made where a young -player is acquired for a young player. Juist last year, Revere was added by trading Worley and a mid-lavel prospect.

        While it’s nice to build a team with home-grown talent, sometimes pieces must be added. The 2008 team didn’t just have people from the Phils’ system; there were also players like Werth, Lidge, Stairs, Romero, Eyre, and Moyer.

        I also don’t see Brown as being such a great player that he should be kept at all costs.

        Also, Please note the part of my comment where I said, “If the potential return isn’t good enough, keep Brown ” Like I said, someone else needs to go back to school.

         
    • Posts: 0 Steve Kusheloff

      100% correct. These pundits who consider our prospects as “trade chips” are like kids playing Strat-O-Matic. All they seem to understand are statistics with no sense of the added value of home grown ballplayers. Both Phillies champions – ’80 and ’08 – were built around players from the farm system, with some notable free agents, e.g., Pete Rose, sprinkled in. That’s how the Phillies win. That’s the formula they should follow now.

       
      • Posts: 0 Ken Bland

        The Phillies won with Pete Rose back then, but you left out the valuble trade chips part of the formula. Garry Maddox was acquired by trade. Ditto Bake McBride. Steve Carlton fell out of the sky and the Phils were told you’d be wise to keep him. Manny Trillo was acquired by trade. Tug might have been a free agent, I’m pretty sure at least one of Garber and Reed were acquired by trade.I can’t speak for others, but I doubt anyone is suggesting trade Brownie for the sake of it. He, like all uniform wearing personnel are commodities. Trade chips.

        How can you sit there 10 game under sea level, and NOT be open to possible deals. It doesn’t mean you go Frank Lane crazy and trade for all veterans, it means you are at least receptive to deals that you think improve your lot in life. How many teams have won World Series by just keeping their own kids and watching them grow? Not many, including the 1st time the Phils won. So even if you wanna recognize the Phils of ’08 as an example, what’s the big deal about one time. Is this lot of kids going to match the youthful skills of all the ’08 champion draftees?

        Not only that, but the ’08 club had some non drafted personnel including Lidge (trade, no less), Werth, Moyer, Blanton (who was pretty good at that time, and traded for, no less).

        It’s about keeping your eyes open, exploring ALL options and not overtrading the farm system.
        What the 2 championship clubs and the years around them is they kept a good percentage of their blue chippers. Just because someone is open to trading chips doesn’t mean their some stat freak stratomatic kid. It means you can consider most any of them tradable, but be careful who you deal for, and how often.

         
  • Posts: 0 bacardipr

    I think theyll hold on to him. Right now they need as many cost controlled players as possible. They then can try and build around them with the other vets already on the team. They do have other needs as well and with their farm system im not sure how they will address them.

     
  • Posts: 0 Joecatz

    Darnit Eric. I’m 3/4 through writing this exact same piece almost word for word. :(

     
    • Posts: 5222 Lefty

      Avatar of Lefty

      Absolutely Yes- is the answer to your question at the end Joe, nice twist.

       
  • Posts: 0 Carlos Danger

    Anyone should be available on a roster this bad, and to have subpar fielders at both corner OF positions (assuming the Ruf experiment continues next season) is not a good idea – especially on a team supposedly built on pitching. To put Brown’s value into perspective, his WAR is about the same as Nate Schierholtz this season. Whether or not he has a bigger upside is the question.

     
  • Posts: 1135 EricL

    Avatar of EricL

    To the people who are dead set against it, you guys realize that Giancarlo Stanton, for example, is three years younger than Dom?

    I’m of the opinion that there really shouldn’t be any untouchable players; it’s all about the value of the deal. If you’re getting more production than you think you’ll get out of the guys you’re trading away, and it fills a legitimate need, then consider moving those guys.

    That said, I’d be reluctant to deal Brown, and I’d prefer to include players like Franco/Asche as the Phils have some redundancy at third now.

     
  • Posts: 0 Ken Bland

    I’m not sure I understand the question posed. Consider is in the headline, and a form of it (considered) repeats in the text.

    Consider, to me, means make him touchable in the right deal. Let’s be brief. 10 under .500, it’s a short list of untouchables. Even the cost controlled young players are movable. So in that sense, the answer is absolutely.

    But if the question is really should they aggressively market Dom as a we got his best, and let’s move him while he’s at this level of marketability and call all comers to see if they’re interested, I’m inclined to say no. The Strawberry comps are pretty much gone, that implies a Schmidt like level of franchise carrier, and I pretty much doubt we’ll ever see that (we did this year, and here we are 10 under .500) leading a kick ass team..

    But I think for the next several years, he’s a real nice complementary player that more contributes than not to a winning environment. I would assume his defense will improve, which it has, but it’s fair to ask ehy it hasn’t improved more. But that selectivity at the plate can propel some really good things. I would be pretty hesitant to pursue trading him, but for the “right” player where another club likes him and calls, I’m listening.

     
  • Posts: 2993 Chuck A.

    Avatar of Chuck A.

    Is there actually someone (above) that is asking if Stanton is a clear upgrade over Brown? Really??? Is that supposed to even be a serious question??

    All sarcasm aside…if you can land a guy like Stanton and trade someone who is 3 years older (Brown) along with Galvis, maybe Biddle or someone else…you absolutely have to pull the trigger.

     
    • Posts: 0 Hogey's Role

      Stanton only has about2 more years of control, and as good as he may be, he also falls victim to the injury bug…
      However I would consider dealing Brown and Galvis for Stanton,I would not put biddle in that package though… I would offer Brown and Galvis maybe ruf or revere for Stanton and a lower level prospect take it or leave it… I’m very content with keeping Brown however…

       
    • Posts: 0 Double Trouble Del

      Outside of Franco, I don’t think the Phillies have a player of the caliber that will be sought by the Marlins in any trade for Stanton.

       
      • Posts: 1135 EricL

        Avatar of EricL

        I think Brown is a pretty valuable piece, possibly more so than Franco, because he is still on a pre-arbitration contract and just turned 26 a few weeks ago.

        That’s sort of the gist of this piece.

         
    • Posts: 0 Ben

      I like your thinking chuck! Ha

       
  • Posts: 0 Dave

    Only if they package him with Howard.

     
  • Posts: 5222 Lefty

    Avatar of Lefty

    “Trade them a year too early, not a year too late. ” They’re all tradable in my way of thinking.

    If the right deal comes along, you absolutely have to listen. But- I’d suggest that it is not the correct strategy to shop him, as I believe that automatically decreases his value in the eyes of other GM’s. They may question why the Phillies would do that, wonder what they don’t know , or what they are not being told.

    IMO- I think that the Phils should inquire about the player(s) they want from other teams, and let THEM ask for Brown in return.

    One last thing. Are we sure that our major league scouts and FO execs have done a sufficient enough job that we trust who they would pick to trade him for? At this point, I’m not.

     
    • Posts: 146 Eric Seidman

      Avatar of Eric Seidman

      Lefty – exactly. You don’t call the Marlins and ask if they will give up Stanton for Brown. But if you ask for Stanton and they structure a deal around Brown, the Phils shoudn’t automatically balk at the idea.

       
      • Posts: 5222 Lefty

        Avatar of Lefty

        Yup. Another insightful and interesting piece Eric, thanks as always.

         
  • Posts: 5222 Lefty

    Avatar of Lefty

    Ok, I just said “one last thing”, and then thought of one more- so sue me. :-)

    Do we really trust the defensive ratings, considering that Brown has not been given much of an opportunity lately to show off his cannon of an arm from right field? His accuracy is amazingly good and I think he’d be more of an asset in right field than left.

     
    • Posts: 146 Eric Seidman

      Avatar of Eric Seidman

      I’ll put it this way. Without even looking at his defensive ratings, my guess from watching him was that it would be in the -5 to -8 range. He is not a good fielder yet. He has a solid arm, and may pick up a few runs from that by moving to RF, but his poor routes and reads might prevent him from getting to a ball that he could then throw to a base to nab a runner.

       
  • Posts: 0 Jonathan

    This may not be the right thread in which to suggest this, but what do you think about this deal with the LA Angles?

    Ryan Howard and Cliff Lee for Albert Pujols and CJ Wilson
    (with some combination of minor players/prospects included on both sides, possibly)

    All 4 salaries are big and long, with the Pujols/Wilson salaries certainly lasting longer, but with free agency seeming to dry up, that might not be as big a deal, especially if the Phillies get a new TV deal soon. It would give the Phillies right handed power in the middle of Utley and Brown, and Ryan Howard could be used as a DH in Anaheim, where he might be more apt to succeed.

    The Angels get a better pitcher in Lee, but Wilson still fills the hole for a solid number 2 behind Hamels.

    It might also simply shake things up for both clubhouses, which might be necessary on both counts.

    Thoughts?

     
    • Posts: 0 George

      With Howard, you’re losing $10. With Pujols, you’re losing $100. Which would you rather lose?

      I wouldn’t make any deal like that.

       
    • Posts: 5222 Lefty

      Avatar of Lefty

      IMO, the Pujols/ Fielder contracts might worst in the game. I think the team needs to have less years on the books, not more. I’d be interested in seeing the team explore something like Lee and – maybe Asche, for Wilson and Kyle Calhoun. The Angels need pitching and a 3B, and although Calhoun bats left handed, he sure looks like a promising corner OF/ 1B. And that way, Maikel Franco is no longer blocked.

       
      • Posts: 0 hk

        Lefty,

        They’re all bad deals, but Howard’s extension is much worse than Fielder’s contract. Pujols’s deal is worse than both of them.

        Fielder: Signed for his age 28-36 seasons at an AAV of $23M.
        Howard: Extended for his age 32-36 seasons at an AAV of $25M.

        The Fielder deal is better because of his age relative to Howard’s and because Detroit gets the benefit of inflation. Consider:

        1. Detroit gets Fielder’s age 28-31 seasons before his expected decline years (age 32-36) whereas the Phils only get Howard’s expected decline years.

        2. Using a 5% discount rate, the present value of the Fielder deal is $163.48M whereas the present value of the Howard extension is $108.24M.

        When compared to the fact that Phils are only getting Howard’s age 32-36 seasons, Detroit wins by paying ~51% more, but also getting Fielder’s age 28-31 seasons.

         
      • Posts: 5222 Lefty

        Avatar of Lefty

        All correct hk, except one thing-
        Fielder’s decline has already begun! It started last season, so the age 27-31 seasons they are getting, will in the end, not even be close to worth the gamble. He’s looking more and more like a guy that’s about to fall off the cliff.

        http://www.fangraphs.com/graphs.aspx?playerid=4613&position=1B&page=8&type=full

        Paying long term contracts for any ballplayer over age 25 is the single least cost effective thing a team can do IMO.

         
  • Posts: 0 wbramh

    Forget trade-bait value a minute and just look at what we have field positions.

    The fact is we don’t have a complete designated stater in any outfield position.

    Right field has been virtually empty since Werth left. It’s been a revolving door manned by mediocre to poor journeymen and unfulfilled dreams of finding a complete fielder from the minor league ranks. We had a clue about the dearth of bona fide talent when the awful Delmon Young was handed the job without even having to compete for during Spring training (or during the first how many weeks of the actual season?). Is that a contender’s right fielder?

    Center field was handed to a guy who showed some promise getting on base after a dismal start but had a known and middlin’ history on the major league level. He wasn’t even a starter on his last team (a non-contender), is a reasonably speedy but mediocre fielder with a little league arm and no pop in his bat. Is that a contender’s center fielder?

    Left field was assigned to a 26-year-old on and off rookie who finally showed some of his projected promise at bat but continues to struggle to figure out where he is in relationship to the ball when playing his position. Is that a contender’s left fielder?

    No, the team isn’t going to show us an all-new outfield for 2014 but here’s what I would suggest:

    Trade Ruf, Galvis and Howard (with the Phillies eating Howard’s salary) for Giancarlo Stanton.
    Forget trade-bait value a minute and just look at what we have field positions.

    The fact is we don’t have a complete designated stater in any outfield position.

    Right field has been virtually empty since Werth left. It’s been a revolving door manned by mediocre to poor journeymen and unfulfilled dreams of finding a complete fielder from the minor league ranks. We had a clue about the dearth of bona fide talent when the awful Delmon Young was handed right field without even having to compete for the job during Spring training (or during the first how many weeks of the actual season?). Is that a contender’s right fielder?

    Center field was handed to a guy who showed some promise getting on base after a dismal start but has a known and middlin’ history on the major league level. He wasn’t even a starter on his last team (a non-contender), is a reasonably speedy but a mediocre fielder with a little league arm and no pop in his bat. Is that a contender’s center fielder?

    Left field was assigned to a going on 27-year-old on and off rookie who finally showed a streak of his projected promise at bat but, other than a good arm, continues to struggle to figure out where he is in relationship to the ball when playing his position. Is that a contender’s left fielder?

    Obviously, the team isn’t going to show us an all-new outfield for 2014 but here’s what I would suggest:

    Trade Ruf, Galvis and Revere (cash, if necessary) for Giancarlo Stanton.

    Spring 2014 would feature Stanton in right, Hernandez in center and Brown back in left, a clear 66% upgrade in the outfield and likely a 33% (or higher) improvement at the plate.

     
  • Posts: 0 wbramh

    Sorry for the repeated junk – thought I had erased it and disregard the Howard trade stuff.
    Ain’t gonna happen.
    Just musing about moving Howard and eating his salary in favor of an inexpensive Franco on first.

     
 
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