Less than a day after suggesting that Domonic Brown was “not ready” to be called up to the majors to replace Shane Victorino, Ruben Amaro reversed course and added Brown to the 25 man roster on Friday afternoon. While the circumstances precipitating the move left significant questions about the certitude of the usually methodical front office, it was welcome news to Phillies fans, who had watched their corner outfielders eke out a collective .236/.313/.353 line for the first 43 games of the 2011 season. On the mend from a hamate fracture that sidelined him for the beginning of the season, Brown has hit .341/.431/.537 in 11 games with AAA Lehigh Valley and promises to supplement an offense that ranks 22nd in the MLB in OPS, and 19th in runs per game. And yet, shortly after the news that Brown was headed to Philadelphia, Charlie Manuel posted a lineup that did not include him. Furthermore, as Jim McCormack reported, Manuel said that he will not play against left-handed pitching “at first,” but “eventually” will. Manuel emphasized that his playing time won’t be as limited as it was last year, when he only accrued 70 plate appearances over 60 games, but it’s difficult to guess at how committed he is to that pledge. It’s a bit puzzling, since, according to reports, it was Manuel who lobbied Ruben Amaro to have Brown called up in the first place.
If Domonic Brown settles into a platoon role for a significant amount of time, it would be a misguided move. For one thing, platooning your five tool super prospect when he hits the majors is a good way to turn him into a bust. If the concern is that he cannot hit left-handed pitching at the major league level, there is no better way to help him develop that skill than to allow him to face them. If Brown is just beginning to receive full-time starts a year from now, and seems unable to hit lefties, management will have only themselves to blame. More importantly, Brown has never truly struggled against left-handed pitching in his minor league career. See the chart at right, which shows Dom’s platoon splits for minor league stints since 2008 wherein he tallied at least 100 plate appearances. There are some splits here, but nothing all that dire, and nothing that shows significant struggles against lefties, perhaps with the exception of his 2008 season with Lakewood.
Take all of these stints together and you get a collective .293/.371/.458 line (.829 OPS) against left-handers with a 10.5% walk rate and a 15.5% strikeout rate, and a .305/.390/.502 line (.892 OPS) against right-handers with a 11.5% walk rate and an 18% strikeout rate. In his Lehigh Valley appearances so far this season, Brown has hit .316/.364/.526 against lefties, and .364/.483/.545 against righties, although that’s admittedly a small sample. It’s pretty obvious, though, that Brown’s platoon tendencies are quite reasonable, and not at all out of line with the differentials you usually see in talented major league hitters. Leaving him out of the lineup against lefties consistently, however, might quickly change that. I sympathize with the concerns about keeping Domonic’s confidence at a high level, but coddling him when he need not be coddled accomplishes nothing, and may even hurt his development in the long run.
Beyond the concerns about Brown, there just isn’t much to gain from his potential platoon partners. Raul Ibanez is hitting .222/.282/.389 against southpaws. Ben Francisco isn’t faring any better, at .189/.268/.243. Granted, he usually succeeds against lefties, and that small sample performance figures to improve, but Francisco seems destined for a career as a fourth outfielder, and Brown’s ceiling is immeasurably higher. There’s no reason for Francisco to be sapping plate appearances from Domonic. Right now John Mayberry Jr. is the only corner outfielder with substantial production against left-handed pitching, and he’ll be needed in centerfield during Victorino’s stay on the disabled list. If the Phillies had a clear-cut lefty-killing candidate for the role, it might be worth a discussion, but there is just no reason, at this moment, not to pencil Brown into the lineup every day.
It’s entirely possible that this is all an overreaction. It’s tough to tell what Charlie means by “eventually,” but it could be that this is a temporary strategy that he will quickly phase out. If he does not, he’ll likely pay the price for tampering with the playing time of a blossoming young prospect.