Don't Bring Up Domonic Brown

I think it's fair to characterize the less temperate sectors of Phillies fandom as having become gripped with a state of simultaneous mass hysteria over the idea that Domonic Brown must be called up from AA Reading immediately. I don't listen to much sports talk radio anymore, but I turned it on in the car this weekend three times for about two minutes each time. All three times, the hosts and the callers were raging about this issue. There's also a lot of this stuff going around on the blogs.

I would surmise that what inspired the two-minute hate were two recent articles by David Murphy in the Daily News. One was a piece in which he reported that the front office had no intention of bringing Brown up to the big leagues, and in fact, had no set timetable for promoting him to AAA. The second was more of an opinion piece on his blog, titled "Why the Phillies won't, and shouldn't, do anything drastic with Raul Ibanez." I don't know if the Phillies prompted these articles or if Murphy came up with the ideas on his own, but if it was the former and if the Phillies' intent was to nip any clamoring for Brown in the bud, they made a serious miscalculation, because it's done the exact opposite.

Needless to say, most of the people advocating an immediate recall of Brown are not very bright. Their arguments bear all of the hallmarks of talk radio groupthink: a total lack of concern for future consequences, a reflexive blaming of everything on "cheapness" whether it makes any sense or not, an assumption that "doing something" is always better than doing nothing, mindless repeating of talking points, mindless rage, etc. Now - this is NOT to say that an intelligent argument can't be made for bringing Brown up sometime soon. But those are not the arguments that are being thrown around at present. I also think that, in the final analysis, even the intelligent arguments would be incorrect.

Here are some of the reasons why the Phillies shouldn't bring Domonic Brown up now or anytime in the next couple of months.

1. Raul Ibanez is not doing that bad this year.

Yes, his triple-slash isn't so hot, but even that isn't as bad as most of his radio bashers seem to believe: .247/.335/.394. And there are many reasons to believe that these stats are misleading and that Ibanez will improve going forward.

Murphy covers some of these reasons in the blog post I linked above. I don't agree with everything he says there, but in general, his points are sound. What I would add to that is that Ibanez's walk rate and line drive rate are actually HIGHER than not only his career norms, but also his rates from his hot start last year. Basically, what we've seen from Ibanez this year is a combination of (1) bad BABIP luck, which probably won't last, and (2) a power outage, which is very possibly attributable to the delayed injury rehab that Murphy discusses, and which also may not last. If only one of these two things had happened and not the other, no one would be batting an eyelash at Ibanez's stats.

In addition, Ibanez's worst stretch of the season was in April. You can't throw those stats out completely, but more recent stats are of greater value than less recent stats. Since April 20, Ibanez's OPS has been .780. I'm not saying that's satisfactory, but it isn't that bad either.

Also, while Ibanez has struggled in our recent teamwide batting slump just like the rest of the lineup has, the bigger culprit during the slump, as far as corner outfielders go, has been Jayson Werth. So if the slump is really a justification for making drastic moves, then we'd really benefit the most by benching Werth, not Ibanez. But we're obviously not going to do that, nor should we.

2. Domonic Brown is not likely to outperform either Ibanez or Werth in 2010.

While his performance this year has been excellent in light of his age and experience level, that does not mean he would excel in the majors right now. According to minorleaguesplits.com (which, annoyingly, still has his named misspelled as "Dominic"), Brown's current equivalencies are .253/.309/.419. That's lower than what Ibanez has done so far this year even with his bad luck.

3. The success of Jason Heyward, Mike Stanton, and Stephen Strasburg is totally irrelevant.

One of the recurring themes I heard on the radio was that we need to promote Brown to keep up with the rest of the NL East. I don't know what to say to this except that it's really, really stupid. You don't make important decisions on personnel or player development just because you want to look good next to your peers. Every prospect is different, like a snowflake. What another prospect does is totally irrelevant to what you ought to do with your own prospects.

And in this case, Heyward, Stanton, and Strasburg had all, simply put, performed way better at AA than Brown has. Heyward hit .352/.446/.611 last year in 195 AA plate appearances, and also had the benefit of a full major league spring training this year. Stanton posted a monstrous .311/.411/.726 in 238 plate appearances. And everyone knows how dominant Strasburg was in the minors. (Also, he's a pitcher - I don't see how it makes any sense to compare him to an outfielder.) Brown is currently sitting at .308/.382/.556 for the season. While that is very good, it isn't anywhere near as good as what the others did. I know it's irritating that our top prospect is not as good of a prospect as these other guys are, but it helps no one to just pretend he is and force him down the same path. It isn't impossible for Brown to turn into Heyward's and Stanton's equal down the road (despite being older than them) if we develop him according to his own needs. But for now, he should be treated as a very good prospect who has excelled so far in AA, not as a once-in-a-generation prospect who has utterly dominated AA.

You know what this reminds me of? When George Steinbrenner, in the mid-'80s, instructed his front office to promote Jose Rijo to the majors as an 18-year-old just because Dwight Gooden was lighting things up as an 18-year-old for the Mets. Rijo didn't recover from this for years.

4. Bringing up a prospect too early can have long-term negative consequences for his development.

There are many examples of this throughout baseball history. Rijo, for one. Gavin Floyd, to name one with a local angle.

I think this happens for two reasons. First, the reason why you have the minor leagues is so that a prospect can work on weak areas of his game in an environment where the results don't really matter that much. If a pitching prospect needs work on his breaking stuff, then in the minors he can throw as many breaking balls as he wants to, because it's OK if he gets hit hard. In the majors - especially on a contending team like the Phillies - you can't do that. So the prospect will either have his weaknesses exploited or he'll stop working on them. Neither outcome is good for the team. Second, confidence is a big part of being a successful pro athlete. Shatter a young player's confidence and he won't be able to get the most of his talent.

Now, of course, this begs the question of whether Brown is, in fact, not yet ready to be brought to the majors. And I don't claim to know the answer to this for sure. Minor league player development is an opaque and inexact science that few of us really understand. That's what PhillyFriar is here for.

But here's what I do know. Before the year began, John Sickels, a very respected prospects expert, wrote about Brown:

I love this guy, but the tools aren't quite refined yet and they need to give him a solid consolidation season in 2010, start him off in Reading and leave him there until July no matter what he does.

I also know that Brown was raw when we drafted him out of high school in 2006, that he didn't exhibit any power potential until last season, and that he's only played a total of about 90 games above the Class-A level. I also know that he still has some things to work on, such as his ability to make consistent contact. (He is currently striking out about 20% of the time he comes up to bat. Strikeouts are not terribly important in measuring how good a hitter is in the majors, but they are important in projecting how good a minor league hitter is likely to become when he gets to the majors.) All of this leads me to believe that he isn't ready.

Finally, as long I'm on this topic, I'm going to use it a pretext to link to this classic ESPN SportsCenter commercial. Awesome.

5. Brown's development is more important than our success this year.

Let's assume for the sake of argument that Ibanez really is the disaster some are making him out to be (he isn't), and that the season will necessarily be lost with him in left field (it won't). Even so, it would still be wrong to immediately give Brown the job.

And the reason why is because life is going to go on after this year. Contrary to George Allen's ridiculous motto, the future is not now. The future is the future. And the downside risk of a decision that could hurt us for many years to come is greater than the upside benefit of a decision whose purpose would be to help us for this season only.

I don't think people fully grasp how important Brown is to the future of this franchise. We have a fair amount of talent in our farm system, but most of it is in the lower levels. Brown is the ONLY position-player prospect we have left who has (so far) made a successful transition to AA. And every single starter on our major league club is 29 or older. If Brown doesn't turn into a very good major league player, we are going to be royally screwed for years to come.

I realize that most people who call into WIP don't care about the future - that if you present them with a dilemma like this, their automatic response is going to be "Eat drink and be merry, for tomorrow we die." Let's play craps with the college fund and worry about tomorrow tomorrow. But those people are wrong. If the choice is between sacrificing this season and risking Brown's future development (a false choice - but let's pretend it isn't), then I choose to sacrifice this season. Teams lose their golden ages when they panic over down years and liquidate their long-term interests to relieve that sense of panic. It's foolish and we shouldn't let it happen to us.

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