For me, Domonic Brown is the hardest player on the Phillies to objectively assess. Here we are: four years removed from being rated the 4th best prospect in baseball and--can you believe it?--two years removed from an All-Star selection and a month-long offensive explosion, Brown has still failed to establish himself as a MLB regular.
Aside from that one month in 2013, Brown has never hit substantially better than league-average, and has mostly performed well below-average in that department, and coupled that with, by all accounts and metrics, horrendous outfield defense. Poor hitting (75 wRC+) and sub-par fielding (-9.4 UZR) combined to make Brown's 2014 the second least valuable (most harmful) in baseball at -1.7 fWAR.
As a result of that poor performance and, some suggest, a general distaste for Brown within the Phillies organization, Dom was sent to Lehigh Valley once he returned from an Achilles injury that came up in Spring Training. He didn't do particularly well down there statistically (.257/.307/.352), though people who watch AAA games were impressed with his rediscovered patience at the plate.
Eventually, the Phillies got tired of trotting out Grady Sizemore and Jeff Francoeur every day and, reluctantly, called up Brown to reclaim his throne. And reclaim it he did...not. In 92 plate appearances from his June 14 debut to the All-Star Break, Brown had a useless wRC+ of 42. He was hitting the ball in the air, but it wasn't going anywhere as he was only slugging .247; he had no home runs and only four extra-base hits, all doubles.
Then the All-Star break came and went and Dom has been hot ever since. In 69 plate appearances since the All Star Break, Brown has hit put up a 138 wRC+. His slugging percentage is more than double what it was before the break and all four of his 2015 home runs have come in the last three series.
Dom's BABIP during this stretch is .302, which is better than his .274 career number but not substantially so. What, then, explains Brown's recent surge? The answer might be as simple as pitchers are throwing him more strikes. Before the break, fewer than 40% of the pitches Brown saw were in the strike zone. Since the break that number is up to 50%. The below charts present that phenomenon visually:
Brown Before All-Star Break
Brown After All-Star Break
Pitches that were low and outside before the break are now just a bit up and getting a little more of the plate. And Brown has been more aggressive in going after those more hittable pitchers. Before the All-Star break, Brown was swinging at 48% of pitches overall and 68% of those in the strike zone, rates that both are right around league-average. In the last month, he has been much more aggressive than the league, swinging at 57% of pitches overall and nearly 77% of those in the zone.
The result has been much fewer softly hit balls. In the second half, only 7% of the balls Brown has put into play have been classified as softly hit by Baseball Info Solutions, down from nearly 24% in the first half. This may also explain Brown's significantly higher second-half BABIP (up 63 points from the first half of the season).
The phrase that baseball is a game of adjustments is so worn a cliche because it is true. Pitchers will likely feel less comfortable challenging Dom Brown in the coming weeks and possibly pitch to him like they did before, with most pitches coming in low and away from Brown. How he responds to those adjustments--will he continue his recent run or fall back to his sub-par play--will go a long way in determining how many more chances he gets not only in Philadelphia, but in baseball.
If Domonic Brown can keep hitting like he has to this point since the break--38% better than league average--he might just reestablish himself as a piece of the Phillies' future. It's unlikely he'll ever reach the expectations set by being named the #4 prospect in the game and held out of trade talks for Roy Freaking Halladay, but that doesn't mean he can't have value to the Phillies.