THE ROX NEED TO HIT ON A FEW DUMPSTER DIVES – BROOKS BROWN MIGHT BE ONE OF THOSE
I said that I was finished with the season reviews. I forgot a guy who could well be a key member of the team in 2015. Here is hoping Brooks forgives me.
I wasn’t going to originally include Brown in the season review because he was a relatiely minor part of the team in 2014 but given that he has a good chance to be part of the crowd in the pen, I wanted to look at his little times with the Rox in 2014.
First, a bit of background. Brown is age 29. Yes, that is really old for a rookie, but we have seen similar relievers make their breakthrough at this age (for example, the Giants Jean Machi, and it has worked out well for them and him). This is similar to Yohan Flande. But, well, better.
Brown was originally drafted by the Braves in 2003 out of high school (another Georgian?) in the 21st round, but he decided to go the U of Georgia to play instead. It was a good decision – he was drafted in 2006 by the Dbacks in…the 1st round (this is one of the best 1st round drafts in baseball history, featuring the likes of Evan Longoria, some guy named Clayton Kershaw, Andrew Miller, Drew Stubbs, Tim Lincecum, Max Scherzer, Travis Snider, Ian Kennedy, Hank Conger, Daniel Bard (who had good run for a while as a top set-up guy), as well as two guys at the top who are viewed as complete failures, Greg Reynolds (sorry, hate to say that), and Luke Hochever, who in 2013 was a great reliever, got TJ and just resigned a big contract to become part of the Royals knock-out bullpen. Oh, and at the end of the draft – one Adam Ottovino. Technically Brown wasn’t a #1, but a supplementary pick (#34 overall, compensation for the Dbacks losing….Tim Worrell?). Anyways, I say this because he was thought highly of, and like Ottavino, and like Zero, he spent pretty much his entire minor league career as a starter.
His 2006 (short-season after the draft) went well. 2007 in High A and AA went well (3.20 ERA), with a relatively high WHIP 1.292. 2008 went badly, even with a stint at the Arizona Fall League, as his ERA for the season in AA (where he was the whole regular season) was 4.18 with a 6-15 record and a WHIP of 1.517. That effectively ended his time as a real prospect. He was dealt in April of 2009 to the Tigers for James Skelton (who?). That year he began at AA (now age 24, so getting a bit old for that level if you want to impress), and was 5-0 with a 2.61 ERA and a 1.091 WHIP. This earned him a trip to AAA (and Toledo, yuck!), where his issues reappeared, going 3-13 with a 4.71 ERA and a 1.553 WHIP. The big issue: a K/BB ratio of….0.87! Yes, more walks that Ks! After being a 6-7 K/9 over his career he dropped to 3.2 K/9 (his time in AA was 3.2 K/9, so he had already stopped being a strikeout pitcher earlier in the year). His BB ration had never been good, running in the 4 range per nine innings. In AA that year he was a 2.0 BB/9, hence his great work there. At AAA it jumped to 4.4!
So 2010 was a step back. He was now officially not a prospect after his AAA disaster. He went back to AA for the whole year (he did get a trip to the Arizona Fall League, but that wasn’t necessarily earned). At AA that year he went 12-9, with a 4.15 ERA but a nice 1.242 WHIP thanks to his Ks jumping back up to 6.0/9 and BB dropping back to 2.6/9. 2011 saw him only get 17 starts, going 3-9 with a stellar 5.67 ERA and a 1.473, even as K/BB was his best yet at 2.41. 2012 he went back to Toledo and AAA, going 4-4, 4.75 (19 starts and 10 relief appearances) and 1.634 with a K/BB of 1.40 (bad again). The Tigers and he parted ways, as Brown went to Indianapolis, the AAA of the Pirates, and finally a team realized he wasn’t going to make it as a starter (he did make 8 starts) going 6-5 with a 4.75, but his WHIP dropped down to 1.308 and his K/BB ratio finally got back in the right direction, with a 2.88.
The Rox saw something, and Brown joined them in 2014. He began the season in Colorado Springs, appearing in 37 games, finishing 20 of them (7 saves), with a decent Colorado Springs ERA of 4.18 and a WHIP of 1.415 (again, decent for Colorado Springs and the PCL) but with a bounce in his strikeout rate, up to 8.7/9 and a solid K/BB ratio of 2.71. This earned him a promotion to the show.
He appeared in 28 games, and finished 9 of those (non save situations). His record was:
|28 Games||26.0 innings||0-1||2.77 ERA||0.962 WHIP||7.3K/9||1.7 BB/9||4.20 K/BB|
That is excellent work, even if it was just for a short period. Brown clearly has had talent, and it might simply be that he needs to be sticking to just two pitches, throwing in short stints, and provide another power arm (with a nice groundball ration, as in 77 plate appearances without a K he got 46 groundballs, 16 fly balls, and 15 line drives). This is the perfect pitcher for a Coors Field reliever.
All that being said, we are still talking about a small amount of data, and most of it in what baseball reference calls “low leverage” – where the game is not on the line (a lot of blow-outs, either way, explaining his large number of 9th inning performances). In his small sample of high leverage situations he still performed quite well (.397 OPS, and even in his medium leverage situations, about the same size of sample, he still allowed only a .563 OPS).
The other big issue in reviewing Brown’s performance is his BABIP numbers – overall a .230, in high leverage settings, .222, and in medium settings a .154. Those are almost impossibly low numbers. Unless his stuff truly is so nasty hitters don’t get a good swing, these numbers have to rise, and with them hits and runs.
Now, to splits, which again point to his ability to control at-bats:
|Vs. RHB||57 Plate App||.208 BA||.246 OBP||.585 OPS||.231 BABIP||6.50 K/BB|
|Vs. LHB||47 Plate App||.209 BA||.255 OBP||.534 OPS||.229 BABIP||2.67 K/BB|
|Home||74 Plate App||.224 BA||.270 OBP||.584 OPS||.241 BABIP||3.25 K/BB|
|Away||30 Plate App||.172 BA||.200 OBP||.510 OPS||.200 BABIP||8.00 K/BB|
Again, great numbers, especially at home, where despite a big drop-off in Ks, he still is pretty dominating. His lack of any significant splits re: L/R is huge, as you cannot afford at Coors to pull pitchers mid-inning to get better L/R numbers.
Okay, looking at these numbers and realizing it took him from 2006 to 2014 to make it to the big leagues, how did he become so dominate?
Well, when his pitches were evaluated in the AFL back in 2010, his 4-seam was averaging only between 90.69 and 92.04, and his slider only between 82.46 and 83.97. His change-up is also harder these days (okay, since his other pitches are also harder), going from 82.46 to 88.69. So all his pitches are harder, they also have more movement than earlier in his career, with some of his pitches now moving from in the strike-zone to out, at the key point. What is more, he is now able to pitch from back-to-front, throwing his fastball early in the count, then using his slider and especially his change-up to get outs. His change-up had an amazing 37% swing-and-miss rate in September, and was over 30 for most of the season. In other words, as a reliever, with a more mature pitch mix and the ability for higher velocity throwing shorter outings, his pitching approach seems to be capable of allowing him a great deal of success. His stuff gets lots of groundballs, lots of swing-and-misses, and may be well suited for later inning pitching. Here is how the scouting report based on his pitching outcomes reads:
His fourseam fastball has heavy sinking action, is a real worm killer that generates an extreme number of groundballs compared to other pitchers’ fourseamers, has slight armside run and has slightly above average velo. His slider is a real worm killer that generates an extreme number of groundballs compared to other pitchers’ sliders, has much less depth than expected, is much harder than usual and has primarily 12-6 movement. His change generates an extremely high number of swings & misses compared to other pitchers’ changeups, is slightly firmer than usual, results in somewhat more flyballs compared to other pitchers’ changeups and has some natural sink to it.
The Rockies cannot assume that he will be the same pitcher in 2015 he was in 2014, or the same pitcher over a larger sample of outcomes, but they have to be very excited by what they have seen. If this is the pitcher they now have, they have indeed found themselves a diamond in the rough.
2014 Season Grade: A
Yes, he had a limited number of innings and appearances. Yes, they were primarily low-leverage settings. But in those settings he was shut-down. When you have a WHIP below 1. When you have an ERA of 2. Both of those numbers throwing at Coors Field? You have to doff your hat to the long-time minor league pitcher. Just as I pointed out in looking at Yohan Flande, why did it take so long to look at his stuff and not say, “this guy could be a nice weapon out of the pen?” Yes, you prefer starters, especially from #1 picks, but as the Rox learned with Friedrich (and have learned with Ottavino after he failed with the Cards), some guys will give you the best return throwing more games and less innings.
I am interested how baseball might change in line with the Royals success, especially after seeing Wade Davis be a very middling (at best) starter become arguably the best relief weapon in baseball
In 2014, and Luke Hochever doing something close to the same in 2013. Count me among those who hope Brown follows the same pattern in 2015.
2015 Season Prediction:
Wow, this is tough. How do you predict a guy based on less than half a season of major league experience, especially after years of failure. Will he even break camp with the team? I am betting absolutely, as the guys picked up this off-season (aside from David Hale) are guys they want to give time to develop further at AAA. So with the best guess:
|60 appearances||63.2 innings||3-3||3.15 ERA||1.114 WHIP||8.0 K/9||2.75 K/BB|
If he can give the Rox that, we might be looking at the next Matt Belisle for the Rockies bullpen.