Big Brown—one of Ryan Howard's many nicknames—was bestowed upon the first baseman during his reign as the Philadelphia Phillies' best power hitter. Now a changing of the guard is in order. Big Brown Part Deux: The Real Big Brown is already underway.
Not to mention that the DL seemed to call to Brown like a siren. First he suffered a hamate bone fracture in 2011 that required surgery. Then it was a slew of nagging muscle issues in 2012.
In the first three years of his career, Brown hit a mediocre .230/.302/.381. In his 433 at-bats, he hit 12 homers. That’s one homer per 36.1 at-bats. Now I’d say he’s just a tad better. Brown is currently batting .272/.306/.549 with 15 bombs. In 195 at-bats. Overall, that’s a homer per 13 at-bats. In the month of May, that number drops to a home run per nine at-bats.
I'll do my due diligence and note that Brown’s OBP is still pretty bad. And there’s a clear reason for this. According to the Philadelphia Inquirer’s Matt Gelb, Brown walked exactly zero times in May. Before last night's game, MLB Stat of the Day tweeted that Brown could go into the record books (which he did):
But Brown's May heroics didn't stop there. Last night, he raised his home run total in the month to 12 with another pair of bombs against the Milwaukee Brewers. That's seven in seven days. Brown now has 15 dingers, which leads the NL.
Brown's improvement may be due to a number of things. Maturation and playing everyday are certainly valid possibilities. In this case, however, something quite tangible is the culprit: his swing.
In an interview with Jim Salisbury of CSNPhilly, Brown noted that he is cognizant of the fact that his recent success is due to the changes he’s made at the plate.
“I think I just had a longer swing, now that I’m looking back on it,” Brown said. “I did a lot to my swing to shorten it up, especially in those good hitter’s counts, just being able to be short and quick to the ball.
The differences are slight but significant. Here is Brown flailing at a high fastball during spring training in 2012:
Now look at the much-improved Brown hit a game-tying single against the Arizona Diamondbacks just a couple of weeks ago:
Brown’s quick hands are a by-product of his new approach. In this instance, they enabled him to fight off a tough pitch and knock it in the gap between shortstop and third base. Brown’s 2012 swing would’ve likely had him undercutting this pitch, resulting in one of those big whiffs Philadelphia has learned to endure.
"It's noticeable. I think he's in more control than he has been in the past. He's made some adjustments in his stance, where his hands are, and that's probably allowed him to be a little quicker to the baseball, shorter to the baseball.”
So we know Brown can perform when it counts. He has the ever-coveted intangibles. But he also measures up when it comes to good old statistics. Out of the Phillies with 50 or more at-bats (and this is being quite generous), Brown leads the team (or is tied for the lead) in six offensive categories: batting average (.272, tied with Utley), runs (25 to the second-most 21), home runs (15 to the second-most seven), RBI (36 to the second-most 26), slugging percentage (.549 to the second-highest .475), and OPS (.855 to the second-highest .814). And four of these said “second” spots are held by none other than the DL King himself, Mr. Utley. So if we had been going by active players here, Brown’s stats would’ve distanced himself even further from the pack.
Just for kicks, Brown is also only a smidge behind the team leaders in hits and doubles.
Other vast improvements for Brown are his splits. As is typically the case with lefties, Brown struggled mightily against lefty arms early in his career. Before this season, Brown was batting .184 against lefties and .244 against righties. Reminiscent of Howard’s early numbers (Big Brown numero uno was .179 against lefties and .329 against righties in his first three years). In 2013—and this is not a typo—Brown is hitting .326 against lefties and .255 against righties. His improved swing working in tandem with improved vision show to be a lethal combination.
*All statistics are accurate as of May 31.