After living through the worst season of baseball in his young life, Jeff Francoeur decided that he would dedicate this past offseason to changing his approach at the plate. Only 12 games into this young season, he leads the Braves in at-bats and is hitting .333 with a team-high 10 RBI.
How does a player that put up such an abysmal line (11 HR, 71 RBI, 111 SO, and a .239 AVG) just one year ago turn around to become the best offensive player on the team?
For Francoeur, the answer was only 800 miles away, via Texas hitting coach Rudy Jaramillo.
While working with Jeff for only a few days in November, Jaramillo saw some issues in the way Francoeur stood and focused in the batter’s box.
First of all, and maybe most importantly, the coach saw that Francoeur’s head was turned only slightly toward the pitcher. By opening his stance and turning his head more, he is now able to see the pitch with both eyes as it comes out of the pitcher's hand.
In a joint effort, the two also determined that his swing was similar to a “high school metal-bat swing.” They worked together again in February and continued focusing on basic swing skills, even hitting off of a tee.
Another adjustment to Francoeur’s approach isn’t something you’ll see watching him hit on TV: patience.
Francoeur averaged only 3.49 pitches per at bat in 2008, and he didn’t walk until the 34th game of the season. His pitches-per number hasn’t improved much yet this season, but in watching his at-bats, it is obvious that he is much more selective with the offerings he swings at than he was last year.
Nevertheless, one still wonders whether or not all of these changes really make Jeff Francoeur the great right fielder the Braves are hoping for.
So far this year, Francoeur is batting .467 with runners in scoring position, even better than his marks in ’06 and ’07, when he batted in over 100 runs per campaign. Also, his BABIP (batting average on balls in play) is .357; the league average in 2008 was .313, putting Francoeur well over that mark.
Does that mean that his ’09 success is based on luck? I say no. In 2005 and 2007, Francoeur had a .337 BABIP in about 900 total at-bats. In 2006 and 2008, he had a .284 and .274 BABIP, respectively. This shows that he is able to maintain a high BABIP over a long period of time.
Meaning that this year's success was due to good luck only as much as '08 was based on bad luck.
Will Francoeur hit .333 all season? Of course not. For a player who’s never batted over .300 in his career, major or minor leagues (aside from the 38 Big-League games he played in 2002), that type of prediction would be unmerited.
But will he hit .239 again and be the worst everyday outfielder in baseball? Of course not.
I'd say it’s safe to assume an average around .275 and 90 to 100 RBI, assuming he keeps his patient, contact-based swing in clutch situations.