Why It's Time the Braves Gave Up on the Jeff Francoeur Experiment
Reading ajc.com this morning, I ran across David O'Brien's Wednesday blog on Jeff Francoeur. Frenchy's having a bad year. Again.
I've always been one to say I told you so, so allow me to say I told you so. Here's something I wrote for my own amusement late last September:
Frenchy vs. Andruw
As promised, here's more on Jeff Francoeur's disturbing downward statistical trend.
We all remember Andruw Jones, right? It's hard to think that a player could be more loved by Braves fans, which also shows just how bad he had to get before we were ready for him to be patrolling somebody else's center field.
His strikeouts and poor plate discipline just became too much to overcome his prodigious home run totals. Well, guess what? Frenchy is Andruw Jones, without the power.
And if you're still looking toward a bright future for Francoeur, you may want to stop looking. If Andruw is any indication, the Frenchy you see now is the Frenchy you're probably going to get from here on out.
And that, my friends, means we need a new right fielder.
Here are Frenchy's and Andruw's stats for their first four seasons (Jones first, Francoeur second):
- Games: 505-549
- At-bats: 1,679-2,149
- Runs: 257-278
- Hits: 436-577
- Doubles: 93-117
- Triples: 15-10
- Homers: 80-73
- RBI: 257-324
- Strikeouts: 368-430
- K/AB: 1/4.6-1/5.0
- Walks: 179-115
- Stolen bases: 74-9
- On-base percentage (by season): .265-.336, .329-.293, .321-.338, .365-.294
- Slugging percentage (by season): .443-.549. .416-.449, .515-.444, .483-.359
- Batting average (by season): .217-300, .231-260, .271-.293 ,.275-.239
As you can see, Frenchy comes out ahead in the categories that are dependent primarily on him playing in more games and notching quite a few more at bats. But there are some clear trends, few of which make him look like he'll even approach Andruw Jones' league.
Despite nearly 500 fewer at bats, Jones out homers Francoeur 80-73. But Frenchy makes up for it with average, right? Uhhh, no. Francoeur owns a middling .267-.260 edge.
On-base percentage? Uhhh, no again. Jones' lousy on-base percentage became a running joke in Atlanta, but the .365 he notched in his fourth year is 27 points better than Frenchy's 2007 career-best mark (by comparison, Chipper Jones has never had an OBP lower than .353- and that came in his rookie year).
Yet that hasn't translated to fewer strikeouts for Francoeur. Jones earned a reputation as a whiff machine in Atlanta, and his K every 4.6 at-bats over his first four seasons proved it was more than a hunch. Yet Frenchy is only slightly better, 5.0-1, and here's a real shocker: Andruw more than makes up for it a dominant edge in walks (179-115).
That's right, Andruw Jones is a MORE disciplined hitter than Jeff Francoeur. Let that sink in for a few minutes.
So we've established that Francoeur is just plain bad, even my Andruw Jones standards. But we already knew that, right? The question is, is he going to get better?
My money is on absolutely not.
Take Jones. His strikeout ratio never improved at all, actually dropping to 4.5-1 for his career. Neither did his OBP, as he's yet to do better .366 in a season.
Average? Well, Andruw did hit .303 in his fifth season—but never better than .277 again. The only thing that did get better was power, as he six times hit more home runs than his best over his first four seasons and five times matched or bettered his top slugging percentage from those early campaigns.
In other words, except for home runs, Andruw Jones was as good as he was ever going to get after three seasons in a Braves uniform. Is he an anomaly? Well, Chipper Jones set almost every single-season mark of his career in his fifth season—as did Andruw.
Both were good to great for several years after that, but they were never better than they were in that fifth season, and that fifth season was merely an extension of what they had shown over their first four. Frenchy's best has barely been good.
Sure, those are only two examples, but I'd be willing to bet that most good players who aren't freebasing horse steroids show the same trend.
That means that the most we could ever expect from Frenchy, in our wildest dreams, would be next season, and judging from his first four we're looking at, what?, a .295 average? 35 homers? 115 RBI? With a TON of strikeouts and pretty much no production at all outside of the round-trippers?
History shows it's possible, but even if it happens that's it. Then you're stuck with a slightly above-average power hitter who is simply a bad offensive player in every other respect—and who is only going to get worse with each passing summer.
Frenchy will not help you by advancing runners or working pitchers or getting on base in other ways. If he's not hitting the ball out of the park, he's basically like having another pitcher in the lineup.
Hey, I like Francoeur. He hustles. He cares. He's just not very good, and he's never going to be. It's time for the Braves to cut their losses.
Back to present day
As O'Brien illustrates, it's looking like the Braves won't even get that five-year peak from Frenchy. He started strong but has rapidly slid right back to just this side of useless.
It looked early like he'd figured something out before reality set in, but it hasn't been for lack of opportunity. Despite his brutal offensive production, Francoeur remains the Braves' Cal Ripken, playing every, single day a year after leading the team in games (155) and at bats (599).
He used all that playing time to hit a whopping 11 home runs and post a .294 on-base percentage that makes Jones look like Wade Boggs.
That was the second worst OBP in the National League, and though I guess you could see positives in him raising his average to .239 after months spent in the two-teens and actually not leading the team in strikeouts (thanks to Kelly Johnson), he still had 111 whiffs and posted by far the worst strikeout-to-walk ratio on the squad compliments of a mere 39 free passes.
His .359 slugging percentage was also far and away the worst among Braves regulars and sixth-worst in the NL. In fact, you can make a strong case that there was no less-productive hitter in baseball last year.
This season? His .277 OBP is 172nd out of 182 eligible players. His .361 slugging percentage is 146th, giving him an OPS of .638. All are well below already poor career averages.
Oh yeah, Francoeur also 20 strikeouts against five walks, also a worse ratio than his already awful career ratio.
There aren't a lot of things you can count on in baseball, but guys with poor plate discipline not cutting it is right up there. If you still don't know how to swing at strikes by your fifth year in the big leagues, you're never going to know.
How much more evidence do the Braves need? It's time to end the Francoeur experiment.
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