Francoeur? Non!

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Francoeur?  Non!

With the Twins sweep of the hated White Sox, the Royals find themselves in the thick of the AL Central race this weekend. Too bad they are only potential spoilers.

Anyway, with the season winding down and the hot stove beginning to spark to life, it’s time to start looking at what the Royals will do to improve their club this winter. Speaking of which, those pesky Jeff Francoeur to the Royals rumors reared their ugly head once again last week.

Ugh.

When a player puts up 100+ RBI over the course of his first two full seasons in the majors, he’s immediately hit with a tag: RBI Machine. While I tend to scoff at raw RBI numbers as meaningless, I will give some credit to Francoeur. He does seem to get the job done with runners on base. Here’s his RBI percentage over the last three years:

2006: 16.5%
2007: 17.6%
2008: 12.0%

The previous two seasons he was certainly efficient in bringing runners home. He’s dropped a ton this season, but as we’ll soon learn, all of his numbers are down in 2008.

But there’s another aspect to Frenchy’s game that sometimes gets overlooked by those who are blinded by the brilliance of a 100 RBI season: He makes a bunch of outs. Here are his out totals over the last three seasons, followed by his rank in the National League:

2006: 507 — 3rd
2007: 477 — 10th
2008: 462 — 6th

Depending how the final week of the season goes, he could finish as high as fourth in the NL.

Outs are a fact of the game. Everyone makes them, and everyone makes more outs than hits. And much like the RBI, where a player hits in the lineup has something to say about how many outs a player ultimately makes. Apart from position in the batting order, a high contact rate will also contribute to a larger than average number of outs. Would you be surprised to hear that Francoeur doesn’t walk much? Here are his walk rates for the last three seasons:

2006: 3.4%
2007: 6.1%
2008: 6.3%

Some improvement, but honestly there really wasn’t anywhere to go but up.

The lack of walks means he’s highly dependent on his batting average on balls in play to keep his overall batting average and on base percentage at a respectable level. Here is his BABIP over the last three seasons:

2006: .286
2007: .342
2008: .274

We know the average major leaguer will get a base hit around 30% of the time he puts the ball in play. Francoeur doesn’t deviate wildly from the average, but he’s putting enough balls in play that even the slightest variation will cause crazy swings in his basic averages.

Finally, here is his overall batting line from the last three seasons:

2006: .260/.293/.449
2007; .293/.338/.444
2008: .239/.297/.360

See the correlation?

The purpose of this exercise isn’t to denigrate Francoeur’s skill set. It is what it is, as a federal witness once said. No, the purpose is to point out that the Royals already have a plethora of outfielders with pretty much this exact same skill set.

Enough with the low OBP, low OPS corner outfielders. And enough with players who don’t know that if a pitcher throws four balls outside the strikezone in an at bat, they get a free base. The Royals are loaded in these categories.

Just for fun, let’s compare Francoeur to Jose Guillen

Here’s Guillen’s RBI percentage over the last three seasons:

2006: 15.6%
2007: 16.0%
2008: 17.7%

Remember, he missed over half of 2006 to injury. Overall, he’s been pretty efficient with men on base. Francoeur was a little bit better in ’06 and ’07.

Here’s Guillen’s walk rate:

2006: 5.9%
2007: 6.5%
2008: 3.8%

Wow. Horrible, just like Francoeur.

Since I made the case that because Francoeur doesn’t take a walk, he’s highly dependent on his BABIP, we have to say the same for Guillen:

2006: .234
2007: .330
2008: .295

Which leads to an overall line of:

2006: .216/.276/.398
2007: .290/.353/.460
2008: .267/.304/.446

For simplicity, here’s their OPS over the last three seasons, side by side:

           Guillen  Francoeur
         2006     0.674     0.742
         2007     0.813     0.782
         2008     0.750     0.657

These guys are almost exactly the same. Even defensively it’s almost a wash.

Francoeur had a nice year in the field in ’07, winning a Gold Glove while posting a +10 in John Dewan’s +/- rating system, which was the sixth best rate among right fielders. This year however, he’s not going to repeat with another Gold Glove. His +/- has fallen along with his hitting to a gaudy -17, which ranks him 31st among right fielders, behind Guillen who stands at -10. In fairness, it should be noted that Guillen is also at -10 in left field, making him an all around awful -20.

Not to pick only on Guillen, but the Royals already have enough low OBP players on this team that don’t properly value the walk. It’s almost as if GMDM is the anti-Beane. We don’t need to add another one. If the Royals swapped in Francoeur for Mark Teahen (who would hopefully be the odd man out if the Royals made this trade) their team OPB (currently at .319) would sink even lower. And without those runners on base ahead of him, Francoeur suddenly becomes less of an RBI machine.

There is one big difference between the two players: Francoeur is eight years younger than Guillen.

Oh, there’s another difference: Guillen makes $11,500,000 more than Francoeur.

With performance being almost equal, the age and money factor definitely tilts the pendulum in Francoeur’s favor. Making a deal for Francoeur might make sense… If the Royals weren’t already on the hook for $24 million over two more years to Guillen.

Much will be made about GMDM’s connection with the Braves and specifically Francoeur this winter if the Braves OF does hit the trading block. GMDM scouted and signed Francoeur and I would assume that whenever a scout signs a player and that player progresses through the system, a bond forms. Kind of like a proud father watching his son play. It’s understandable, but GMDM needs to set aside any kind of personal feelings he has for Francoeur and do what is best for the franchise.

And that means, unless he can find someone to take Guillen off his hands, not making a trade for Jeff Francoeur.

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