Calling Me Out

Two weeks ago, Lang Whitaker called me out for my post on Jeff Francoeur in SLAM magazine.

In the larger picture, this book apparently mirrors the trend in all sports of putting more of an emphasis on numerical evidence and drawing conclusions based on numbers, like Linkstigator John Hollinger does or like they do at 82games.com. I understand the movement and in some ways I appreciate the way numbers make everything so cut and dried. But at the same time, I find it impossible to rely solely on numbers. For instance, a couple of weeks ago Sam sent me an article from sabernomics.com about Braves outfielder Jeff Francoeur. Francoeur started the season slumping, and this article went back and analyzed all sorts of numbers and determined that “There is a real problem,” that the Braves were “going to have to gut this one out.” The author also called for everyone to stop pretending that Francoeur is an All-Star.

Since then, Francoeur warmed up, and he’s now up to 10 home runs and 36 RBIs (good for 6th in the National League).

So what happened? Well, Francoeur made adjustments. He figured out what he was doing wrong and fixed it.

And I guess that’s illustrative of my main beef with the reliance of numbers in evaluation. I loved Moneyball and thought it was a great read. Given the circumstances on Oakland — no money to spend, etc. — it’s worked really well.

But at some point, don’t we have to just look a guy and watch him play and say whether or not he’s going to be good or bad or a good fit for our team?

Since then—refering to the time since Whitaker posted the article— Frenchy has posted a .200/.213/.267/.479 line in 47 PAs. For the season, he’s put up an ugly .247/.260/.426/.686 .

As to the insinuation that I only looked at numbers, I’ve watched nearly every at-bat of Francoeur’s this season. I know that if you throw it high and inside, he can’t hit it; and I haven’t seen any stats on his hitting zone this season. You don’t need to: Frenchy looks bad up there. He is talented and can hit the ball a long way when he connects, but he is an out-machine right now. My eyes tell me this, and the stats confirm it. I suspect hit OPS will not stay below .700 for the entire season, but he’s not an All-Star yet. If you think otherwise, play The Jeff Francoeur Game.

11 Responses “Calling Me Out”

  1. Frank says:

    Don’t sweat it JC–it’s hard to take any argument based on RBI totals seriously.

  2. Kevin says:

    I hate people who think “stats guys” dont know anything about baseball, when it couldnt be further from the truth. Their is allot that can be learned by watching a baseball game, and allot that can be learned that isnt seen in a baseball game. I still dont understand why people scoff at the idea of using both tools to learn more about the game baseball. Sorry for the rant, i just wanted to say you have a great site here, keep up the good work.

  3. Marc says:

    The silliness of the argument lies in the fact that French obviously HASN’T made adjustments. He went on the road trip and struggled. Basically, he had a couple of good weeks where pitchers seemed to give him pitches he could handle. Here’s a question I have that may be appropriate with respect to a streaky hitter like Francouer. It seems to me that, given his obvious weaknesses and his obvious talents, that French is going to be extremely streaky this year; ie, he will carry the team for a couple of weeks and then not be able to buy a hit another couple–especially on the road. Of course, his limited OBP exacerbates this since, if he’s not hitting, he’s not contributing at all offensively. But let’s say you have two hitters whose OPS (or whatever stat you choose)at the end of the year are the same, but but one guy’s doesn’t vary much month to month but the other’s varies greatly? Who is more valuable?

  4. Sean says:

    First of all I want to commend you on your analysis of Frenchy and state that I think we can determine his final output much more accurately with stat analysis. That being said, I think Jeff’s grown much more as a player this year than he did last year, meaning there will be some jump in OBP and SLG that we’re not expecting. For example, I haven’t seen the zone breakdown for this year either, but I’ve seen a good portion of his at-bats this year and know that he’s learned a (little) bit about plate discipline. I don’t think it’s rare for him to lay off a first pitch nowadays, in contrast to earlier in the season when he was hacking at everything, nor is he fooled by a two-strike low and away slider from a righty (which seemed to be a recurring theme as to getting him out in September of last year). Of course, his discipline is still sub-par and he really needs to work on some stuff, namely getting jammed and being more patient as the game wears on and in big situations. But I still think we’ll see a reasonably jump by the end of the year that most statheads haven’t predicted.

  5. Erik says:

    I think everyone’s being too hard on him. He’s still a rookie, really- at 127 games played. Anyone in their right mind would be ecstatic to have a rookie with 24 HR and 84 RBI with another 30+ games to go to before the season ends. (Which is better than Andruw, Chipper, and any number of other great hitters did in their rookie seasons)

    Sure, he’s not All-Star caliber this season, but he’s still a bloody rookie. Give him another year or two and he’ll improve, assuredly.

    I really don’t understand why everyone blasts him so hard. Look at how poorly Langerhans has been playing lately- you don’t see very many articles hammering him for having a .244 batting average. It’s all about expectations, and if you’re expecting Francoeur to play like Albert Pujols or someone else who’s been in the league 5 years, you’re going to be dissapointed. The problem is in your expectations, not his performance.

  6. Johnny says:

    I don’t think that everyone’s ire is directed against Francouer. At least mine isn’t. I have a problem with the Braves. They expected a rookie with a very thin resume to provide championship caliber offense out of right field. He isn’t. In fact I have to say that he is hurting the team more now than helping. A .268 OBP is down there in Endy Chavez territory. You just can’t carry a guy like that in an offensive oriented postition like RF. With KJ down for the season the Braves have no fall back position other than a trade and we are pretty low on trading chips. I know that offense from Right Field isn’t the main problem with the team but a team with championship asperations should have MLB quality offense from thier right fielder.

  7. rob says:

    the interesting thing about arguing numbers (whether you’re lang or jc or just us hacks out here) is that they change daily. when frenchy goes on a roll someone will cite those numbers as an argument for his advancing as a hitter and ‘figuring things out’. when he’s slumping someone will cite those numbers as evidence that he is just a below-average player with power. that said, about one season’s worth of stats may not be a large enough sample size to issue a verdict on his future production.

    and another thought on players like frenchy. doing a quick glance at recent mlb history, streaky players quite often are key factors in win ning divisions, pennants, and championships. there is an argument to be made that the very steady production of someone like a rafael palmeiro who never quite made it to the top of his position, while very good over many 162-game seasons, may not be as impactful (towards winning a championship) as guys with more variability in their performance (think reggie jackson in the 70s when his good years led to championships but he had several bad years, and more recently josh beckett’s 2003 roll). frenchy may have one or two of those high impact years in him (although he may also have several very bad years in him where he kills his team)

  8. Erik says:

    I think someone who is on pace to drive in 115 runs (from the 6th spot, to boot) is MLB quality. He’s no Gary Sheffield, but in a cash-strapped team like this one, you have to appreciate a guy who makes less than a half-million a year and can still produce like that.

  9. Raffy Belliard says:

    I think that most people don’t have a problem with your criticism of Francouer as much as they disagree with your defending LaRoche at the same time. Say what you will about the way their numbers stack up next to one another, but watch these games and tell me how LaRoche isn’t hurting this team more than Francouer. He strikes out as much, if not more, than Francouer, looks worse doing it, and grounds into more double plays. LaRoche isn’t a great defender at first, unless you’re comparing him to Brian Jordan. At least Jeff’s arm prevents some runs scoring from third from time to time. LaRoche isn’t saving any runs making plays that any decent first baseman should be able to make.

  10. JC says:

    Jeff has grounded into 4 DPs, Adam 3.
    Jeff has generated 189 outs to Adam’s 135. That’s 54 more outs–two full games’ worth (ouch!). If you want to pit LaRoche vs. Francoeur it’s not even close. Adam wins by a mile.

  11. Dwight says:

    If there was EVER a player who could be evaluated the same by both stat guys and old-time scouts it’s Frenchy… Both would come to the same conclusion — whether you looked at nothing but his stats or nothing but his plate appearances: He absolutely has no clue about the strike zone and swings at everything thrown to him. There is really no way he’s going to be a reliable contributor unless he gets some basic understanding and control of what he should swing at and what he should take. And sadly for him, that’s real tough to learn at the big-league level. I think it’s definitely time to wonder if a longer minor-league apprenticeship would have served him well. Maybe then he would have learned how to succesfully steal a base, too — rather than get thrown out every time.