Putting Francoeur in Perspective

It’s hard to get mad at Jeff Francoeur. He’s flashy young player with speed and power. The stat-heads of the Braves community have been criticizing Francoeur for his plate discipline. This of course drives most baseball fans crazy. “He’s on a pace to hit over 30 home runs and 100 RBI! How can you complain about that?” Well, it’s true that Jeff has done some things well. But the thing he’s been most exceptional at is not knocking in runs but making outs.

While we’re talking about outs let’s see how many outs Francoeur projects to produce compared to the entire history of baseball.

Rank	Player			Team	YEAR	OPS	Outs
1	Horace Clarke		NYA	1970	0.595	514
2	Juan Samuel		PHI	1984	0.749	510
2	Tom Brown		LOU	1892	NA	510
2	Sandy Alomar		CAL	1971	0.621	510
5	Omar Moreno		PIT	1980	0.631	508
6	Jose Reyes		NYN	2005	0.687	506
7	Frankie Crosetti	NYA	1939	NA	503
7	Sandy Alomar		CAL	1970	0.596	503
9	Bobby Richardson	NYA	1965	0.609	500
10	Omar Moreno		PIT	1979	0.714	499
10	Woody Jensen		PIT	1936	NA	499
10	Roger Metzger		HOU	1972	0.547	499
10	Bill Virdon		PIT	1962	0.631	499
10	Jeff Francoeur* 	ATL	2006	0.710	499

*Projected for 2006 through 6/26/2006

Francoeur is on a pace to produce nearly 500 outs this season, which would be one of the top-10 out-making seasons of all time. And Horace Clark’s record is within reach.

In terms of home runs and RBIs, Francoeur’s numbers do look good; however, that’s only because people who put up those types of numbers don’t make as many outs as Francoeur does. If all you had was his projected traditional batting line of .250/ 32/116, you’d be right to guess that the player was having a good season. Of players who hit more than 30 but less than 35 home runs in a season, they average an OPS of .893 and produce 389 outs. That’s a HUGE difference: an OPS of 180 points higher and 110 fewer outs.

All of this reminds me of a quote by 19th century French economist Frederic Bastiat in his essay That Which is Seen, and That Which is Not Seen.

In the department of economy, an act, a habit, an institution, a law, gives birth not only to an effect, but to a series of effects. Of these effects, the first only is immediate; it manifests itself simultaneously with its cause – it is seen. The others unfold in succession – they are not seen: it is well for us, if they are foreseen. Between a good and a bad economist this constitutes the whole difference – the one takes account of the visible effect; the other takes account both of the effects which are seen, and also of those which it is necessary to foresee. Now this difference is enormous, for it almost always happens that when the immediate consequence is favourable, the ultimate consequences are fatal, and the converse.

As fans, we see the home runs and runs batted in. They are visible good events that we recall fondly, because they directly produce runs. In a game where an out is the most common outcome, outs do not have the same visible impact on run production and they don’t stick in our memories. Furthermore, players who tend to do the good things Jeff does don’t normally do the bad things. In fact no player who has ever hit between 30 and 35 home runs in a season has posted as many outs as Francoeur projects to produce this season— the highest out total was 479 (Leon Wagner, 1964), and the lowest OPS was .728 (Tony Batista, 2004).

I don’t mean to pick on Francoeur, but he has a serious deficiency that needs to be addressed. I understand that he’s young, but I would like to see some signs than the Braves are working with him to solve the problem. I understand developing plate discipline isn’t easy, but it’s something that has got to happen.

18 Responses “Putting Francoeur in Perspective”

  1. studes says:

    Very nice, JC. A simple ratio of outs to plate appearances is a powerful metric. Thanks.

  2. Johnny says:

    Excellent!

    Seeing Omar Moreno’s name up there caused a cold chill to run up my spine. I think that Bill James once called him the worst major league ball player ever. Or something like that.

    The other night against Tampa Bay, Francouer started the inning with a walk and then scored what turned out to be the winning run. What the heck? I’ve got to wonder if he’ll ever get it. I’m just not sure that the Braves are talking to him about it becuase although I know that they value the ability to get on base I truly don’t think that they think its THAT important.

  3. Bell Curve says:

    Isn’t that just another way of saying that he gets a lot of at-bats and his OBP is low?

  4. Nick says:

    Good article. Watching Francouer is frustrating because it’s all or nothing with him. If the Braves end up trading Andruw, then he’s the lone source of power on the Braves, and with an OPS of 0.710 right now, that’s not a good sign.

  5. Chuck Oliveos says:

    Are there any studies which indicate how much, on average, players improve in OBP over the course of their careers? I would be surprised if they improve that much. I personally believe that temperament has a large part to do with patience at the plate. Francoeur admitted as much in an interview a few weeks back. He said that he’s aggressive by nature and that, when he tries to rein it in, he struggles. Also, he’s such an extreme example, that he’s not likely to improve enough to become even a league-average producer for an outfielder.

  6. Mac says:

    Wagner and Batista aren’t exactly the names you want to see in connection with your young “star” either.

  7. JHamrahi says:

    Nice job JC. I haven’t looked, but I’d be curious as to where Joe Carter fell within this group. When people talked about Carter, you usually just heard “he has 25-30 HRs and 100 RBIs every year.” Interesting, but just how many outs did he make? And if Francoeur becomes Joe Carter (with his 400 career HRs), should we be disappointed?

  8. JC says:

    Joe Carter’s 1989 and 1990 seasons come in at 19th (493) and 35th (487). Here are his HR/RBI/OPS for those seasons.

    1989: 35/105/.757
    1990: 24/115/.681

    Joe Carter has a career OPS of .771 and OPS+ of 104.

    I’m not sure what Francoeur is going to become, but most good hitters have more patience. If all he becomes is Joe Carter, I think it’s fair to say that he didn’t reach his expectations. However, Jeff is a tremendous athlete, and he will have nothing to be ashamed of if he plays like Joe Carter. I hope he doesn’t judge himself by those expectations. If he’s a better player, that’s a plus.

    My main point was to counter the comments I keep hearing that his HRs and RBI counts are high, and that’s what’s important. But it’s those subtle unseen things that sometimes counter-balance the good stuff. I was quite shocked to see Carter’s OPS numbers given his HR/RBI totals.

  9. Colin says:

    Interesting overview. Do any of these numbers include outs made not at the plate? That is, Francoeur has also managed to take himself off base 5 times being caught stealing, and he has sacrifice flies and GDPs in there too.

  10. Damien says:

    Francoeur is agressive by nature. But the problem is that the Braves hitting coach, Terry Pendleton said he wanted Francoeur to stay agressive. How do you want him to improve his patience when his hitting coach tells him to swing at everything in the zone ?

  11. Colin says:

    This is my problem too, Damian. By giving him the most playing time on the team, they’re just rewarding his overaggressiveness. He’ll have no real motivation to change if the team thinks he’s actually helping them by hitting this way.

  12. Marc says:

    The problem is that Francoeur reflects the Braves organizational philosophy. They like aggressive hitters. Other than Chipper (and maybe Justice), all the hitters the Braves have produced in recent years are from the same mold–aggressive, not eager to take walks, and strike out a lot. The organization clearly doesn’t take OBP very seriously. I wouldn’t be surprised if they drafted Jeff BECAUSE he was aggressive with the idea that he would develop enough plate discipline later. But I agree with the commenter above that I really question how much you can learn plate discipline.

  13. John says:

    Francouer revisited:

    From ProTrade: “A handful of Braves regulars have been unlucky thus far,led by the free swinging Jeff Francouer. While statheads argue that Francouer cannot be successful at the major league level without learning better plate discipline (he sports an ugly 10/63 BB/K ratio), his numbers wouldn’t be quite as alarming if his average was .273, as would be expected, rather than .248. Even then, he’d still have an unremarkable on base percentage of.296.”

    (source: http://www.protrade.com/content/DisplayArticle.html?sp=Se16e60f4-07d4-11db-bd55-6738f121e598&x=x)

  14. Rick says:

    Nice post. It seems like all that people see are the RBI/HR numbers and can’t see the forest for the trees. He’s destined to be an historic footnote in MLB if he doesn’t learn plate discipline.

  15. Noah says:

    Marc says “The organization clearly doesn’t take OBP very seriously.” With the success the Braves have had, at least prior to this year, I have to wonder: Should anyone? You can preach OPS all you want, but where’s the proof that it actually means anything at all in terms of wins and losses?

  16. Andre says:

    As a fantasy baseball owner of Francouer, I have had this conversation many times when entertaining trade talks.

    1. The kid, yes kid is 22, so please, I don’t think this is the end-all to his career.

    2. I point out Jose Reyes as prime example of how quickly plate discipline can turn around as well.

    3. He’s the 6th place hitter, in all honesty you don’t want your 6th place hitter walking 90 times, we do as stat geeks, but in reality a 6th place hitter on pace for 30+HR’s, & 100+RBI’s is golden.

    4. This article also failed to mention Francouer’s ranking in MLB with 2-out RBI’s
    5. This article aslo failed to mention his BA with RISP.

    Tho I found this article informative, there’s just waaay too many holes, & again given his age, lineup protection, & production, wether it can be better or not isn’t the point, the point is he is producing, like most said he wouldn’t.

    True, you’d love to see a 900 OPS, but I find it hard to argue with a 22 year old, in Atlanta a proven winner, with all that pressure, performing the way he right now….Andre’

  17. Wally Dykstra says:

    4. This article also failed to mention Francouer’s ranking in MLB with 2-out RBI’s
    5. This article aslo failed to mention his BA with RISP.

    These are “clutch” stats which reflect more luck than talent.

  18. Steve Geddie says:

    I’m a lifelong Braves fan, so it pains me to see postings like this one. However, JC’s observations happen to be correct (even more painful). I am so sick of hearing how Francoeur has these great “intangibles”, “the makeup”, etc. The guy is a hacker, pure and simple. I’d love to see a side-by-side comparison of his numbers when he swings at the first pitch versus when he takes the first pitch. Having watched many, many Braves games, I’d be willing to bet that the difference is striking (no pun intended).