According to the AJC’s Mark Bradley, yes.
Jeff Francoeur is having a rough year. His batting average is .252, which isn’t good, and his on-base percentage is .300, which is bad. He has 10 hits – against 10 strikeouts and only two walks – in his past 10 games. Since hitting a walk-off homer against Arizona on May 24, he has eight RBIs in 96 at-bats.
As tepid as those numbers are, they don’t quite explain the rancor directed Francoeur’s way. In Sunday’s sports section he received three mentions (none flattering) in The Vent. If e-mails to a certain writer (namely, me) are any measure, the suggestions go like this: Bat Frenchy eighth; bench Frenchy; send Frenchy to the minors until he learns the strike zone….
He might not be Albert Pujols, but Francoeur has proved he’s a big-league player. He’s struggling now, but the belief here, as it would be with any big-leaguer, is that he’ll eventually rise to his established level.
It’s understandable fans would be anxious, especially at a time when the entire team is listing. What’s curious is how quickly we Atlantans seem to turn on the guy from Gwinnett. Has almost a decade of his derring-do, first at Parkview and now as a Brave, bred such contempt? Have we tired of the famous Frenchy? Have we forgotten that, for all his notoriety, he’s only 24?
If that’s the case, then I don’t feel sorry for Jeff Francoeur. I feel sorry for us.
First, what town does Mark Bradley live in? Just two weeks ago, I complained about the unqualified love that Jeff Francoeur gets despite the fact that he was exceptional for one month of his career. And has Bradley been to a Braves game lately? The applause for Chipper Jones isn’t even half of what it is for Gwinnett’s golden boy. If you thought you heard boos, they were probably just teenage girls cooing.
The problem with Francoeur is that the media has been so accepting of the Braves talking points that he is a rising superstar that they haven’t even bothered to notice that Francoeur has always had glaring holes in his game. He was a good high school player? That is no more relevant than the fact that I once hit two home runs in one game for my Little League team. (I still like to bring this up when I can. Yes, they both went over the fence, and I can tell you the names of the pitchers who gave them up: Robbie and John.)
Bradley has the nerve, THE NERVE, to lecture fans on giving Francoeur criticism, which the media neglected to do for three years. In New York, they give grief to players who are far better than Francoeur. Jerry Manuel is making David Wright practice plate discipline, and he has a career OBP of .390. Wright’s slumps are equal to Frenchy’s peaks, but Terry Pendleton just keeps telling Frenchy to “stay aggressive.”
Why didn’t Mark Bradley ask about sending Francoeur to the minors in 2006, when it was clear that he had more to learn? Why didn’t Mark Bradley question Frenchy’s presence in the line-up every day for over two years? I don’t know whether demoting or resting him would have helped, but they were legitimate options that should have been put to the general manager and the manager.
Looking through the AJC archives I see a few minor Bradley mentions of Francoeur needing to improve his plate discipline, but they are buried in two or three articles and never is he called out. And Bradley is not alone. The Atlanta media choose to bask in the glow of one month of amazing baseball, which was no doubt a fluke. Leave it to a reporter in New York, Alan Schwarz of the NY Times, to document Frenchy’s major weakness in 2005.
Whenever a player starts out this well, the question is always how long he can keep it up. Francoeur has long been known as a top prospect and is expected to have a fine career – far more Fred Lynn than Shane Spencer. Then again, the last time a young Braves outfielder caught everyone’s eye like this, it didn’t last long at all.
In July 1957, during a five-team pennant race, the Braves, then in Milwaukee, needed an extra outfielder and called up Bob Hazle, a 26-year-old journeyman. Hazle cracked the starting lineup a week later and never stopped hitting – he finished his cameo with a .403 average and 7 home runs in 41 games to help power Milwaukee to the National League pennant. (He did not qualify for either of the above lists because he had played briefly for the Cincinnati Reds in 1955.) His spectacular performance earned him the lasting nickname Hurricane Hazle.
But his storm blew over quickly. After batting .179 in 1958, Hazle was sold to Detroit, which later farmed him to the minor leagues. The Hurricane hung ‘em up soon thereafter and remains baseball’s patron saint of ephemeral phenoms.
One can usually learn something about a rookie’s staying power by looking at his rate of drawing walks; hitters with good eyes are less susceptible to the vagaries of luck, and tend to have fewer exploitable holes in their swings. This is the only demerit for Francoeur this season.
In his first 91 plate appearances, he did not draw even one walk. (Among hitters with the top 40 starts to their careers, this is a first.) And Francoeur was so impatient that he reached a three-ball count only six times.
Mark, it’s OK to call people out when they are wrong, but you are in no position to lecture those of us who have been saying the same thing for three years. Jeff Francouer is on his way to a mediocre career as a baseball player. It is a commendable feat and nothing to be ashamed of, but if the ratio of praise to criticism ranges from very high to undefined (you can’t divide by zero). Maybe his career could have been more if there had been a little more public skepticism about his development at a time when his flaws were obvious.