Are We Being Too Hard on Frenchy?

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.

16 Responses “Are We Being Too Hard on Frenchy?”

  1. K-Funk says:

    JC,

    I don’t disagree with anything you say, but the bottom line is, the Braves don’t have any better options in the outfield right now.

    Yes, the local media likes Francoeur more than his skills warrant, but I don’t really see the harm in that. Heck, one of my favorite all-time players is Brad Komminsk.

  2. Bill Russell says:

    “Bill McNeil is adequate”

  3. Greyson says:

    JC, I’m not sure it suits your argument to draw analogies with New Yorkers and how they treat their players. Atlanta doesn’t treat their athletes like New York, Boston, or Philly, and that is a large part of the appeal.

    That being said, it is a professional columnist’s job to provide criticism. I’m not sure Frenchy should be the object of that criticism, but you can’t expect anyone to openly criticize a Saint like Bobby Cox or John Schuerholz, which is perhaps where it is due.

    Lastly, I think you’re reading too far into things when you say that Frenchy is on his way to a mediocre career. Compare Barry Bonds, who in his 4th season, at 24, batted .248 with 19 HR and 135 Runs Produced. Kirby Puckett, who in his second season, at 25, batted .288 with a .330 OBP, only 4 HR and 150 RP. Dave Winfield, in his 3rd season, at 23, batted .267 with 15 HR and 135 RP. All of these stars at the same point in their careers, in towns that generally love their stars put up stats pretty similar to Frenchy’s. Any of these careers turn out to be mediocre?

  4. Johnny says:

    JC. I was wondering when you would blog about the Bradley article. I don’t get it either. In another town the media would be excortiating Cox for playing him and Francoeur for sucking. It is facinating that this kid gets such a free pass for his poor performance. If I had a nickle for every time that I have read that he is ‘only 24′ I could buy a Prius.

    The Braves have never been a team that weighed statistics as heavily in their player performance profiles as scouting. And the scouts view of Francouer, the speed, arm, bat speed, body type, size etc. says he is going to some day break out. This is the only thing that I can think of that keeps him in the lineup every day even when there were viable alternatives.

    I contrast that with the very short leash they give Kelly Johnson and it confuses me. But you have to hand it to the Braves. More often than not they seem to be correct in their assesments. See Andy Marte.

  5. JC says:

    Two years ago he was “only 22″, last year “only 23″, and next year he’ll be “only 25″. This is particularly troublesome considering that Bobby Cox recently referred to 28-year-old Phil Stockman as young.

  6. Rick says:

    This guy is also “only 24″ and has nowhere near the “tools” that Francoeur has. And yes, I know it’s cherry-picking.

    2006 31 games 89 ABs .191/.258/.303
    2007 April/March 20 games 55 Abs .182/.308/.236
    2007 full season 139 games 520 ABs .317/.380/.442
    2008 YTD 73 games 299 ABs .274/.322/.398

  7. A.West says:

    Bradley proved himself to be a true idiot, with no clue about how to measure performance. Here is a compilation of all his combacks to the massive criticism of his blog, it all boils down to a belief that batting average and RBIs is all that counts in a hitter. He never even recognizes the problem about strike zone recognition, OBP, double plays, etc:

    “Brad Komminsk had 105 RBIs in his big-league career. Francoeur had 105 in his second full big-league season. There is no comparison whatsoever.
    And you know how many 100-RBI seasons the famous Grady Sizemore has had? Zero. Know what he’s hitting at the moment? .267. Know how many times he has hit above .290 in a season? Zero. (Francoeur hit .293 last season.)

    McCann outhit Francoeur in 2006 and is outhitting him now. Francoeur outhit McCann in 2005 and 2007. Feel free to check.

    And “his RBI totals are more a function of hitting behind Chipper than of some sort of hitting talent”? I don’t even know where to begin with that one. Did those 105 RBIs come on 105 bases-loaded walks?

    I get it. Driving in 100 runs in consecutive seasons wasn’t a representative sample, but going 2 for 18 with the bases loaded over one-third of a season is. Can’t argue with that cutting logic

    My original point wasn’t that Francoeur is having a great year; he demonstrably isn’t. My point was that the vitriol directed his way has been disproportionate, and I believe you folks — most of you, anyway — have proved as much

    So people are mad because Francoeur didn’t sign a long-term contract to stay with the Braves. Some of those same people think he’s overrated and want him to be demoted/traded. Shouldn’t those people be glad he didn’t sign?”

  8. Cliff says:

    JC,

    Did you ever think that this blog might become so prominent in criticism of Atlanta local print (text) media? (the whole Gwinnett ball park thing, plus this)

    Do you think maybe the stuff you are criticizing is evidence of our dense “bubbaness” as alleged by the “Northern Media”?

  9. Rick says:

    Bingo. But then you know I’m a Sox fan.

  10. Greyson says:

    Johnny: What is this short leash of Kelly Johnson’s that you speak of? Bobby has stuck with him, just as he does with every young promising Brave. That’s what makes him the special manager that he is.

    I tried to post earlier, but it appears it didn’t go through: While I agree that Frenchy deserves a fair critique, we don’t treat our players the way they do in New York, Boston, or Philly, AND THAT IS A GOOD THING.

    As for Frenchy being on the way to a mediocre career, here’s a trio of Hall of Famers, also from cities that love their players, to compare him with:

    Barry Bonds’ 4th season, 1989, 24 years old, .248/.351/.426, 19 HR, 93 SO, 58 RBIs, and only 135 Runs Produced in 580 ABs

    Kirby Puckett’s 2nd full season 1985, 25 years old, .288/.330/.385

    Dave Winfield’s 2nd full season, 1975, 23 years old, .267/.354/.403, 15 HR, 82 SO in 509 ABs

    Now will Frenchy live up to these guys? Maybe, but we’re going to have to be patient with him, and thankfully Bobby and TP know patience well.

  11. Johnny says:

    Greyson,
    KJ was platooned last year and would probably be platooning this year had Martin Prado not been hurt. This despite a .316/.349/.382 line against lefties this season. Bobby also seems to move him all over the lineup and doesn’t hesitate to bench him when he goes into one of his mini slumps. I contrast that with Francouer who has played every inning of every game save one game this season.

    But really the jist of what JC and what others are saying is that right now Francouer is a way below average player who is actually hurting the team and yet from the press, national, regional what ever the kid doesn’t get ANY criticism. None, Nada, the null set. Its really strange. AND Bobby Cox doesn’t get any for continuing to run him out there for EVERY game.

    Finally your last comment. If Jeff were progressing this year I could buy your argument, however he is regressing in a big way across all aspects of offense. BA, OBP and SLG are way down and before you say anything about his defensive contribution remember that a corner outfielder should be manned by a hitter.

  12. Victor says:

    Johnny is dead on about Francoeur and Kelly Johnson.

    Remember when Kelly got bumped from the lead off spot last year when he was batting .270 or something despite having an OBP of .370 – .380? He’s a good, patient hitter and it seems like Pendleton and company want to change his approach, which is pretty stupid.

    Greyson, you know what the difference between Winfield, Bonds, and Francoeur is? The first two know how to take a walk. .250/.300 and .250/.350 are night and day. The first two strike out because they work the count and draw walks. The problem with Francoeur isn’t just that he strikes out even more (which is not a problem if you have OBP), but that manner in which he strikes out and the lack of walks. He whiffs at pitches a foot off the plate, chases balls in the dirt, or swings at the high fast ball. He strikes out on 3-4 pitches instead of on 3-2 counts where the pitch looked like a ball. His approach is horrible and he won’t be going anywhere till he fixes it.

    Francoeur looks a lot like Thorman right now. Both just swing for the fences instead of learning patience and discipline.

    Francoeur’s defense is also down so his overall contribution isn’t much. His cannon of an arm is his only saving grace.

    KJ is one of the top 5 hitting 2B in all of baseball who can hit lefties with average defense and seeing him benched and roasted in favor of inferior hitters like Gotay, Prado, and Infante is just silly. At the same time, Francoeur plays all the time when an outfield of some combination of Josh Anderson, Norton, Blanco, and Infante would do a better job than he does all year. Frenchy is the one who needs more days off.

    A lot of people (myself included) had high hopes for Francoeur since it looks like he was starting to turn the corner last year, but it turns out he just isn’t very good. He still can be, but he has a lot to learn.

  13. Greyson says:

    Victor, Johnny: Don’t get me wrong, Jeff has plenty of flaws, I just don’t think it’s time to give up on the guy yet. As for the OBP, it isn’t affecting Frenchy’s run production, he’s still on pace to pass both Winfield, and Bonds in RP in the years I quoted (both regressing years for them as well.) Of course he needs to learn to lay off of certain pitches, and he does remind me of Thorman’s “swing for the fences” approach too often, but honestly I don’t care if the guy walks at all if he is producing 150+ runs a year. Another, more recent, comparison, look at Andruw Jones, at 24 in 2001, .251/.312/.451, but he produced 170+ runs, and the Braves stuck with him for 5 more great seasons. Frenchy will come around, he’s got the tools, he just needs the experience, the temperment, and some more time. “He’s only 24.”

    Victor, you answered yourself before you even said it, but there is no way the Braves can put an outfield out there without Francoeur that is anywhere near the same defensively. His arm, just out of respect alone, is going to save you runs every week, and none of the guys you mentioned could play everyday in right. Not to mention, they aren’t any upgrade over Jeff at the plate.

    As for Kelly, Bobby does tend to give him more time off, perhaps partially because he was coming back from major reconstructive surgery last year, and also because he has to find playing time for his reserve infielders, and Chipper and Renteria/Esco, as hot as they have been, just aren’t going to sit everytime. But to be straight, he played in 147 games last year, and has only missed 9 this season.

    As for batting order, Bobby has moved Frenchy around just as much, but it isn’t as noticeable because he never entrusted Jeff with as high profile a duty as leadoff… All in all Kelly isn’t a leadoff hitter, and it is best for his development not to force him into a mold he doesn’t fit, even if that might be the best short term move. And if you want to talk flaws, lets not even bring up Kelly’s defense.

    Bobby will figure it all out guys, don’t worry, you don’t win 14 straight division titles by luck.

  14. Marc says:

    From the television and radio broadcasts, you could hear Francoeur getting a noteworthy round of boos a few times tonight. That’s a Turner Field first.

  15. Ron says:

    “This despite a .316/.349/.382 line against lefties this season.”

    Well a .731 OPS kind of sucks. And Prado’s split vs lefties (albeit in a small sample size) is

    .286/.444/.643/1.087

    So if Bobby did platoon them, he’d be justified at least based on offense alone. OTOH, Prado is completely horrible defensively while Johnson is merely below average and gets a partial pass since this is only the second year he has played 2b professionally.