Intervention Time

After Marlins pitcher Rick VandenHurk walked the bases loaded in the fourth inning of last night’s game, Jeff Francoeur proceeded to swing at the first four pitches he saw—all of which were high.


Four swinging strikes

The problem isn’t the ugly strikeout, but the fact that he doesn’t seem to recognize that he has a problem. Here is his second inning plate appearance, which was preceded by a four-pitch walk to Brian McCann.


More of the same

Notice the pattern? VandenHurk, who was called up from the minors to start the game, had no problem picking up Francoeur’s weakness for for high cheese in this at-bat and exploiting it during their next confrontation.

On Saturday, Francoeur commented on his progress owards ending his slump.

“With my first home game back, I think I was trying to do too much,” the 24-year-old said after the 7-6 victory. “But I feel good. My swing is back where I want it. I’ll be OK.”

This has gone far enough. Francoeur may have had some bad luck this season, but right now his poor performance is the product of a flawed approach. The kid obviously has serious problems that he refuses to acknowledge. I’m not sure what Frank Wren’s options are, but, at the minimum, Francoeur needs to be removed from his everyday starting role. He’s not going to right himself when he doesn’t believe there is a problem.

26 Responses “Intervention Time”

  1. Rick C. says:

    I was going to point out that you misspelled Frank Wren’s name, but then I realized that you are well aware of that. :)

    That at-bat last night was ridiculous. I almost couldn’t believe my eyes as I was watching it on MLB Gameday. But, then I remembered it was Jeff Francoeur, and all was right with the world.

  2. JC says:

    Actually, the misspelling was unintentional. I’ve fixed it. :-)

  3. Rick says:

    I think you are being way too hard on Frenchy here JC. Waaaaaay too hard. You can tell by looking at his face after he strikes out on a ball in the dirt or on a ball at eye level that he’s frustrated. I actually thought I saw a tear in his left eye when he went back to the dug out last night. If he didn’t care so much he wouldn’t show emotion like that. Would you rather have a player like Frenchy, and his lovely attendants in maid costumes, on your team or a player like JD Drew who just doesn’t care? I blame Chipper.

  4. Ron says:

    You’re preaching to the choir here, JC. Jeff is a dumb player who doesn’t understand what is going on when he stands at the plate. He needs to go back to AA and work his way back up, only being advanced to AAA and then the majors when he has proven he has mastered the strike zone vs pitchers at that level. I don’t have any confidence this is something he will actually be able to accomplish, so I’d rather he do this in another organization.

  5. Frank says:

    I blame Chipper.

    You can’t be serious.

  6. Rick says:

    My entire post was tongue in cheek. I would ride him even harder than JC is. If he had balls, he’d ask to be sent back down.

  7. Tyler K says:

    JC is being very fair in pointing out frenchy’s weakness. swinging at eye level fastballs is something you learn not to do in 13-14 ball. that is unacceptable even at the high school level. i would rather have JD Drew, who produces runs, than frenchy who costs the braves wins by failing to even put the ball in play with runners on. you blame chipper? why? thats ridiculous.

  8. JC says:

    We’d all rather have JD Drew. Rick was mocking Francoeur fanboys.

  9. uncle ran says:

    its time for the braves to wake up and either send frenchy back to the minors or trade him for a pitcher or two while he still has some worth(?)

  10. Greyson says:

    How quickly we forget… Just a reminder here, which of these players had more runs produced last year: Jeff Francoeur or Todd Helton? Yes, despite leading the National League in OBP and outslugging Jeff by 50 points, Francoeur managed to produce 10 more runs than Helton did last year (170-160.) This of course came with Helton batting cleanup in a lineup that scored 50 more runs than ATL (860-810,) behind NL MVP Matt Holliday and two 30 SB guys, in a well-known hitter’s park (humidor or no, there’s no way that Coors Field isn’t friendlier to hitters than Turner last season.) Not to mention Jeff had as many RP as Albert Pujols last year, though Albert admittedly wasn’t in as good a lineup… but are we really going to give up on Jeff because he isn’t as good as Albert Pujols?

    Of course he hasn’t lived up to last year so far this season, and I would like to see Brandon Jones and Josh Anderson given more playing time to see if they’re really major leaguers, but until either proves this the Braves simply don’t have a better option to put in right field, we could try to upgrade with a deal, but honestly we still need to figure out our left field situation before we break up what we’ve got going on in right. Now if we’re throwing in the towel on this season, then by all means we can sacrifice a little and give Brandon and Josh more at-bats, but I don’t think we should be giving up quite yet, and you can’t honestly tell me you think we have a better chance to win with Greg Norton’s noodle in right, and an inexperienced player taking his spot on the bench. Besides, from a development standpoint Jeff is only 24, and obviously he still needs some at-bats to prove to many of us that HE is a major league starter… we are only 5/8 of the way through the season, if Jeff finishes the season on a .280 BA clip (his career average heading into this season) he’ll finish at .249, not good, but forgivable… for one season.

    Now, the at-bats you chose to highlight do show the real problem, however. Given the teamwide struggles these last few years, and the intense pressure of the media blitz, Frenchy is simply trying to do too much, especially in situations where he has to… like last night with the bases loaded, or empty (in this case the bases were loaded with that triumvarate of speedsters Chipper, Tex, and Mac, now tell me he didn’t have to hit a double to score two… even a sac-fly would’ve had to be deep enough to score Chipper, but we all know Jeff wasn’t shooting for a sac-fly.) With all that adrenaline pumping he missed the first pitch, which was a strike, and then once in a hole, he wasn’t able to lay off the high pitches. Simply put, bad at-bat. But remember, Jeff, like many of us, can barely remember a season that the Braves didn’t reach the playoffs before 2006, these are simply frustrations and a determined athlete, used to being a superstar, trying to do too much.

    Of course, the second at-bat you chose doesn’t appear to be an awful one at all (though I must admit I only watched this on Gameday pitch-by-pitch as well, which I don’t always trust fully.) Again with slow-footed McCann on first, he’s going to be looking to drive something. Nonetheless, he took the first pitch, a very close one, for Ball 1, then fouled off a couple of strikes, followed by another take for Ball 2, and then one bad approach where he swung at the high one. Now mind you, all of these bad pitches were 93 mph fastballs, not blazing fast, but it is somewhat understandable if you’re counting on Jeff to knock in Mac from 1st. Then again, I’d prefer he take the approach to go with what the pitcher gives him and take a single if he can get it, so that maybe Kelly could continue the rally, but these are simple adjustments that Frenchy will eventually learn if given the time, support and guidance that we gave to guys like Andruw Jones, Dale Murphy, Dave Justice, and Ryan Klesko.

    Now why didn’t you include his 3rd at-bat of the night? Where he took a close pitch for a ball, then another close one for a strike, fouled off the third pitch, a strike, and then took two straight balls high to fill the count. Then on a pretty decent outer-half fastball he took a great approach and pounded a fly ball a near 400′ to right center that sent Hermida to the warning track. One good at-bat out of four isn’t anything to brag about, but it does show he still has tremendous potential.

  11. Rick says:

    In what world does Francoeur have value? He doesn’t have value at the MLB level accept at a replacement player level. Those are a dime a dozen and people don’t trade pitchers for them. Not pitchers that have a chance to contribute at the MLB level anyway. Right now Francoeur is a prospect, and not a very good one.
    It is very difficult to take someone who has been in the majors, who doesn’t think he has a problem and turn around their way of thinking. Until Francoeur, and the Braves, are honest with themselves he will just be another footnote in MLB history. MLB is littered with once Golden-Boy, can’t miss, prospects who played well for a short time and then weren’t able to adapt to changes. Francoeur is well on his way to being the answer to a trivia question. At this point it is totally up to him as to whether that happens.
    Where did you go Joe Charbaneau? Braves Nation turns its lonely eyes to you.

  12. Greyson says:

    Oh, and for Ron, I’ll admit it is a small sample, and I would’ve prefered they give him a little more time than they did to expand that sample, but 7/13 with a 3B, a BB, 2 RBI and 3 RS in 3 games with Mississippi… it is pretty hard to suggest Jeff hasn’t mastered the AA level.

    As for the comparison to JD Drew, I love watching JD play, he’s having a career year, and if we could get him I’d certainly throw him into right field on a daily basis (though Frenchy would still be our best option in left.) However, despite the difference in career length so far JD has managed only two season of 140+ RP (180 in ’04 with ATL and 164 in ’06 with LA, compared to Frenchy with 157, and then 170 over the past two years.) Of course, JD is going to squash that mark this season, but that’s besides the point… you can’t induct a player into the HoF for one great year any more than you should give up on great potential after one bad one.

  13. Rick says:

    Where are you coming up with your numbers for runs produced Greyson?
    Here are some stats I found comparing the three players.
    Francoeur:
    PA 696 RC 95 RC/G 5.4 OPS+ 103

    Helton:
    PA 682 RC 125 RC/G 8.4 OPS+ 133

    Pujols:
    PA 679 RC 132 RC/G 8.4 OPS+ 157

    You might want to find some different players to compare Francoeur to. He was barely above league average last year.

  14. Simon says:

    Greyson, I think the point is that with the bases loaded by three consecutive walks, swinging at the first four pitches you see is not the best way of driving in a run in a 0-0 game. He didn’t even need a sac fly, its almost as if Francoeur doesn’t think walks count.

    The two at bats were illustrative of someone who has totally lost the plot at the plate. Had he been thinking he would have made VandenHurk throw him a strike, like the three batters before.

  15. Rick Hagauer says:

    Seriously this might be the best article ever written! CAN JEFF NOT GET IT THROUGH HIS HEAD THAT ITS A BALL! He had just walked the bases loaded and he swings at 4 straight balls and heads to the dugout. The object of baseball as I recall is to put pitches in play that are HITABLE key word HITABLE especaily with bases loaded and after a pitch with an ERA of 12 in past 2 starts walked the bases loaded. I mean if MLB wasn’t so ignorant to the fact that Bobby did nothing wrong and the home plate umpire on sunday was a power hungery head-case maybe Bobby would have been in the dugout to make Jeff go up there w/o a bat.

  16. Jason W says:

    Another great comparison:

    2007 Frenchy: 696 PA, 84 runs scored
    2007 Helton: 682 PA, 86 runs scored

    Ok, so those are about equal.

    2007 Frenchy: .338 OBP
    2007 Helton: .434 OBP

    Wow. Either the guys batting behind Frenchy were great or the guys behind Helton were crap. Or both.

  17. JC says:

    FYI, RP = RBI+R-HR

    2007
    Jeff hit .341/.389/.527 with RISP
    Helton hit .306/.491/.456 with RISP

    Jeff also had 19 more RISP opportunities. If situational hitting was a
    skill this might be relevant to comparing the worth of these players.
    Just because a high school dropout lottery winner has more money than
    a Havard MBA grad doesn’t mean the former is the more successful
    business man. Such situational performances are part of random
    variation and are not stable. Helton hit what he typically hit in RBI
    situations (tOPS+ of 105). Jeff hit way over his head (tOPS+ of 134). In other words, Jeff hit the lottery in 2007.

    This year Jeff is hitting .193/.274/.303 with RISP. Even with his awful year, that’s a tOPS+ of 78. Jeff’s 2007 RISP prowess has evaporated. Helton is hitting .270/.443/.392 with RISP, a tOPS+ of 113.

    Over the long haul, Todd Heltons are going to produce more runs than
    Jeff Francoeurs.

    Addendum: tOPS+ is OPS+ of this split relative to the player or team’s overall OPS: 100*((split OBP/total OBP) + (split SLG/total SLG) – 1)

  18. Kyle says:

    *That* is what runs produced is? Adding two extremely lineup-dependant counting stats and substracting a much more isolated-skill counting stat? Show of hands, who thinks this is anything resembling a stat that has any substantiative meaning? *looks around* Yeah, I didn’t think so.

  19. Greyson says:

    Rick, as I said I’m refering to Runs Produced (RBI+RS-HR). I’m aware that Helton and Pujols have much better OBP and SLG, that’s why I chose them in the first place. To illustrate that despite not putting up eye-popping percentages Jeff was able to contribute as many runs to his team as Pujols, and significantly more than Helton. Would I prefer Jeff put up those percentages instead of his? Absolutely, but would Bobby prefer that Jeff had put up Helton’s OPS and produced 10 fewer runs in 2007 as the tradeoff? Absolutely not. Jason W.’s comments are just laughable, as I said Helton batted behind the league MVP, Holliday, and two 30 SB guys in Taveras and Matsui, and batted in front of Garret Atkins, and all this in a more favorable park. Frenchy batted behind Chipper and McCann for much of the year, and Tex later in the season, good OBPs sure, but not great in the speed department. At worst I’d say it’s a wash, but even if Helton did have a slight disadvantage, enough to make up that 10 run differential, would you really say we should ditch a 24 year old kid that was ALMOST as good as Todd Helton over 162 games last year? Sounds like a good bet on potential to me.

    That brings me to JC, who pretty much has it on the nose. Jeff was a clutch hitter last year, and the two seasons before that for that matter (even including this dismal year his career RISP numbers are .303/.359/.487.) I’ve seen enough years of athletics to come to a different conclusion when it regards situational performance, however, and I think Jeff deserves at least the rest of the season if not another year or two to prove that his 3 straight seasons of high run production wasn’t purely a fluke. A one-time lottery winner might not be a better businessman than a Harvard MBA, but find me a three-time lottery winner and you could certainly argue he might be just as good a moneymaker, and making money/runs is really what this game is about… Of course we all know that hitting a baseball, especially under the pressure involved in the Majors, isn’t anything like the lottery.

    Simon, you’re absolutely right, it was an awful at-bat, inexcusable, but you should note that the first pitch was a hittable pitch. Once he was in the hole he started panicking, which is a problem if you’re going to depend on being clutch. He’s got to address that, 100% with you guys there. It is, however, just one at-bat in the game, his second was much less awful, but again he panicked with 2 strikes, and his third at-bat was a pretty good one… at least as good as a non-productive out can be.

    A statistical note on that head: Jeff’s career batting averages for every count situation without 2 strikes is atleast .325, but once he has two strikes it drops significantly. Interestingly, his lowest OBP on any count without 2 strikes is .323 on 2-0 counts, which leads me to believe he is trying to crush these pitches, instead of taking what the pitcher gives him. A similiar situation occurs with bases occupied: in situations where you would expect someone to subconsciously press to drive in runs with long fly balls (1–, 1-3, 123, —, runner on 3rd with less than 2 out) his averages are down (.238, .259, .243, .264, .263,) but in any other situation his average is at least .308, and his OBP is at least .353.

    These stats lead me to believe that Jeff’s main problem is in trying to be a homerun hitter, instead of just utilizing the amazing athletic talent that he clearly possesses. This would be understandable since he’s been told by everyone in the media since day one that he was a superstar power hitter, and especially when you remember that despite his top-flight run production numbers last year, he was chided throughout various circles for his “dropping power numbers.” Frenchy is a star athlete, he’s better than you, he’s better than me, he’s even better than your “really athletic cousin” that bounced around in the Cape Cod league for a couple years. Now have some star athletes been known to have psychological problems that diminish their productivity? Absolutely, but should we give up on a guy, with a better than decent track record, after 5/8ths of a bad season? Absolutely not.

  20. JC says:

    Greyson,

    Let’s take it down a few notches.

  21. Sal Paradise says:

    Braves 2007 OBP by batting order position (Francoeur was 5th or 6th for most games):
    OBP: 0.355, SLG: 0.42
    OBP: 0.392, SLG: 0.477
    OBP: 0.402, SLG: 0.574
    OBP: 0.35, SLG: 0.498
    OBP: 0.346, SLG: 0.474
    OBP: 0.335, SLG: 0.424
    OBP: 0.316, SLG: 0.42
    OBP: 0.304, SLG: 0.376
    OBP: 0.222, SLG: 0.208
    Batters got on ahead of Francoeur roughly 37.5% of the time, and the batters after got an average of 66.5 RBI.

    For St. Louis:
    OBP: 0.323, SLG: 0.346
    OBP: 0.372, SLG: 0.498
    OBP: 0.425, SLG: 0.557
    OBP: 0.32, SLG: 0.386
    OBP: 0.317, SLG: 0.357
    OBP: 0.32, SLG: 0.441
    OBP: 0.332, SLG: 0.367
    OBP: 0.316, SLG: 0.338
    OBP: 0.298, SLG: 0.345
    Batters got on ahead of Pujols roughly 33% of the time, and the batters after got an average of 92 RBI.

    For Colorado:
    OBP: 0.335, SLG: 0.351
    OBP: 0.339, SLG: 0.442
    OBP: 0.391, SLG: 0.574
    OBP: 0.424, SLG: 0.484
    OBP: 0.385, SLG: 0.522
    OBP: 0.376, SLG: 0.533
    OBP: 0.34, SLG: 0.406
    OBP: 0.318, SLG: 0.343
    OBP: 0.258, SLG: 0.261
    Batters got on ahead of Helton roughly 35.5% of the time, and the batters after got an average of 109 RBI.

    The point here is that Francouer had a lot more opportunities than either Helton or Pujols. I could do a better job breaking down the numbers more to show Greyson more, but the simple fact is that Francouer was hitting in a better lineup than Pujols (by far), and even Helton had worse table-setters in front of him.

  22. Greyson says:

    JC, I do apologize for the excessive length and frequency, and thanks for the forum you provide here its made for an interesting discussion. I wouldn’t be quite as ardent if it wasn’t the fact that I appear to be alone around here, and I’ve had my problems with the overall tenor of Braves fans in the past. I hope you don’t mean to suggest I’ve been too vociferous, because that certainly wasn’t my intention. Believe me this time of year I find myself grasping at straws to see how Bobby and the rest of this team can pull ourselves together, so at least you all have provided an opportunity to bounce some ideas around, and for the most part it has remained civil. Anyways, I’ll try to wrap this up, before my real work starts to suffer too much.

    Sal, you’re absolutely right about Pujols. I wouldn’t even attempt to make a case that Jeff is near the player he is, but then again VERY few people are (until I see DNA test results I refuse to believe Albert isn’t at least part horse.) However, your numbers don’t quite make the case for Helton, I’d see it the opposite. Helton might have had slightly fewer runners on, but they were no doubt faster runners, and he was hitting in a better park, especially for a doubles hitter like both of these guys really are. He also clearly had bigger bats behind him, and though he doesn’t run as well as Frenchy you don’t have to run too hard when the ball is flying over the Coors Field fence or rattling around in the gaping power alleys. Again, if we call it a wash, which I’m comfortable with, then we’re saying Jeff had as good a year last year in terms of producing runs as Todd Helton, who is a bonafide stud. Sounds like a prospect that has earned a little leeway, but I think we can all agree he’s got plenty of adjustments to make, just like every major leaguer throughout history. The fact remains, we simply don’t have a better option to put out there. TP and Bobby have their work cut out for them. GO BRAVES!

  23. Rick says:

    Greyson,

    Counting stats, especially ones that rely on the production of other players, are pretty much worthless when you are trying to evaluate a player.

  24. Matt says:

    I wish Frenchy would read this article. He whined about going down to AA initially, but eventually accepted it…but then got taken back up way too soon. And the sad part is, he probably didn’t attribute it to the DL spots taken up; he actually probably thought that he was cured.

    And as horrible as the Gameday footage makes it look, seeing him teeter and stumble after chasing each of those high pitches is something to behold. Something terrible, that is.

  25. jpwf13 says:

    “I wouldn’t be quite as ardent if it wasn’t the fact that I appear to be alone around here,” That’s because this tends to be a Sabr oriented site. If you think the posters here are jumping on you try BBTF.

    The reasons why no one takes RP seriously anymore:

    1: Subtracting HRs makes no sense. If player A hits a double, and Player B hits a single to drive him in, that’s 2 RP, player A gets one, and player B gets one. But if player A hitter a home runs, he gets just one, even though he produced as many real runs as Player A and B did combined earlier.

    2: Players have less control over their RBI and Runs scored than they do over their average, OBP, slugging HRs, etc. Example, in 2003 Ichiro batted .312, drove in 62 runs and scored 111. In 2004, Ichiro batted .372 and set the MLB record for hits with 262, yet drove in only 60uns and scored only 101. Was he less productive in 2004? No, In 2004 the Mariners quite frankly reeked- Ichiro was better but the rest of the lineup was dramatically worse (look at BBREF).

    3: Outs have negative value. Every out made is a plate appearance taken away from someone else. That;’s why run estimators use outs as either denominators or subtract them out. A team doesn’t gets X number of at bats, a team gets 27 outs. At the very least if you are going to compare runs scored and rbi from player to player you should divide by outs.

    Frenchy: 189 rbi + runs, 477 outs, .396 runs/out
    Helton: 177 rbi +runs, 402 outs, .440 runs/out
    Pujols: 198 ribi+ runs, 421 outs, .470 runs/out

    Both players were more productive than Frenchy

  26. Greyson says:

    Thanks jp… Yeah, I enjoy the site for its Braves focus, but I guess I’ll have to learn to ignore some of the SABR rattling. I agree with the basic tenets of the dogma, but in general I think any science that gets too heavily focused on one specific method will suffer. #2 I completely understand, and if I’m scouting talent to sign I’m going to put more stock in percentages for sure, but in this specific case, deciding whether to give up on a specific player, there is a point to be made that those numbers might not be saying everything.

    For #3, I would agree that your statistics provide a better example of individual performance, and they show that as we all expected Frenchy is close, but probably isn’t quite the player that Helton or Pujols is, right now. However, individual performance isn’t really what I’m concerned with. My point is that Frenchy helped the Braves put runs on the board in ’07, lots of them, and this in my opinion earns him the benefit of the doubt for more than 5/8ths of a season. I tend to prefer the denominator be Plate Appearances, because a stranded baserunner isn’t worth any more in the final linescore than a guy who strikes out (even if it may provide other players more opportunities, these opportunities mean little if not capitalized, and some players, by the nature of the lineup, tend to expand a strike zone instead of taking a walk and putting the responsibility of run production on a 7th hole hitter.) Frenchy’s RP/PA=0.24, Helton’s is 0.23, again basically even, so they’re both in the same discussion at least… and no one is going to suggest Helton needs a trip to the bench or the minors.

    As for #1, first off in the specific, Frenchy hit more homers than Helton, so if we don’t subtract HR it gives Jeff a 12 run advantage. In general, however, all you have done is identify why Runs Produced is an individual stat only, it doesn’t make sense to look at a team’s Runs Produced, agreed. In your scenario Batter A and Batter B both contributed to produce a run, Batter A got on base at the same time that Batter B delivered the clutch hit, so they both get credit for it. Runs Produced then gives the observer an assesment of how many of his team’s runs the player played an integral role in (of course it isn’t exact as it doesn’t give credit for moving a runner over, or knocking them in on a DP or E, but no stat is perfect, and those intangibles are best observed on the ground.) On that matter I tend to add the next dimension of dividing by a lineup’s total runs scored, which gives us Frenchy involved in almost 28% of Braves runs in 2007, while Helton was involved in just shy of 19% of Colorado’s. (Keep in mind, due to the aspect you mentioned don’t expect a team’s %s to then add up to 100% as most of a teams runs will be credited to 2 different players.)

    I think that’s enough Frenchy talk for me, unless someone feels the need to call me out again, but thanks for the good discussion there jp, and thanks for the advice, I’ll make sure to keep my RP figures away from BBTF.

    GO BRAVES!