The French God of Walks Revisited

Congratulations to Dave B. for correctly predicting that Jeff Francoeur would walk 39 times this season. The early-season part of The French God of Walks contest was won by the first entrant, and David B. was the second entrant. Also interesting is that the first entrant, Jack, would have won if Francoeur had taken the same number of plate appearances as he had in 2007. Basically, Francouer’s walk total would have been identical to his 2008 total of 42. The lessons here are that Francoeur’s walking eye didn’t change a bit and that winning Sabernomics contests requires entering quickly.

The season was a disaster for Francoeur; not because of his overall poor performance, but because he didn’t improve where he needs improvement. In fact, I think much of Francoeur’s 2008 struggles can be attributed to bad luck, and then adjusting for bad luck in a way that made things worse. At season’s end, Francoeur’s PrOPS was .726, which isn’t too far off from his career OPS of .746. I agree with most people that Francoeur will bounce back to the player he was. The problem is that a mid-.700s OPS from a corner outfielder isn’t good.

Francoeur’s walks, strikeouts, and hitting power were quite similar to his 2007 performances. His strikeout rate was a little lower (17% versus 18.5%) and his isolated power was down a bit (120 versus 151). His base-stealing remains abysmal. He attempted one steal and was caught. How is it possible that a man recruited to play safety for several major college football programs is unable to steal a single base in a season? Brian McCann, who runs like turkey flies, stole five bases without getting caught.

On top of this, his defense—the area where he had been good—declined significantly. After winning in a Gold Glove in 2007, Francoeur was an absolute disaster in the field in 2008. According to John Dewan’s Plus/Minus ($) Francoeur was the sixth-best right fielder in 2007, making 10 plays more than the average right fielder. In 2008, he ranked 28th among right fielders, making 17 fewer plays than the average right fielder.

Many commentators have blamed Francouer’s 2008 on a weight-training program designed to increase his hitting power. This, they say, accounts for his decline in the field and the bat. While I might be willing to buy the explanation for the fielding—though he didn’t appear to get any better after shedding the weight—I think it had no impact on his hitting. If anything, he should have increased his power as he expected. One thing we have learned in recent history is that increasing muscle mass does not hurt bat-speed. That myth went out the window with late-80s Oakland A’s. And furthermore, Francoeur’s fundamental holes are the same ones he has always had. The reason his power didn’t improve is that you can’t hit the pitches he’s hitting (non-strikes), or not hitting, any harder.

I expect Francoeur will improve until his late-twenties before plateauing and declining in his early-thirties like most players. At his peak, I expect he will be an .800 OPS hitter, which is about average for the position. That is, at his best, he will be average for his position. And the peak will occur after he is no longer controlled by the Braves. 2005 was a fluke, and people just need to accept that.

6 Responses “The French God of Walks Revisited”

  1. jpwf13 says:

    Brian McCann, who runs like turkey flies,”

    Theres’ a flock of wild turkeys near where I live- they fly a lot better than people think…

  2. Jason S. says:

    Braves Journal currently has an article on Frenchy where they are of the opinion that he’s just going to get worse from this point on.   The article points out that he’s getting slower, which I think explains why McCann, who I thought might be the slowest position player in baseball, is now a more credible base stealer than Frenchy.

    The Braves have really created a Frankenstein monster here in Francouer.   I really don’t see a solution to this.  Neither Frenchy, nor Cox nor somebody in the organization (whoever made the decision to bring him back after 3 days in AA) is willing to face the fact that this is a deeply flawed baseball player.  Frenchy’s ego seems as big as Texas and creating a marketing campaign around him has just reinforced everyone’s impression that “real soon now” he’s going to bounce back to his rookie or 2nd year stats.   I see no way he can be traded as he can’t bring what the fans would consider fair value, so we’re stuck with him.

  3. Marc Schneider says:

    The real problem is that the Braves think the pre-2008 Frenchy was a good player which, as JC points out, is not true.  If he “bounces back” to 2006-2007, the Braves might well be satisfied with that because he will always be a popular player.  Of course, if they can get a real bat for left field, it won’t be as much of a problem but it’s sort of telling that a guy projected to be a star is now a seventh place hitter.

  4. Ron E. says:

    The solution is pretty simple. Trade or non-tender him. You don’t play a below replacement level offensive player in RF especially when he no longer is any good defensively and especially when one of the team’s key deficiencies is lack of power production. Thank God Jeff didn’t accept the Braves’ long term deal offer a while back.

  5. Joe P. says:

    I think Francoeur’s biggest problem is the batting coach. It seems to me I see a lot of players on the team that exhibit his same problems just to a lesser extent. In my honest opinion the only way Frenchy is going to get better is if Pendleton is fired and a competent batting coach brought in. This will only work if French listens to said competent batting coach. It bother me that instead of working with Francoeur on his aproach they seem to be messing up his swing instead.

  6. J. McCann says:

    Definitely a shocking and odd season for Frenchy all around.  The wierdest thing to me is that after years of killing lefties and not doing well against righties, he was atrocious against lefties in 2008 (while of course continuing to not do well against RHP).

    I think it will be a couple of years before the Braves are in a real good position to finish first, so they can afford to play around and play a popular player.  If it was me, I would tell Frenchy to not worry about the walks, just go look for his pitch and crush it.  I have to imagine he’ll be back to killing lefties in 2009, so he plays against them all the time.  Then play him in a lot of home games since the fans like him so much, and sit him a lot against righties on the road.  If he can’t deal with not playing 162 games, then cut him and let him whine somewhere else.