It’s probably the Canadian in me talking, but I have always been a Jeff Francis fan. The University of British Columbia product was selected 9th overall by the Colorado Rockies in the famed Moneyball draft, and rewarded the team with 11.8 WAR in his first five big league seasons before succumbing to the injury bug. Now, the 31 year old finds himself without a job a month before spring training despite posting 4.6 WAR over the last two seasons.
Why is he unemployed? Well, the 85 MPH fastball has something to do with it, but so does the fact that he’s traditionally been a guy whose results haven’t matched his peripherals. Other than his 36.2 inning cup of coffee in 2004, only once in his career has his ERA been lower than his FIP. For his career, his FIP is a respectful 4.40, but his ERA is 4.78, a 38 point gap that helps shed light on the perception of Francis as a guy you only want on the hill if you have no other options. The last two seasons have been especially brutal, with an ERA almost a full run higher than his FIP – the main culprit being, as usual, a .317 BABIP. His inflated hit rate has been fueled in part by a significant drop in his infield fly rate, which has hovered at close to 6% over the last two years after being over 10% early in his career.
There is nothing overly unusual about a pitcher posting back-to-back seasons with BABIP’s of .320 and .316, or having a career mark of .310. These numbers are well within the expected random variation of our sample of major league pitchers. However, Francis has changed quite a bit since his early days in Colorado when he was throwing 89-92 MPH. He is now down in the 85 MPH range, and is now a full-blown pitch to contact guy. Last season, only 16.20% of Francis’ plate appearances ended in a walk or strikeout, ranking him 93rd out of 94 qualified pitchers. I decided to do some digging to see if just maybe these two factors might be related.
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