Is Frenchy for Real?

Stop me if you’ve heard this one before: Jeff Francoeur is off to a great start and appears ready to reach his full potential.

It’s now May 9th, and Francoeur is hitting .302/.345/.581. He leads the league in total bases with 10 doubles, a triple and eight home runs. He adds value in the field and on the basepaths. His .279 ISO ranks fifth in the American League, and he ranks fifth from an overall production standpoint with 1.7 wins above replacement. His sharp uptick in productivity is surprising, especially since there is at least one real sign that the improvements might stick.

One of the most interesting aspects of his overall line is how he isn’t walking any more frequently than in years past. The improvement is entirely attributable to a power surge. His batting average on balls in play is by no means otherworldly at .310. His line drive rate is a fairly unimpressive 16%, and nearly 50% of his balls in play are on the ground. Add in that his strikeout rate is a touch higher than it was last year, and it becomes easy to wonder how he is displaying so much power.

The bulk of the answer can be found by looking at his unsustainable 21.1 percent rate of home runs per fly ball. Another part of the answer becomes apparent after analyzing his plate discipline statistics: Francoeur isn’t swinging as much anymore.

Since debuting in 2005, his overall swing rates have ranged from 56 percent to 62 percent. He is currently swinging at just 51 percent of the pitches thrown his way, and most of the dropoff can be attributed to increased selectivity on pitches in the strike zone. Though his O-Swing rate is lower than it was last year, it represents a higher rate than his 2005-09 average, and is still resulting in way more outside swings than the league average. His Z-Swing rate, however, has dropped precipitously from approximately 83 percent over the last six seasons to just 67 percent.

Pitchers are throwing him a steady diet of pitches out of the zone, and he is making more contact. The selectivity on pitches in the zone has also led to an increase in contact. Put it all together, Frenchy is making more contact across the board, while swinging much less than he ever has before. Pitchers are staying out of the zone, likely in an attempt to avoid getting hit hard on a pitch in the zone given his heightened selectivity. We should expect most of this to normalize over the next few months, but it seems hard to believe that his plate discipline stats will shift that substantially. And while his HR/FB will fall as he racks up more plate appearances, it is entirely possible that his new approach will result in a higher ISO — it just won’t remain this high.

His numbers to date got my mind motoring about similar spikes in ISO rates. Francoeur won’t finish the season at .290 or higher, but even a .200 mark would represent a vast improvement on his ~.140 average over the last few seasons. Assuming Francoeur can finish the season with an ISO in the range of .200-.210, how often do batters experience this much of an uptick compared to an established rate? And is the higher ISO sustained in subsequent seasons?

To find out I queried for five-year spans dating back to 1950, stipulating that the batter needed to tally 250 plate appearances in each season of the span. The 5,648 resulting spans were further filtered to mirror Francoeur’s situation as much as possible: the average ISO over the first four seasons of the span was restricted to a maximum of .150, and the improvement from that average to the ISO in the fifth season of the span had to be at least 60 points. Only 109 spans were left when the filters were applied. The group improved from an average ISO of .118 to .200 in the fifth season.

Did it last? Adding in the sixth season of the span, the sample reduces to 98, and the aggregate ISO dropped from .200 to .147. These players experienced a sharp power surge after establishing a specific level, and subsequently fell back down to Earth the next season. The .147 ISO in the sixth season of the span marks an improvement over the .118 average across the first four seasons of the span, but suffice to say the batters didn’t develop some vast new found power ability.

Francoeur seems to be approaching his plate appearances differently right now, but the gaudy HR/FB ratio is playing a substantial role in his power increase. It isn’t out of the realm of possibility that an improved approach will yield better results, but right now his discipline feels more like a narrative used to suggest his current performance is legitimate. The shift in approach is interesting to monitor right now, but the HR/FB is the real story; a more “normal” rate and we’re talking about a .460-.470 slugging percentage.

Is Francoeur for real? Right now, we don’t have enough information to conclude in the affirmative. But we do have some information that indicates the entirety of the improvement is unlikely to be sustained if he has turned the corner.




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Eric is an accountant and statistical analyst from Philadelphia. He also covers the Phillies at Phillies Nation and can be found here on Twitter.


70 Responses to “Is Frenchy for Real?”

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  1. Louis says:

    I can save you an entire post:

    No.

    +51 Vote -1 Vote +1

    • NEPP says:

      Came here to say this…

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    • johngomes says:

      prettty obvious

      1) he got suckered to be a METS MINORITY OWNER( MEANS HIS 401K IS DOWN THE DRAIN)

      2) signed a 1 year deal 50% less than he was making

      3) knows that if he wants a 200-450% pay raise for 2012 he would have to put career #s like beltre,andruw jones,jd drew contract years

      4) enjoying the game more

      5) KC hitting coach deserves at least 75% pay raise for the turnaround

      its pretty simple, he has no guarantee for a future job in 2012 onward and theres no guarantee he will ever see the $ he put into the mets so hes playing for a new contract.

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  2. Brandon says:

    A couple of points:

    1) Hit tracker only lists one of his HRs as “Just Enoughs”. Usually, when someone is getting lucky and can expect substantial regression, they have a lot of balls just sneaking over the fence. That has not been the case for Frenchy this year. However, looking back through his HR history, he generally has a small percentage of Just Enoughs.

    2) He’s pulling balls over the fence, but that’s nothing new for him, looking through his history. However, he might be pulling the ball even MORE than he used to — the numbers aren’t conclusive yet, though.

    This suggests that he’s always had plenty of power, he just didn’t get a hold of many because he would swing at everything — suggesting that he could get a big uptick in power numbers if he could ever figure out which pitches to swing out. It COULD simply be that he’s swinging at the right pitches so far this year — which is what you say in your article. In which case, he might actually be for real — provided he keeps it up.

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    • Mario Mendoza says:

      I was JUST about to head over to HitTracker to see what his ISO might be minus some “Lucky” HRs.

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      • Mario Mendoza says:

        And good thing I did… because he had 1 Just Enough, 1 Lucky that would not have been a homer in any other ballpark, and 2 that were barely hooked around the foul pole.

        Granted every hitter has his share lucky HRs, but that’s 4 out of 8 for Francouer.

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      • Yirmiyahu says:

        The increase in slugging isn’t just due to the HR’s either. Of his inside-the-ballpark hits, he’s hitting with more power as well. He’s on pace for 48 doubles and 5 triples.

        Considering that his LD% is low, and his GB% is high, I think that increase in inside-the-park power is largely a result of luck as well.

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      • Brandon says:

        That “PL/L” that was a HR in only one park was hit into a strong wind. He did sneak two inside the foul pole, but one of them was hit quite well. Not entirely sure I agree with your arguments. It does seem like he’s pulling things even more than he usually does, though. I agree that his doubles are likely to regress with the low LD%.

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    • BlackSwan says:

      Didn’t know about Hit Tracker. Thanks!

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  3. Brandon says:

    Think of it this way. Throughout his career, he’s averaged about 395 ft on his average home run, some years well over 400. To put that number into perspective, Bautista’s average HR last year travelled 400 ft (approximately his career average as well, for what it’s worth). Frenchy has always has tons of power, but could never adjust to the adjustments the league made to him. For the time being, he has. It’ll be interesting to see what happens once the league adjusts to him again…

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  4. Evan says:

    Sorry you drew the short straw this year and had to be the one to write this article, Eric.

    +7 Vote -1 Vote +1

  5. Mario Mendoza says:

    Prediction #3 of “17 Predictions That Will Be Right” just came true.

    +13 Vote -1 Vote +1

  6. Baseball Bob says:

    Francoeur is a classic streak hitter, last year he had a couple of really hot streaks, and a lot of VERY cold ones. This hot streak has lasted longer than most, and so it may be more “real”, but history (his own) suggests that he will have a streak in which he has no useful hits at all, returning his numbers near to his norms.

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  7. speckops says:

    So we beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past.

    +19 Vote -1 Vote +1

  8. DJLetz says:

    Jeff Francoeur’s April 2010 line: .284/.355/.531
    Jeff Francoeur total 2010 line: .249/.300/.383

    He had a better (walk-driven!) OBP this time last year and comparable ISO. Odds are, it’ll pass.

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  9. SFSUGatorAlum says:

    So we’ve come full circle. We’re surprised about a player’s sudden power increase.

    It must be 1998 again.

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  10. Kevin Seitzer says:

    GIve me some credit already. Enough articles on Frenchy, Melky, Alex Gordon, WIlson friggin’ Betemit, or any of these other washed up hacks. It’s my doing, me! me! me!

    +19 Vote -1 Vote +1

  11. Christopher Walken says:

    I’ve got a fever, and the only thing that can cool me down is more Kevin Seitzer.

    +10 Vote -1 Vote +1

  12. Ralphie says:

    Seriously?

    This guy has a historically terribe OPS. Absent a brief strong debut on the Braves and a few hot streaks here or there, he has been awful at the end of his Braves tenure, on the Mets, and on the Rangers.

    Why waste an article on him? For some unknown reason, people around here have a “man crush” on this guy and they’re always hoping the next streak is “for real”.

    He’s a AAAA player – period.

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    • NEPP says:

      6 years ago, SI called him “The Natural” and gave him a front cover…and the saga began. He’s just one of those tantalizing guy who shows you flashes of greatness but overall really sucks over long stretches.

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      • j6takish says:

        He has power, he has the ability to make contact, he’s an alright fielder and hes got a fucking rocket for an arm. He has the makings of a great player but he has a bad attitude and refuses to improve himself. Thats why everyone keeps falling for it, the same reason people keep giving Mark Prior Money

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  13. The_Beard says:

    Ralphie do you read this site much?

    Frenchy is probably the last player in baseball I’d say people here have a ‘man-crush’ on.

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  14. Ralphie says:

    Actually I disagree.

    The guys writing columns at this site are obsessed with that guy – for no good reason. Do they sit around writing columns about other MLBers that are similar lousy? No.

    So why this constant focus on Franceour?

    He sucks – period. Let’s move on.

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    • Mike P says:

      “So why this constant focus on Franceour?”

      Wait, wait, I know this one! Because even though he has sucked, and quite possibly will suck again, he’s tearing it up right now, and it’s interesting. Myself, I hope the Royals sell high on him now before he turns back into a pumpkin, but as a fan it’s fun to see him succeed, and I hope he can keep it up. I just wouldn’t put any money on it.

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    • Yirmiyahu says:

      If you have a highly talented, highly touted ex-prospect who can’t cut it in MLB, there’s always going to be a lot of attention paid to them. When they succeed for a little while, people are always going to ask, “Have he finally put it all together?” It’s not specific to Francoeur. A few examples among position players: Lastings Milledge, Wily Mo Pena, Delmon Young, Jeremy Hermida, Casey Kotchman, Cameron Maybin, Brandon Wood.

      Frenchy also gets attention because he’s part of a related, overlapping group of guys about whom the sabermetric community continually asks, “Why is this guy still getting so much playing time?????” Vernon Wells, Gary Matthews Jr, Yuni Betancourt, Juan Pierre, James Loney, Melky Cabrera, Juan Rivera, David Eckstein, Scott Podsednik, etc.

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    • The_Beard says:

      I’ve been reading this site daily for more than 2 years and have only seen Frenchy as the butt of jokes in articles and chats. He gets ripped here constantly.

      When I saw the ‘Is Frenchy for real?’ headline I thought it was going to be a list of one-liners or simply what the fisrt comment was- Simply the word NO.

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  15. Uday says:

    Isn’t HR / FB only unsustainable for a pitcher. That is if a pitcher was giving up 20% HR / FB we would expect it to regress, but for a hitter it is a function of how hard he is hitting the ball.

    Your entire thesis that the increase in power can be attributed to the increase in HR / FB doesn’t make a ton of sense because more power will mean more HR / FB. You’re confusing causation with correlation.

    While I agree he isn’t going to hit like this all year, I think you should rethink why (variance, small sample size, pitchers adjusting)

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    • Paul says:

      Either you are new here, or just have not yet realized that FG has special rules for some players. Frenchy is one, Garza is another, Aaron Harang’s the best pitcher who ever lived, etc…

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  16. Ralphie says:

    Yirmiyahu:

    What you are saying in paragraph #1 is not true – this site has never, ever devoted as much time and space to Wily Mo Pena or similar jokers as it has to Franceour.

    With respect to #2 – this is true BUT this article is not about why an overrated player is receiving too much playing time! It is the opposite type of “maybe he’s finally realizing his potential.”

    FanGraphs has been going downhill and I’ve seen other commentors noting this as well.

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    • kick me in the GO NATS says:

      Well Wily Mo Pena doesn’t get regular full time work every year either.

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    • Mr wOBAto says:

      I have seen more than a few articles dedicated to Lastings Milledge here, lord knows that Wilson Betemit, Brandon Wood, and half of the Pirates roster have eaten more than their fair share of bandwidth. Flashes of brilliance lead to more opportunity, scouts know talent when they see it and whether you are talking about Gaby Sanchez, Adrian Gonzalez, Jose Bautista, Dan Uggla or Cliff Lee a player who has flashes of talent occaisonally puts it all together and becomes the star everyone had been hoping for.

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  17. Paul says:

    Yet another FG article that screams for the reams and reams of MLB.com video to at least attempt to “see” if there is any difference. I haven’t seen all of his AB’s, but rates are not going to tell you that unlike in seasons past, most of those ground balls are hard hit up the middle and to the right side. Have not seen him roll over on a ball and weakly ground out to the pitcher or SS yet. He is loose and calm at the plate, and his talent is taking over. Very quick bat and strong hands have led to some bombs at the K. I don’t expect him to keep this line all season, but I would absolutely bet on a line close to his first full season. Predicting they will extend him, which will result in the all-time snarkiest comment thread in FG history.

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  18. NickC says:

    Has the American League not realised you can just throw him really high fastballs yet? It may take them sometime to adjust.

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    • Paul says:

      Would be nice if folks would just watch a few games before making these kinds of statements. From what I’ve seen they’ve pitched to the book on him and he’s just not offering. He had a really terrible AB yesterday where he got himself out on the slider in a slider count. First time I’ve seen that so far. We’ll see if he can keep it up, but what has happened in reality is that he has changed his approach.

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  19. Linc says:

    I had already started laughing when I saw this topic…I was 98% sure the post would just say “NO”. Disappointed.

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  20. TK says:

    People think Frenchy has no chance to turn his career around at age 26 because he said stupid things like “OBP doesn’t matter,” but they don’t realize you can be an idiot that doesn’t understand shit and still an amazing ballplayer. They obviously haven’t heard Joe Morgan speak. Francouer is a fascinating case because he does have talent and if he figured some things out, he could be a good player.

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    • Paul says:

      In last night’s ESPN broadcast Orel quoted Bobby Valentine’s line that “statistics are great at predicting the past.” There is some humor in that line of course, but I think it’s safe to say Valentine thinks projections are over-rated. Five minutes later when talking about the cutter, Orel credited Valentine with predicting that it would be an “it” pitch used by all the best starters, ten years ago. You don’t have to be a sabrematrician to get baseball stuff right, especially if you’re a player. Frenchy could not give a damn about BABIP, but he obviously understands that he’ll be a better hitter if he works counts and tries to work the middle of the field. It’s the same damn thing in different contexts, folks.

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    • wobatus says:

      At age 26 Andres Torres was busy sucking it up in the minor leagues. Juan Uribe has 4 straight awful years, has a decent one, and gets articles about how all he needed was some babip luck.

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    • BlackOps says:

      Difference is, Morgan was a generational talent and had incredible plate discipline. Jeff Francoeur is not, and does not. He sucks.

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      • TK says:

        I apologize for leading you to believe that I thought Francouer was going to have a Hall of Fame career. That was not my intention.

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  21. Moe says:

    I’m about to read this article. However, to answer the question that is the title: No.

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  22. Eric Seidman says:

    And I thought the comment thread on my Greinke article was strange…

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  23. UZR is a Joke says:

    Joseff Frautista

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  24. AJ says:

    Klaassen is on suicide watch, right?

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  25. Micah says:

    “Frenchy could not give a damn about BABIP, but he obviously understands that he’ll be a better hitter if he works counts and tries to work the middle of the field. It’s the same damn thing in different contexts, folks.”

    Are you talking about the same Frenchy I watched in Atlanta? Because he has never understood anything about working counts, adapting to become a better hitter, or working the middle of the field. Frenchy only understands “I see ball, I swing hard.” I have never read a more wrong statement about a player. The pitchers will figure him out. It won’t be hard.

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  26. CircleChange11 says:

    Obviously Frenchy came into this season in the best shape of his life.

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  27. Antonio Bananas says:

    why does a pitcher who goes to the National League have better numbers? Because there’s no DH.

    Why does a hitter who goes to the AL have better numbers? Because AL pitching is shitty. Of his 3,300 plus career MLB at bats, only about 200 were in the National League. The National League isn’t the league without hitting anymore, the AL is the league without pitching. He doesn’t have to face Lincecum, Carpenter, Hudson, Hamels, Johnson, Greinke, Marcum, Lee, Halladay, Oswalt, Hanson, or any of the other emerging NL pitching stars. Instead he faces the extremely mediocre AL pitching.

    THAT is the difference. Especially in the AL Central.

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    • CircleChange11 says:

      Halladay, Lee, Marcum, Garza, Greinke, etc are league transfers over one off-season. Throw in the emergence of Jaime Garcia, Steven Strasburg, Chapman, etc … and I don’t think there’s any question that the NL is drastically improved, perhaps even superior, than in recent years.

      That’s a lot of WAR coming to the NL.

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    • Paul says:

      Interesting argument. I’ll counter with Cahill, Anderson, Gio, Weaver, Haren, Liriano, Danks, Felix, C.C., Lester, Beckett, Price. Remember that he’s on the team with the worst starting pitching in the league.

      Your argument would be valid if you could cite another hitter who came from the NL to the AL and all of the sudden performed better. Off the top of my head, I can’t think of a single one.

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      • CircleChange11 says:

        I agree completely with your point. One of the main contributors to the AL becoming so strong in pitching was the amount of talent that went from the NL to the AL.

        But, a lot of talent has since moved back to the NL from the AL. My point was that maybe we should stop talking about the NL being inferior in the pitching department. It’s probably not.

        We’re describing the same situation, only a different points in time, and the direction the talent was moving. You’re pointing out that a few years ago the pendulum swung to the left. I’m saying that last year it swung back towards the middle.

        Your argument would be valid if you could cite another hitter who came from the NL to the AL and all of the sudden performed better.

        It would most likely, at this point, just be a small sample issue. Dan Uggla’s struggles as a Brave compared to playing with the Marlins (same league, same division) is not a testament to how strong the Marlins pitching is, which Uggla now has to face. Same deal with Carl Crawford.

        I think about the All-Star Break, looking at the batters and pitchers that changed leagues and seeing how they’ve done, as a group, might be worthwhile.

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      • Mr wOBAto says:

        Wilson Betemit, Jose Bautista, Yunel Escobar, Melky Cabrera, Carlos Quentin there are plenty of examples in both directions.

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  28. Antonio Bananas says:

    I meant that “only about 200 have been in the American League”

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  29. Claudia says:

    Someone in my keeper league just traded Trevor Cahill for Jeff Francoeur (I kid you not). I’d appreciate some comments on this matter.

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  30. Anthony says:

    The As have the best pitching in the AL. Donno what else to say.

    I don’t think we’ll really know to the extent to which the NL’s pitching is better than the ALs for awhile. However, looking at the transfers and the amount of really REALLY good young pitching in the NL, and I don’t think it’s arguable. There aren’t the solid stats to back it up, but it seems that if a handful of elite AL guys go to the NL, plus all the consensus “next” guys in the NL, it’s really not even close. The DH is really the only reason AL teams have better offenses. I don’t think the AL is the better league anymore.

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  31. Anthony says:

    I would go so far as to say that the NL East has more talented starters than the entire American League. Hanson, Hudson, Johnson, Lee, Halladay, Oswalt, Hamels, plus there are several guys on the fringe, Jurrjens was really good in 09 and is really good this year, still young, the marlins have a bunch of pretty good young guys, Strasburg is lurking. So you have 8-10 elite or near elite guys and a bunch of pretty good guys in the NL East. I don’t know if there are 8-10 elite guys in the rest of the AL. Yea there are less teams than the NL so they should have more elite pitchers, but it’s a landslide. Price, Sabathia (who I think is overrated as hell), King Felix, Verlander, Weaver, Lester? Then a bunch of young guys in Oakland,

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  32. Fred says:

    We need more Mike Jacobs Trade esque comment threads

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  33. Kinsm says:

    It’s official the answer is NO!

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