At least one person in Kansas City will be flashing his trademarked smile today. Jeff Francoeur had his contract extended two years. Fans in New York and Atlanta are probably stifling laughs of their own, coming from an entirely different place, but was the signing so bad? Even without terms, we can try to evaluate the signability of the 27-year-old corner outfielder.
Frenchy is having his best season at an age where most baseball players are peaking. On the other hand, very few of his core stats represent a career-best. He’s shown a better ISO before (.189 in 2006), struck out less the last three years in a row, and probably won’t hit career highs in home runs, runs or RBI. He’s only showing a personal best in stolen bases and walk rate, and that walk rate (6.6%) is only percentage points above his best (6.0%, achieved thrice).
He has shown one of his better power years this year, yes. He reversed a decline in home runs per fly ball, but even his current number (9.4%) is right in line with his career (9.9%). His ground-ball-to-fly-ball ratio is on the right side of his career ratio, but in line with what he’s done in the past three years. There’s no power stat that screams luck.
His defense has been a plus this year, but he’s also been a plus over the span of his career. His UZR/150 (1.9) makes sense (6.9 career), even if it continues to be based on the strength of his arm (+53.5 runs) rather than his range (-13.5 runs). He can continue providing value with his glove in the corner outfield.
Now we get to his legs. Francoeur has as an above-average speed score for the first time in his career, and should collect 20 stolen bases when he’s never cracked double digits in that statistic before. Part of this is team philosophy. The Royals lead the American League in stolen bases and so they’ve sent him more than any other team. Part of this is improvement. He’s been successful on 73% of his attempts this year, 63% career. Maybe he concentrated on his quickness in the offseason, or maybe this is a one-year blip.
But the fact remains: Other than some of his speed-based statistics, there’s not really one outlier statistic when seen in the context of his career.
And yet, he’s showing his best wOBA (.344, career .318) and wRC+ (115, career 92) numbers of his career by far. Some of this is about the rest of the league getting worse. In the last three years, the league OPS has gone from .750 to .716, and the league’s wOBA has declined from .329 to .316. That drop has made his career wOBA go from below-average to above-average. In some ways, Frenchy has watched the league to get worse while he stayed the same.
A two year extension to a corner outfield in his peak ages is not going to cripple the Royals, and neither will it suppress any prospects that are ready to go. Wil Myers needs more seasoning and Lorenzo Cain is a center fielder or he should remain in the minor leagues. Even if Francoeur steals fewer bags and takes a step back in the power department, he’ll most likely put up close to an average wOBA next year. On the Royals (team wOBA .319), that’ll be useful.
[Edit: KC Star’s Bob Dutton reports that it’s two years, $13.5 million. That seems like he’s getting paid for his average production, not as if he’ll continue at his peak. Not terrible. Not great, but not terrible.]