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June Comes Early for Jeff Francoeur

Surprising fact of the early season: with 8 games and 35 PAs Jeff Francoeur has six walks. That puts him in the top 35 for number of walks and walk rate. Last year his walk rate of 3.6% was 4th worst, and he did not collect his sixth walk until June 2nd (he finished with 23). His best walk-taking eight-game span last year was 6/2 to 6/10 when he took four walks. In 2008 it was 7/27/08 to 8/2/08 when he had five walks. And back in 2007 he had two eight-game six-walk spans (4/11/07 to 4/18/07 and 9/8/07 to 9/16/07). So Francouer has had such periods of patience in his past, but they are relatively distant and very rare.

Looking at the per-pitch numbers his O-swing rate is just as poor as always, but his Z-Swing rate is down (67% this year compared to a career average of 81%). It is counter intuitive but swinging at fewer pitches in the zone could contribute to more walks. By swinging at fewer of these pitches he gets called strikes, but also extends at-bats in which he could potentially take a walk. The other big change so far is his number of pitches in the zone (44% compared to 50%). Fewer swings and more pitches out of the zone means more walks. With the small number of PAs the lower Zone% is probably just random variation, but it might also have to do with the quality of hitters he is in front of (twice Fernando Tatis, twice Gary Matthews Jr. and four times Rod Barajas).

Either way as Dave C. noted we should take these 35 PAs with the smallest grain of salt compared to his almost 3000 career PAs. But the fact that he has accomplished something that it took him until June 2nd to do last year (get six walks) and that he has done just twice before in his career, and both times back in 2007, (six walks in eight games) should at least be applauded. This is also encouraging based on his apparent change in attitude towards walks: going from “If on-base percentage is important, then why don’t they put it up on the scoreboard?” in the middle of last season, to “If I can mix in 50-60 walks, I become a totally different guy” this offseason. You sure do Jeff.