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Semper Failcoeur

On April 9, Jeff Francoeur hit two home runs, and his line stood at .429/.471/1.000. On April 14, he not only homered, but walked twice. Okay, one of them was intentional, but this was Jeff Francoeur. His line stood at .429/.514/.929. The most recent of Jeff Francoeur’s 10 walks for the season took place on May 5 against the Reds, at which point his line had dropped to a still respectable .263/.336/.474. But after a blistering .284/.355/.531 (.373 wOBA) April, May has not been kind so far: .147/.205/.147 for a pitcher-esque .184 wOBA. Jeff Francoeur’s current overall line for 2010 is .243/.311/.417 (.321 wOBA). His career line in the major leagues is .270/.311/.431 (.317 wOBA). So much for turning a corner.

I won’t need to recount the full saga of the former Atlanta hometown hero traded to the Mets last season for eventual non-tenderee Ryan Church. Despite a less-than-refined approach at the plate, he was very valuable on both sides of the ball during a 274 PA call-up in 2005 (3.2 WAR) and over a full season in 2007 (4.0 WAR). Since then, however, Francoeur has gone from a guy who once graced the cover of a magazine your Dad used to read to a guy who produced one of the classic self-referential quotes of all-time. After putting up a miserable .286 wOBA for the Braves in 2008, he was even worse for them in 2009 (.278 wOBA), which precipitated the trade to the Mets.

Some still believe in Francoeur. He did put up a .350 wOBA in 308 PA for the 2009 Mets. During his hot start (and all those walks!) to 2010, one columnist actually used the phrase ‘OBP machine’ to describe Francoeur. And yet here we are, with Francouer sitting at around his career averages.

It’s natural to want to believe in a (fairly) young player. And in a way, it’s refreshing that two organizations have kept playing Francoeur when young players are so often given up on after a near-meaningless sample. But while 26 is young, it isn’t that young. More importantly, Francoeur has over three thousand major league plate appearances in which he’s accumulated a .317 wOBA. A few good weeks don’t cancel those out. He’s hitting a few more flyballs out of the park so far this season, but he’s also hitting fewer line drives. More significantly, the ‘OBP Machine’ is swinging at pitches out of the zone 43% of the time, that’s ridiculous even for him (37% career). ZiPS Rest-of-Season projections see Frenchy as a .265/.324/.429 (.324 wOBA) hitter for the rest of the season. He had some great defensive seasons in right field in Atlanta, but most of that was due to his strong arm, and teams aren’t testing him as much anymore. All things considered, he’s about a 1 WAR player over a full season. This is probably who he is: a bench/platoon player with a strong arm, declining range, occasional power, and no concept of the strike zone (I wonder which Atlanta team official liked him?) If the Mets have any sense at all (ahem), Francoeur will be non-tendered after the season, since he isn’t even worth his arbitration salary this year.

This isn’t only about 2011. Despite everything they have endured (much of it self-inflicted), the 2010 Mets have a realistic shot at the playoffs. It’s unlikely that they’ll catch a far superior Philadelphia team in the NL East, but they’re in the hunt for the wild card. Organizational favorite Carlos Beltran will hopefully be back at some point to give the Mets a boost. When and if he returns, the Mets should use the opportunity to finally sit Francoeur in favor of Angel Pagan, a decent hitter (.341 ZipS RoS wOBA) and very good defender (+10 career UZR/150 in the outfield) who could start for many teams. Again, this isn’t about the future. Francoeur and Pagan are what they are — an expensive bench guy and an underrated above-average player. When Beltran returns, the Mets need to forget the Francoeur Dream and start Pagan in right (or center, if Beltran can’t play there).