What Does Jeff Francoeur Bring to the Rangers?

As the “real” trade deadline approached last night, the New York Mets finally got rid of their 2010 team mascot, Jeff Francoeur, trading him to the Texas Rangers in exchange for Joaquin Arias. Dan Szymborski has already issued a brilliant analysis of the trade, but I want to focus on what Francoeur might bring to the Rangers over the last month of the season.

It depends on his role. Obviously, Josh Hamilton and Nelson Cruz are far superior to Francoeur, but as Rob Neyer notes, they’ve each struggled with injury issues this season, so Francoeur provides a bit of depth in case those come into play again. Still, Francoeur has been close to worthless for two seasons, so it’s not clear why the Rangers would need to trade for a replacement-level bench player at this point, especially one who can’t play center field (assuming the Rangers don’t want to play Julio Borbon and don’t want Hamilton in center). In any case, the Rangers already have David Murphy, who does play center occasionally, although he isn’t very good there.

Assuming Murphy and Francoeur are roughly equivalent in the field (and some quick number crunching has them in the same general area), the main skill Francoeur supposedly brings to the Rangers is as a platoon partner for Murphy. When Francoeur’s abilities have been (rightly) criticized this season, his alleged usefulness as a right-handed platoon bat is usually brought up as a way he might be made useful. Francoeur does have a fairly big observed split: .302 wOBA versus RHP and a .344 versus lefties. However, as most readers of FanGraphs know by now, there’s a difference between observed performance and true talent. We have to properly regress Francoeur’s split against league average to get an idea of what his real platoon skill, i.e., what it will likely be going forward.

As is covered in the linked post, there is less variance among right-handed hitters with regard to platoon skill, so while Francoeur’s observed split is bigger than average, his 961 career PA versus LHP is regressed against 2200 of league average RHH versus LHP. In other words, his estimated hitter platoon skill is still far closer to league average than to his past observed performance. ZiPS overall rest-of-season projection for Francoeur is a .311 wOBA, which is pretty useless for a corner outfielder who isn’t exceptional defensively. Applying the split estimate to that figure gives us an projected wOBA of .304 versus RHP, and .330 versus LHP — terrible versus RHP and a bit above average versus LHP. Murphy’s ZiPS RoS wOBA is .344, and his estimated splits are .319 wOBA vs. LHP, .353 vs. RHP. *

* I realize that the ZiPS RoS projections currently assume Francoeur playing in the Mets’ pitcher-friendly park and Murphy playing in the Rangers’ hitters’ paradise. There isn’t a simple way of working around that, so I’ll simply note a) the park differences aren’t as big as one might think, especially over the few games left in the season (in terms of run values), and b) they are somewhat offset by the AL’s superior pitching.

Over a full season of 700 PAs, the difference between Francoeur’s .330 vs. LHP and Murphy’s .319 is about six runs. Of course, there isn’t a full season left, but about a fifth of a season — so it’s one or two runs over 140-150 PA. But even that is too much, since Francoeur would be the lesser part of a platoon. Assuming one third of the PAs go to the right-handed batter, the expected offensive difference between Murphy alone and a Francoeur/Murphy platoon would be less than a run over the remainder of the season. Yes, they’ll have Francoeur in the playoffs, but that’s (at most) 19 games. The expected difference is miniscule.

From the standpoint of creating a productive platoon, Francoeur’s expected platoon skill isn’t enough to overcome his overall lousiness at the plate, and can’t reasonably be expected to make much of a difference over the remainder of the season over just playing Murphy. If an injury does occur to one of the starters, forcing a backup into a full-time role, then Francoeur will have to face right-handed pitching. In that case the Rangers would be better off playing Julio Borbon (superior defense) and keeping the recently-designated Brandon Boggs around as depth.

It might not be a total wash. Francoeur might get a big hit in the playoffs and that, combined with his apparent ability to charm the press corps, will lead to some indignant newpaper columns when he gets non-tendered in the off-season. Fun for everyone!

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Matt Klaassen reads and writes obituaries in the Greater Toronto Area. If you can't get enough of him, follow him on Twitter.

14 Responses to “What Does Jeff Francoeur Bring to the Rangers?”

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  1. Anon21 says:

    This seems as good a place to ask as any: is Baseball Think Factory down (offline) for anyone else?

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  2. wobatus says:

    He has 961 career PA versus lefties, not 378. I get that on average you need to regress a players platoon splits to league average, but clsoe to a thousand PA against major league lefties, that seems like that’s about what you can expect against lefties from him, unless he’s been much worse recently. Just because most guys don’t have such a dramatic split doesn’t mean a particular player won’t have one, and it doesn’t seem that dramatic to me. Regardless, it won’t make much difference versus Murphy either way. Rangers lead looks pretty solid anyway.

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    • Oops… 961 is the right number, fixed. I actually have that in my sheet for Francoeur, so my calculations are in-line with the correct method, but when I was typing this up I put in Murphy’s number of PAs vs. LHP.

      If youi haven’t, I recommend reading The Book’s section on platoons — yes, everyone has a particular split, but righties generally have smaller ones, and they back this up quite well. You need to regress midway between their observed split and their league average at 2200 PA…

      In any case, a bit part of the problem isn’t just that Francoeur’s split isn’t as big as observed, but that he isn’t a very good hitter in the first place, so even with a larger split, he’s not a great hitter against righties to begin with… even over a full season, platooning with Murphy would only likely generate three more runs over just playing Murphy. And then there’s the whole Borbon issue over a full season.

      Jeff Francoeur just doesn’t offer very much to a team, and doesn’t help the Rangers much now. Given what backup outfielders are going for these days, it would be silly for any team to give him much more than the minimum in the offseason.

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      • wobatus says:

        Thanks. I was wondering if the calculations were different. Frustrating player. Seems like he has some physical talent, doesn’t strike out all that much (at least if he still had the power he displayed earlier in his career), but just swings at anything it seems. And it doesn’t look like he’ll learn not to.

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  3. James says:

    There was a story on mlb.com (I read it on MLB At Bat on the phone)where the GM said it’s to platoon vs. tougher lefties. I’m guessing that’s to start in the playoffs vs. the likes of Liriano, Duensing, Sabathia, Pettitte, Price (or less likely Danks/Buehrle or Lester if a Sox team somehow makes it). I don’t believe the regular season is much of a consideration.

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    • Anon21 says:

      Jeff Francoeur is not satisfied with a bench or platoon role! Jeff Francoeur demands to play every day! Jeff Francoeur demands to be traded to Japan if his skills won’t be utilized by the Rangers!

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  4. Ray in New Jersey says:

    Thank fuck.

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  5. Anon says:

    Frenchy’s biggest asset will be knowing when to tell guys to shave.

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  6. Coby DuBose says:

    “AL’s superior pitching” thrown out there as an inconspicuous statement of fact when it’s anything but.

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  7. bmt24 says:

    Not to sound like a Francoeur defender, but isn’t it possible that there’s a scouting reason to believe that his true talent vs. lefties is actually closer to his observed performance than regression would lead us to believe.

    I know Dave Cameron mentioned that he believes a mix of scouting and sabermetrics is more effective than relying solely on one or the other for player evealuations, and I feel like that opinion is shared by most fangraphs authors (maybe I’m totally wrong on that). But I see a lot of articles making definitive statements about players, when we really only have one side of the story. We’re all more than happy to admit uncertainty due to small sample sizes and other statistical factors that indicate inconclusive results; can’t we acknowledge uncertainty from other factors as well?

    Curtis Granderson has spent weeks (months?) working on a swing that’s supposedly designed to help him improve vs. lefties. Suppose he does improve against lefties over the rest of this season and the next five years. Do we attribute it to regression or adaptation?

    Isn’t it likely that players who are able to adapt (or don’t show pronounced splits to begin with) are likely to stick around longer and thus have more impact on the data that was used to derive the average platoon split found in “The Book?” It’s been a while since I read it so I don’t recall the exact methodology or sampling used.

    Again I want to reitierate that I don’t necessarily believe that Jeff Francouer is any better than what Matt’s analysis has shown, and I even believe that this analysis is correct, but we don’t KNOW. Just because the observed performance in a particular metric across an entrie population shows there to be little spread, doesn’t mean that there aren’t exceptions and while regression yields a more accurate picture on most players some few players legitimately have large splits and will be misrepresented by running such a regression.

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  8. deadpool says:

    That’s what is so frustrating about Francoeur, he has skills. Look at some of his hits, he has power and at times even to all fields. He can hit good pitchers pitches. If he would limit himself to swinging at marginal pitches he’d be average, above average if he improved his approach more. It’s just, when he does decide to be patient he just says “I’m going to take this pitch no matter what” and can’t understand why that doesn’t work, and so he gives up on patience.

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