This past July, the Atlanta Braves severed ties with Jeff Francoeur.
Formerly the golden child of the farm system, Francoeur appeared to establish himself as a franchise pillar in 2007. As a 23 year-old, Frenchy increased his walk rate (albeit modestly) and posted a .337 wOBA. His .340+ BABIP suggested he got some fortunate bounces, but few could have predicted his atrocious 2008 season.
Francoeur’s BABIP regressed severely, but he was an unmitigated disaster at the plate:
Francoeur went from a dark horse MVP candidate in the eyes of some to a Mississippi Brave during the course of the season, as he was demoted to the Southern League for a brief period of time. He did experience pretty awful luck on balls in play, as his expected BABIP (.327) was much higher than his actual BABIP (.277). If we adjust for that, his line improves to .289/.344/.409. Where’s the power, though?
Frenchy posted a stunning -22.7 Park Adjusted Batting Runs in 2008. No other batter in the majors did more damage to his club’s run-scoring chances.
2009 began no better for Francoeur. As a Brave, he batted .250/.282/.352 in 324 PA. But following his July trade to the New York Mets for OF Ryan Church, Francoeur posted a .311/.338/.498 line in 308 PA.
This gave rise to countless “change of scenery” narratives, suggesting all the erstwhile top prospect needed was a one-way ticket out of the Peach State. But did Francoeur really make any changes at the plate that portend to sustained success?
Here are Frenchy’s plate discipline stats with the Braves:
April: 27 O-Swing%, 80.2 Z-Swing%, 89.9 Z-Contact%, 67.1 F-Strike%
May: 42.9 O-Swing%, 79 Z-Swing%, 84.4 Z-Contact% 69.6 F-Strike%
June: 33.1 O-Swing%, 82.7 Z-Swing%, 89.5 Z-Contact%, 65.6 F-Strike%
July: 40.9 O-Swing%, 78.1 Z-Swing%, 84.4 Z-Contact% 68 F-Strike%
O-Swing= Outside-Swing Percentage (25% MLB avg)
Z-Swing= Swing pct. on pitches in the strike zone (65.9% MLB avg)
Z-Contact= Pct. of contact on pitches in the strike zone (87.8% MLB avg)
F-Strike= First-Pitch Strike Percentage (58.2% MLB avg)
..And here are his numbers with the Mets:
July: 33.1 O-Swing%, 86.8 Z-Swing%, 93.9 Z-Contact%, 61.8 F-Strike%
August: 37.8 O-Swing%, 79.9 Z-Swing%, 87.8 Z-Contact%, 61.7 F-Strike%
September/October: 37.2 O-Swing%, 83.5 Z-Swing%, 90.1 Z-Contact%, 58.7 F-Strike%
Overall with Braves: 35.4 O-Swing%, 80.3 Z-Swing%, 87.4 Z-Contact%, 67.6 F-Strike%
Overall with Mets: 36.5 O-Swing%, 82.9 Z-Swing%, 90.2 Z-Contact%, 60.5 F-Strike%
Francoeur put the ball in play on the first pitch or got behind in the count 0-and-1 less often, and he made more contact on pitches within the strike zone. But it’s hard to say that he made any progress whatsoever in terms of working the count. He still hacked at a sky-high number of pitches, both inside and outside of the zone.
Take a look at Francoeur’s BABIP by month:
Frenchy’s BABIP with the Braves was .281. With the Mets, it was .343.
According to this XBABIP tool from The Hardball Times, Frenchy’s BABIP with Atlanta (based on HR, K’s, SB, line drives, fly balls, pop ups and grounders) should have been around .310. As a Met, his batted ball profile suggested a BABIP between .295 and .300.
Francoeur was unlucky with the Braves, and got plenty of breaks with the Mets. His overall XBABIP for the season was .304, compared to an actual .311 mark. In other words, his overall .280/.309/.423 triple-slash is a pretty accurate reflection of his talents.
Frenchy did hit for more power as a Met, with a .187 ISO and 10 HR compared to a .102 ISO and 5 HR with the Braves. However, there are few signs that the soon-to-be 26 year-old made any sort of alteration in his strike-zone judgment. In his new digs, Francoeur still chased pitches wildly off the plate, walking in 3.7% of his PA (3.8% with the Braves).
Over the next few months, much ink will be spilled on how Francoeur got a new lease on his career and is poised to break out in 2010. Unfortunately, a closer look at his season suggests that he remains the same free-swinger who has been nearly 30 runs below average with the bat during his big league tenure. Approach Francoeur cautiously on draft day.
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