Frenchy’s Foul Plate Discipline

Counting stats can be deceiving. A guy smacks 25-30 home runs, drives in 100 runs, and all of the sudden some are ready to anoint that player as a breakout star. Case in point: Braves outfielder Jeff Francoeur. Frenchy got his career off to a blistering start in late 2005, and followed that up with a 100+ RBI season in 2006. However, Frenchy’s very liberal approach at the plate has actually made him a below-average player (in terms of WPA/LI) for the last three years running. Let’s take a closer look at Francoeur’s career to see where he stands following a putrid 2008 season.

Francoeur was called up in July of 2005, and proceeded to rake enough to land on the cover of Sports Illustrated with the caption, “The Natural”:

2005: .300/.336/.549, 4.1BB%, 22.6 K%, .249 ISO, 19.1 LD%, .341 BABIP, 0.63 WPA/LI

Francoeur did legitimately crush the ball as a 21 year-old in the majors, but “The Natural” also received help from a lofty .341 BABIP. Given his line drive rate, we would expect his BABIP to come in around .311 (LD% +.120 is the formula for expected BABIP). If we subtract those 30 points of average, Frenchy is left with a .270/.306/.519 line. Still impressive overall, but clearly pointing toward a need for much improved plate discipline.

2006 would bring with it plenty of regression to the mean, as a reversal of his luck on balls in play and continued hacking conspired to make Francoeur among the worst everyday players in the big leagues:

2006: .260/.293/.449, 3.4BB%, 20.3K%, .189 ISO, 18.3 LD%, .286 BABIP, -0.07 WPA/LI

Jeff’s low, low walk rate managed to slip anyway, and without the hefty BABIP, his production fell considerably. His power also dipped, as his Isolated Power (ISO) fell by 60 points. Further adding to his mess of a plate approach, Francoeur hit a grounder 45% of the time (39.7% in ’05) and he had a sky-high 20 infield/fly ball % (IF/FB%). In other words, he was rolling over the ball and getting jammed with alarming frequency.

Francoeur’s 2007 campaign brought some hope that he would occasionally lay off of pitches in the dirt, low-flying planes and unsuspecting birds:

2007: .293/.338/.444, 6.1BB%, 20.1K% .151 ISO, 19.4 LD%, .342 BABIP, -0.51 WPA/LI

Sure, a walk rate slightly over six is still tepid, but that’s considerable improvement for Frenchy. On the negative side, his ISO fell again from .189 to .151, and his BABIP was rather high. Given his line-drive rate, his expected BABIP was .314. If we take those 28 points off, his line adjusts down to .265/.310/.416. That’s mild, but he was still just 23 and at least gave some sign that he might improve his plate approach to an acceptable level.

Coming into the 2008 season, there were still plenty of people on the Francoeur bandwagon (myself included). As Baseball Prospectus’ Joe Sheehan wrote, “Take a player who has top-tier tools (save speed), who has lots of experience at a young age, and who has clearly improved the biggest hole in his game—that’s a player who projects for a significant leap forward.”

That great leap forward must have been into a ditch, as Francoeur’s 2008 season went down as the ugliest of his career:

2008: .239/.294/.359, 6.1BB%, 18.5K%, .120 ISO, 20.7 LD%, .277 BABIP, -2.63 WPA/LI

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?

So, Jeff Francoeur’s 2008 season wasn’t quite as gruesome as it first appears. But is he making any strides in terms of his plate discipline, or is he destined to remain an unrestrained hacker?

Frenchy has swung at fewer pitches for three years running:

Swing Percentages, 2006-2008:

2006: 61.56%
2007: 57.38%
2008: 56%

However, that’s not necessarily a good thing. Francoeur has swung at fewer pitches overall, but he’s done so by swinging at fewer offerings within the strike zone:

Z-Swing Percentages, 2006-2008:

2006: 85.83%
2007: 80.42%
2006: 76.12%

Frenchy has also made virtually no progress in terms of laying off of pitches thrown outside of the strike zone:

Outside Swing Percentages, 2006-2008:

2006: 36.67%
2007: 36.7%
2008: 36.31%

So, Francoeur is swinging at fewer strikes while still fishing outside of the zone far too regularly. If anything, it appears as though his plate discipline is actually getting worse. Coupled with a puzzling loss of power (his ISO has dropped at least 30 points each year), it becomes very difficult to recommend Frenchy as anything more than a late-round flyer. He’ll still be just 25 next season, but until he can prove that he has some semblance of pitch recognition, it’s best to let someone else become frustrated while waiting for Francoeur to break out.



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A recent graduate of Duquesne University, David Golebiewski is a contributing writer for Fangraphs, The Pittsburgh Sports Report and Baseball Analytics. His work for Inside Edge Scouting Services has appeared on ESPN.com and Yahoo.com, and he was a fantasy baseball columnist for Rotoworld from 2009-2010. He recently contributed an article on Mike Stanton's slugging to The Hardball Times Annual 2012. Contact David at david.golebiewski@gmail.com and check out his work at Journalist For Hire.


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Matt
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Matt

LD% +.120 is the formula for expected BABIP …

Is this the exact formula or is it missing something, doesn’t seem to give me anything close to an average?

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