Baseball Prospectus, in their 2015 scouting report of Maikel Franco, had this to say:
“Extremely aggressive approach; will guess, leading to misses or weak contact against soft stuff; gets out in front of ball often—creates hole with breaking stuff away; despite excellent hand-eye and bat speed, hit tool may end up playing down due to approach…”
We saw early this year, and even last year, that exact prediction come to life. Franco seemed to be flailing about vs the soft stuff, beating too many pitches into the ground, and even popping too many up. He never really stopped hitting the ball hard, but we saw too many of those hit in non-ideal ways. For most of the first part of this year the slider gave him absolute fits, and Alex Stumpf wrote about that here. He’s striking out at a career-low rate (13% on the year), but he still isn’t really walking that much although it’s bounced up a percentage point from last year (7.3% in 2017).
Here’s a rundown of his career batted-ball profiles:
I was watching the Phillies game vs. the Marlins on the 18th, and Franco went 3-4 with the go-ahead HR off Dustin McGowan. His HR came on a slider middle-away — literally the exact pitch that’s done nothing but given him fits all year. I also noticed that his batting stance seemed to be different. More upright, quieter. I pulled up a highlight video of an at-bat from early May. Here’s a screencap of his stance just before the pitcher starts his delivery:
That AB ended in an RBI line drive to right. Here’s a screencap of the HR in question from Tuesday, at a similar point in the pitcher’s delivery:
Now if that’s not a mechanical change, I don’t know what is. He’s closed off his stance, eliminated a lot of the knee bend, and seems to have raised his hands juuuuuust a touch. It could be the difference in the camera angle though. Phillies hitting coach Matt Stairs mentioned they’d been trying to get Franco to cut down on his leg kick, so let’s look at that too:
Old leg kick:
Shortly after contact, old:
and the recent HR, similar point:
The “leg kick” seems to be more of a toe tap, and hasn’t changed. What did change, though, is the quality of his follow-through. His head is on ball, he’s better transferred his weight to his front foot, and the results follow. The old AB was a line-drive single opposite field, which looks less of an intentional opposite-field hit and more of a product of bad mechanics. Being so open, he really could only go to right field with authority. If he tried to pull it he’d roll over the pitch. That also would cause him to struggle with the breaking pitch away, which he’d bounce to second. Closing off has allowed him to better get the bat head into a more ideal position to cover the whole plate with authority. He’s always had the bat control to make contact everywhere, but it looks now like he’s improved his chances of making quality contact all over the zone. Here’s the same look at his batted-ball profile since the start of July:
Here’s some assorted metrics, same time period:
vs. his career metrics:
He’s cut his grounders by over 10%, raised his liners by 3%, and turned the rest into fly balls (8%). He’s likely always going to have a pop-up issue, but his pull/center/oppo profile is back to where he was at in 15/16, and he’s hitting the ball hard at a higher rate than ever. Also, his strikeout rate is 6%(!!!!!!)!!!!! He’s making more contact than ever, and that contact is better than ever.
We’ve seen Franco get us hyped before, but never before has there been this type of major mechanical change to point to. Miguel Sano did something similar preseason by raising his hands and quieting his pre-swing load, and it’s paid dividends. Since I started this article, Franco went 2-4 with a single, double, and sac fly; and three of those batted-ball events were hit at 100+mph (the single and double; he was robbed by the 3B on a sharp liner as well).
Going back to his 2015 scouting report: Franco’s still aggressive, if not slowly becoming less aggressive the more he’s in the majors. By changing up his stance, however, he’s closed up the two major holes in his report: getting out in front of the breakers away, and bad contact on soft stuff. Keep an eye on this. One of the more frustrating hyped prospects seems to have made the transformation we all hoped he would, right in front of our eyes.