Jeff Francoeur Is Just What The Mets Needed?

Jeff Francoeur has played all of twelve games with the Mets, posting a modest but encouraging .817 OPS. Too soon to call it a win for the Mets? Too soon to look at his statistics as if they are any way predictive? Too soon to post a sparkly magic pony picture of him rubbing his grissiony chin? None of the above.

When the Mets traded Ryan Church to the Atlanta Braves for Jeff Francoeur, there was an outcry among Mets fans such as I’ve never heard before over a trade that I thought was a great one for the Mets.

Quoth Joe-D-Wan-Kenobi: "I felt a great disturbance in the Force, as if millions of voices suddenly cried out in terror and were suddenly silenced [by a small sample size]."

All of a sudden Ryan Church was looked upon as this golden boy, when in fact he hadn’t put together a string of six solid games in a row since April of 2008.

No. No. No. Ryan Church is no great player, no one ever lamented losing him, in particular. He was an average player, which is better than a bad player. My issue with the trade, personally, was the haphazard and seemingly random thought process that it indicated.

Also "six solid games" seems like a funny number to make up since he started the season with a six-game hitting streak, in which he had a 1.278 OPS.

At the time of the trade, I lobbied hard for Jeff Francoeur because I saw something in him that we haven’t seen since Darryl Strawberry last did it in 1990, almost 20 years ago. A 100 RBI season. It’s hard to believe that at a position that most teams have stocked with a slugger, the Mets have suffered through two decades of offensive futility. Not anymore.

I too find it hard to believe the Mets don't keep a slugger in rightfield, which is why I found it hard to believe they traded for Jeff Francoeur. Just to illustrate how meaningless RBIs are, consider that during that 19 year stretch there were about five years when no one had 100 RBIs, including the hard-rocking Italian-American catching lord himself, Mike Piazza.

Go back and consider this sentence in the abstract:

It’s hard to believe that at a position that most teams have stocked with a slugger, the Mets have suffered through two decades of offensive futility. Not anymore.

Now remember he's talking about the arrival of Jeff Francoeur.

In Francoeur, the Mets got themselves a player who already had two 100 RBI seasons before his 24th birthday. Many Mets fans have said that those 100 RBI seasons were now a distant memory and he was washed up. Washed up at 25? I didn’t buy it for one minute.

During Jeff Francoeur's mythical 100-RBI season, he came to the plate 319 times with runners on base, including 257 times with runners in scoring position. "Washed-up" seems a little strong, anyway. I'd go with "never that good."

What I saw was a young player who tasted success early on, and when pitchers adjusted to him, he failed to adjust to them. It was plain to see.

Yea, if you can't adjust to curveballs and fastballs outside the strike zone, you have problems.

In 2008, Frenchy unsuccessfully tried to fix things his way. In 2009, he was desperately seeking help wherever he could find it, including boarding a plane to meet with another team’s hitting instructor.

A Delta Airlines® plane.

He is batting .327 with a .490 slugging percentage. And yet believe it or not, we have many complaining that he has no walks. Really?

First of all, TWELVE GAMES. You don't have to be into "sabremetrics" to realize 12 games is not statistically significant. I'm rooting for the guy, hard, believe me, but no walks can be a problem, as it can be indicative of an underlying problem in approach. To quote one astute reader:

  • Swung at the first pitch 23 times (62%)
  • Is averaging 3.5 pitches per at bat (actually an improvement from his 3.34 season average)
  • Has drawn zero walks (I suppose that could be assumed)
  • OSwing percentage is 36.2% (only pitchers and Angel Berroa are worse)
  • ZSwing percentage is 88.3% (Leads the team, closest to him is Reed at 73%, and is 7 points higher than his season average and league leading 81%)
  • Swing percentage is 62.7% (Up from his season average of 58%, which is third in the league)

In my opinion, these trends are probably more predictive than a few homers, but hey we'll see. Secretly, I like Francoeur, in a Bill-Plashke-likes-Juan-Pierre-and-his-own-beard sort of way.

There is a contingency in our fanbase that would prefer to see less hits and more walks. This is why I can never fully commit to all these new statistical measures. Why in the world would I ever care about how many walks my number five hitter has? I could understand if the argument was to distinguish the value of our number one and two hitters. Those hitters get paid to get on base by hook or by crook.

It's not a zero-sum game. There is no choice between hit and walks, ideally you have both. You care how many walks your five-hitter has, just like you care about how many walks every hitter has, because if he doesn't walk at all (like Jeff Francoeur) he's not a very valuable hitter. Getting on base is the most important thing a hitter does. Yes, hits, especially of the extra-base variety, are important, but unless Jeff Francoeur becomes Ichiro, dude needs to walk. "All these new statistical measures" account for these things, assigning relative value to each outcome. wOBA isn't -1 point for every hit +2 for every walk. Unless, of course, he was talking about walks as a "new statistical measure."

But here we have a bona fide slugger who can drive in runs, and yet so many would prefer to take the bat right out of his hands.

Hojo: Francoeur.

Hojo: FRANCOEUR!

Francoeur: Huh?

Hojo: FRANCOEUR, SWEET JEBUS DROP THE BAT.

Francoeur: What?

Hojo: GET THAT BAT OUT OF YOUR HANDS.

Francoeur Huh?

Hojo: I SAW YOU ABOUT TO DRIVE IN THAT RUN. SOMEONE TAKE THAT FREAKING BAT OUT OF HIS HANDS.

[Church] was a square peg in a round hole. I knew it, Jerry Manuel knew it, Omar Minaya knew it.

John Ricco knew it when he ran into Minaya's office tripping out of his mind on acid, after "brainstorming" in the other room.

The last thing this team needed was Ryan Church walking with a runner on second base instead of driving him home. Good riddance to him and his walks. By the way, he’s batting .200 with the Braves, but fear not, he has plenty of walks. You can keep the walks, I’ll take the RBI’s instead.

Well you can keep your RBIs and the walks too, because you're going to need them. P.S. Church is 1.9 runs better than Francoeur since the trade, despite his cold streak. But Francoeur's defense suits Citi Field...

After the game last night, Mets manager Jerry Manuel said that Jeff Francoeur has energized a number of players on this team that were in need of some recharging, including David Wright.

Hopefully, in return, Wright taught him how to play baseball.

"That young man knows how to compete. He knows how to win and he hates to lose."

Jerry went on to say "...unlike this guy over here, who loves to lose. Yea, I'm looking at you Luis. Nice non-catch."

Those are just a couple of those immeasurable intangibles that you’ll always here me blogging about.

The same immeasurable intangibles that you'll always hear me skeptically revealing to be present when things are going right and suddenly absent when things go wrong.

Francoeur has helped revive a team that was pronounced dead at the All Star break. This weekend alone, he had seven RBIs in the three-game series against the Astros. Gary Cohen asked,

"When’s the last time any Met did that?"

Wright at San Francisco, if you're actually wondering.

When asked to comment about the series yesterday, Francoeur opted to talk about the Mets post season chances instead…

"The last two games, we’ve played great ball. It’s big momentum for us coming home. We got a shot. We’ve got 65 games left, and I guarantee you every person on this team will fight their butts off to the end."

I appreciate the enthusiasm, but one Jeff Francoeur isn't going to change the Mets ~1% playoff odds.

It sounds a lot like something Tug McGraw or Keith Hernandez would say when they once roamed the Mets clubhouse.

Roamed the open plains of the clubhouse like a wild bantha (keeping with the episode IV theme from above).

I am so glad that Francoeur’s 100 RBI bat is now an integral part of our lineup. And if we do manage to win a wild card this season, you can be sure that it never would have happened without Francoeur.

If we do in fact make the post season, the Jeff Francoeur trade will be known as the turning point in the Mets season. In fact, I believe it already is.

Wanna bet? Listen, the Mets aren't going to make the playoffs, and if they do, it's through an act of God, and in spite of the Francoeur trade, not because of it. I want him to succeed, but let's give him the rest of the season before we proclaim him savior, or even good.

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