Since the day Jeff Francoeur arrived from Atlanta, there has been a deluge of praise for his positive intangible qualities. Believe it or not, I think this emphasis on intangibles is a disservice to Francoeur, who has been a reasonably productive hitter for the Mets since being acquired. A .350 wOBA is very good for him, even if it is fueled by an unsustainably high .355 BABIP. Instead of focusing mostly on his on-field performance (which has a tangible effect on winning ballgames) the intangibles crowd has sung the praises of everything from his smile to his clothing choices to his water cooler destruction. A few recent examples:
Though not renowned for his sense of style, Jeff Francoeur is mindful of how he dresses. He plans his wardrobe; i.e., which jeans go best with which T-shirt, and do his kicks match the ensemble. (James note: uhh, what?) What the Mets like so much is that Francoeur, as much as any player on their roster since Paul Lo Duca, raises the composite blood pressure, too. He not only cares, he shows that he does and his manner rubs off. "If you were to talk intangibles," Jerry Manuel said, "he'd rate way off the charts."
He’s as gritty and as driven as they come, and as Jerry Manuel said "This kid hates to lose." After making the final out in Friday nights loss, he reacted by smashing a dugout cooler to pieces in a show of rage. Francoeur is a warrior that wants to play every inning of every game, and even the torn ligaments in his thumb won’t keep him out of the lineup. The best part is that at 25 years old, the best is yet to come. We have a lot of work to do this off season, but signing Francoeur to a multi year deal is definitely a huge first step.
But whats been more important is the intangibles that he's brought to the table, he seemed to immediately become a main clubhouse figure and team leader. He brings a hard nosed, passion to the team that has been missing for years. Playing through a thumb injury in meaningless games because he wants to. Two teams of equal or relatively equal talent, generally; over the course of a season the team with the better intangibles end up having the better head-to-head records. In 2007-2008 the Mets were an immensely talented team that somehow couldn't find a way to win just one more game, while Hadley [sic] Ramirez single handily [sic] willed his team to win the last game of the season two years in a row to knock us out of the playoffs.
Regarding the Mets Fever piece, "Hadley" Ramirez didn't even play in the last game of the season in 2008. I suppose his will from the bench was great enough to "single-handily" make his team win. But that same will wasn't strong enough to make his team win more games than the Mets in 2007 or 2008.
Compare the Mets' record, pre Francoeur trade and post Francoeur trade:
Pre: 40-45 (.471 Win %)
Post: 25-40 (.385 Win %)
This is a large drop-off. The Braves' winning % has gone from .488 pre-trade to .597 post-trade. Regular readers know that pointing to this with any sort of relevance would only be done tongue-in-cheek. Yet if the Mets' record had indeed improved since the trade, there would probably be daily posts about it in the Mets blogosphere. A legitimate question arises for those praising Francoeur: if his intangibles are so valuable, how can one explain the significant decline in the Mets' play after his acquisition? I present a brief fictional conversation that might take place on this topic, between myself and anonymous intangibles lover. Let's call intangibles lover "Beau".
James: So you're a fan of Francoeur's intangibles. Why has the Mets' performance declined since his arrival? Shouldn't his presence raise his teammates' level of play?
Beau: That's not a fair question. Johan, David, Jose, both Carlos's and a bunch of other good players have missed a lot of time in the 2nd half.
James: So what you're saying is that good players are essential to field a winning team? And intangibles aren't enough to overcome having bad players?
Beau: Uh, uh, well, Paul O'Neill used to bash water coolers and look at how many World Series....
Tangible talent trumps intangible grission and it's not particularly close. This isn't to deny the existence of intangibles in sports. It's been said before, but if given the choice between two identical players, and one is a good clubhouse guy and the other a bad one, it makes sense to take the good guy. However, it's an overrated trait and not reason enough to seek a player's services.
Talk about Francoeur's statistics. Talk about his on-field performance (and the sites listed above generally do, to varying degrees). When doing so, don't completely ignore the 2500+ major league plate appearances he had before coming to Flushing. But please stop pretending intangibles are a significant consideration when deciding what to do with Francoeur this offseason. Character counts, but since we can't sufficiently evaluate it objectively let's stick to what we can evaluate. Leave the largely irrelevant intangibles topic for talk radio, the lowest common denominator of baseball discourse. (Next up on the talk radio docket, a discussion about how David Wright and Jose Reyes aren't "winning ballplayers"!)