Though I, personally, dislike Richard Dawkins (he seemingly reeks of the same fundamentalist mindset and intolerance as those of the religious variety), and find much of his rational used in The God Delusion to be inherently flawed, given that Jeff Francoeur is apparently a vocal and outspoken Born-Again Christian, I found the title comical, applicable, and ironic.
Many amateur prognosticators, on this website, other websites, and elsewhere, as well as many ‘professional’- that is, paid- writers and observers, believe Jeff Francoeur had a good season with the Mets, and Omar Minaya’s trade for him, dealing away Ryan Church, is likely to pay big dividends for the Mets. After all, in just 75 games with the Mets, he batted .311, driving in 41 RBI, and hitting 10 HR. In a full season, those RBI and HR numbers would double, meaning he’d have 82 RBI and 20 HR. However, being skeptic of Jeff Francoeur in general, I feel beholden to taking a deeper look at things, and verifying whether or not these theoretical projections are feasible or not.
I want to take a look at is his batting average. Regardless of how a person feels about Francoeur, he did bat .311 while with the Mets. Generally speaking, a batting average over .300 is considered very good. Something is fishy here, though. I mean, in Atlanta, Francoeur was batting a measly .239. Something’s gotta be up…A ha! While Francoeur did indeed bat .311 with us, he also accrued a BABIP that was, ironically .311 as well (.336 with the Mets). In 2009, the Major League average BABIP was .299. The league average BABIP inflated itself in the later stages of the season- .289 in June, .299 in July, .306 in August, .302 in September. So, what does that mean? Jeff Francoeur’s batting average inflated itself as well because of luck, the declining quality of defense on the field because of the "grueling 162-game season", less experienced rookies because of September call-ups, and other factors.
And then, there’s his horrendous rate of walks. With the Mets, he walked eleven times, with three of those walks being intentional. So, on his own, in 289 plate appearances, he walked eight times on his own. That comes to roughly one walk every 36 times he came to the plate, giving him a Mets OBP of .338, which is pretty damn poor.
Let’s look on the bright side, though. Jeff Francoeur just turned 26. Generally speaking, he’s entering into the age (26-30) where players are at their peaks, mentally and physically, in relation to the game. Sure, he’s had some rough patches, but he’s entering into his peak, so those rough patches will be smoothed over, yes? He’s another year older, another year smarter, and he’ll adjust himself to hit for a higher batting average. He’ll adjust himself to draw more unintentional walks. With those stats better, coupled with his theoretical 82 RBI and 20 HR, we’ll be cooking. Those are pretty solid stats for a corner outfielder.
The problem lies in believing that the above will happen- that Francoeur will adjust his game to cut down on the free swinging, raising his batting average, and improving his rate of drawing walks, making him a more valuable and 'useful' baseball player.
Jeff is 26, yes, and for a baseball player, that is still fairly young. It’d be something of a mistake to call him "a kid", "young", or any other derivative thereof, in my opinion, however. He made his Major League debut in 2005, at the age of 21, and has played in at least 155 games each season since then. So, he has considerable experience playing baseball at the Major League level. When he first debuted, it took him 128 plate appearances until he drew his first unintentional walk. For an inexperienced rookie, I believe it’s alright to cut him some leeway. He didn’t "know" better, and was excited to be getting his first taste of the big leagues. The problem is, he’s performed like that his entire MLB career now. His woes manifested themselves such that, in July 2008, he was sent down to the Minor Leagues to work on improving his swing and being more selective at the plate. While he should have been making adjustments- the hallmark of a successful player- he wasn’t.
The following is a words came out of Jeff Francoeur’s mouth: "I am actually trying to learn to walk a little bit. How about that? They’ve made adjustments to me and now I have to make adjustments. It’s going to take some time to learn when they are going to let me beat them or make someone else beat them. I need patience. I’m a different hitter than Chipper Jones. He goes up looking for certain pitches to hit. I go up there looking for something over the plate and try to hit it hard…A lot of people just thought I'd be a .260 hitter all my life. I was kind of like, 'Let me make some adjustments and let me learn the game a little bit.'" As evidenced by his continued low walk rates, the work he at one point did hasn’t manifested itself in any type of noticeable result. Nor have any efforts to raise his batting average, seemingly. Look at these batting average (first graph) and walk rate (second graph) charts. Worse yet, everything seems like it's going to trend downwards as well:
So, what is the end result of all of this rambling? To hope that Jeff Francoeur will change his game, when in the past, he’s demonstrated that he’s seemingly very well set in his established ways, is somewhat irrational. There’s just no evidence to back it up. Now, that’s not saying that Jeff Francoeur isn’t a good guy, or that he doesn’t give us all plenty of chuckles, and that we’re not better off with them- a common trend, I notice, is that when people decry the stats of the Jeff Francoeurs of the world, the Alex Coras of the world, people interpret them as disliking them as people. Do I want to see him do good, and have a killer season? Yes. Do I think that'll happen? Not in the least...The odds of him suddenly improving his game such that he’s worth more considerably more than a replacement player (0.0 WAR in 2009, and a 0.8 over the past three seasons, according to Fangraphs) are extremely slim. There’s just no real evidence to hint that it’ll come to pass.