What to Do With Frenchy

Even the most ardent of Jeff Francoeur supporters are crying Oh Frenchy these days. He's 10 for his last 78 and we've been reminded, painfully, that over his career he has not shown even average skills with the bat.

Let that one sink in. If the mainstream memes are to be believed, Frenchy is an average outfielder with 'prodigious power' and a hose that nudges his defensive and overall value into the positive. Let's choose wRC, which is weighted Runs Created created by wOBA, or weighted on-base average, to see if there's any merit to that assertion. The idea is to measure how many runs a hitter's basic stats would create. Then there's wRC+, which puts wRC on a scale so that 100 equals league average. For his career Frenchy has a 91 wRC+. He's 9% below average with the bat across his career - and that includes his fiery debut. He's been closer to 25% below average most years, including this year (72 wRC+). As for prodigious power, Frenchy has a .160 career ISO and the league average is .155. All those outs pretty much undo that tiny bit of above-average offensive skill though. A .309 OBP isn't good.

Unpacking the rest of the pro-Frenchy meme, we do find some value in the package. Much is made of his defense, especially that hose attached at his shoulder. The defensive stat UZR sometimes gets disparaged - how can Jason Bay go from bad to scratch with the click of a button?!!!!111?! - it's useful if you zoom out a little further than you might need to with offensive stats. A recent post by researcher Tom Tango did some surface work on UZR and demonstrated that it could take about two and a half years worth of UZR data to predict future UZR work with any reliability. If we just take Frenchy's full career (basically about five years), he's a +6.8 right fielder. Over the last three years, he's been more of a scratch defender. Hey! At least his arm is actually good - it's been worth 35 runs over the average arm.

Even a scratch defender on the corners has value, though. If used correctly. You see, when Carlos Beltran comes back, there will be an outfield log jam. If Beltran can play center field, he will form a productive tandem in center with Angel Pagan that should have the position covered. That leaves right field for Frenchy and Chris Carter. The easy answer is to release Gary Matthews Jr and leave Carter as the backup, but what's the right answer? (Let's just leave the question of what happens if Beltran can't play center aside for now.)

Carter only has 42 plate appearances in his career and it's hard to say he deserves to take time from Frenchy just yet. The shot at a league-average bat sounds better and better every day, but his lack of experience makes league-average-ness a question that Carter can only answer. It's worth noting that he was always stronger (or more powerful) against right-handers in the minors (.298/.366/.530 versus righties and .299/.381/.412 versus southpaws). Lo and behold, Frenchy is better against lefties (.298/.340/.480 versus lefties and .256/.297/.408 versus righties). That performance is good for a 113 wRC+ against lefties. If you smushed these two guys together at the bat by platooning them, you might even actually get league-average production from right field. These days that would be a victory for the Mets.

Baseball men sometimes abhor the platoon for reasons unknown, and Frenchy seemingly embodies that all-around average game that a manager might just want to pencil in for daily work. There's a chance his smile blinds management from the best course of action. But given Carter's struggles with the glove (he's been a minus defender at every stop in the minor leagues), his bat against righties, and Frenchy's defense and bat against lefties, there's a real non-zero chance that the best course of action in right field is to platoon him with Chris Carter - and give him the short end of the platoon, maybe with some late-inning defensive replacement work sprinkled in. In fact, that might be the best course of action before Beltran returns.

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