Wednesday, 1 September 2010

Give Frenchy a chance!

Yesterday the Mets traded Jeff Francoeur to the Rangers for Joaquin Arias, and it was a stupid thing to do.

It was stupid on several levels, not least on the level that the Mets absolutely do not need another middle infielder (least of all one as substandard as Arias) and surely the Rangers don’t need another outfielder (they already have Hamilton, Cruz, Murphy etc plus I can see no reason why Vlad couldn’t be trotted out at LF every once in a while).

More so, I cannot fathom why the Mets would be so eager to get rid of Francoeur so cheaply and so recklessly.

I like Frenchy but I’m not going to argue that the .237/.293/.369 is anything less than what it is, absolutely terrible. Indeed, Jeff’s offensive ability, especially when assessed in sabremetric terms has been a cause for concern for some time. However I refuse to believe that Jeff is done as a full-time big leaguer.

Let’s look at the positives. Jeff Francoeur is 26 years old. A huge proportion of great players haven’t so much as had a cup of coffee in the major by the time they reach 26 (Ryan Howard for example). Whilst a brief glance through Jeff’s stats does reveal a worrying trend of very poor batting average to on-base-percentage (the best differential he’s managed over a full season was .293/.338 in 2007) his stats for this season so far reveal a much healthier 60 point difference between the two percentages. Admittedly Frenchy’s only hitting .237 but slumps in batting average can be attributable to many things whereas low OBP is usually a constant characteristic. There has been speculation that Jeff has lost bat speed and his low average is caused by this. Frankly I don’t buy this theory. Players do not lose their bat speed at 26. Have we learned nothing from David Ortiz over the past few years, we were all quick to assume that Big Papi’s bat speed had vanished when rumours of its demise were greatly overstated. Francoeur hit above .300 last year after being traded to the Mets, there’s no reason to think he can’t do that again, and if his BA/OBP differential remains at 2010 levels then he’ll have an OBP of .360, well above league average.

I don’t necessarily think that Francoeur is ever going to be an above average hitter but I do think that many of the predictions being made about his offensive future this season are alarmist. He is simply having a bad year, playing in notoriously bad hitter’s park and is under the pressure of the New York media. There is no reason whatsoever that, at 26 Francoeur cannot enjoy a career resurgence in the American League and become the 25 HR 100 RBI man of his early seasons with the Braves.

This explains why the Rangers wanted Francoeur. Whilst one can never be certain how a career NL player will perform in the AL (see Willis, Dontrelle) there is every chance that Francoeur’s free-swinging ways will make him a hero in Texas and enable him to become what he was meant to be in Atlanta; a young (more-or-less) 5-tool player that you can build a franchise around. The prospect of Josh Hamilton, Nelson Cruz and a resurgent Jeff Francoeur manning the Texas outfield is pretty daunting isn’t it?

Yet I’m sure that Omar Minaya didn't have the best interests of Jeff Francoeur at heart when he made this trade happen. It seems that the Mets have dumped Jeff simply for whatever they could get in return. This is the part I don’t get. The Mets have (realistically) no chance of making the post-season and have huge injury issues in their outfield (Bay, a returning Beltran who is hitting below the Mendoza line). Why not keep Francoeur until the end of the year, why sell him so cheaply to a contending team?

By all accounts Francoeur has really developed into a leader on this rag-tag Mets team. This perhaps is an indication of where Jeff’s true value lies, if his hitting doesn’t improve then perhaps he can still make a valuable contribution as a leader in the Jason Varitek mould.

And let’s not forget his arm, still by far the best cannon in the game.

Don’t count Frenchy out, he still might surprise you.

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