Home > Uncategorized > Jeff Francoeur, Projections, Stats, NERDS UNITE!

Jeff Francoeur, Projections, Stats, NERDS UNITE!

By Hunter Abbey

Most everyone has expressed their opinions on the Frenchy signing. I have seen some that project he will “bounce back,” some that feel he is a turd, and a certain somebody who is obsessed with the number 100 **cough*irrelevantstats*cough**.

I am not here to try and tell you what to think. I am here to dig a little deeper into the numbers of Mr Francoeur and try to make some sense of his career. People say that a scout will tell you what a player is capable of, and stats tell you what he has done. While that is true, once a guy has nearly 3500 Plate appearances, I don’t need to know what scouts tell me anymore. The results are there.

That being said, many people try and extrapolate the wrong stats when projecting a player’s future. By this time we all know that RBIs, runs, and the rest of the “baseball card” stats aren’t really going to tell us much. Most fans, especially those likely to read this, have moved on to OBP, OPS, and even wOBA*. While those stats are great at truly telling us what a player contributed, they don’t tell the whole story. Let’s break Frenchy’s career down.

*Here are a couple explanations of wOBA for those unfamiliar with the statistic – wOBA Metaprimer; The Joy of wOBA.

2005: 274 PA, .300/.336/.549, 14 HR, .370 wOBA
This was Frenchy’s rookie season, and boy did he ever burst on to the scene. It is far and away his most successful season, but how did he do it? He had a 4% walk rate, which is about right in the middle of his career numbers. Basically, what you have to envision is a 21 year-old who is uber-athletic, coming up and going after pitchers. The ‘05 Braves had a 51 HR Andruw Jones, a productive Giles, an electric Furcal, and a good Chipper (when healthy). When pitchers saw this rookie coming up, they likely went right after him. Well, it didn’t work. He punished everything, and with the help of a .337 BABIP, put up monster numbers.

2006: 686 PA, .260/.293/.449, 29 HR, .308 wOBA
Most of the old school guys will still consider this a good season, with 29 HR and 103 RBI. We are educated enough to know different. A .293 OBP means the guy was an out machine. So, what the hell happened? Quite simply, the league caught up with him. They say a guy’s second year is the toughest, because the pitchers now know what to do. He had a 3.4% walk rate, and swung at everything in sight. When you are that athletic and strong and you swing at everything, you are occasionally going to make solid contact (see: 29 HR), but you will also make your fair share of outs. Keep in mind that those Braves had a very good Chipper, 24 HR from McCann, 32 from LaRoche, and 41 from Andruw. The counting stats were going to be there with this group.  In that season, Frenchy’s BABIP was .284, which given an 18% Line Drive (LD) rate, was just a hair unlucky

2007: 642 PA, .293/.338/.444, 19 HR, .337 wOBA
Jeff’s last decent season. This was the year that he started to hear the criticism about plate discipline. As a result, he really tried and had a 6% walk rate, the highest of his career. While that is still not great, some guys just aren’t wired that way, and 6% can work if you make good, solid, contact. I imagine the pitcher’s dismay when the pitches just off the plate that Jeff went after the year before were being taken. As a result, pitchers often fell behind and had to deliver, which allowed Jeff to have a 19.4 LD%, en route to another .337 BABIP season. He probably got a little lucky, but nothing too alarming, given his LD numbers.

2008: 653 PA, .239/.294/.359, 11 HR, .286 wOBA
This was the year he was sent to AAA. His 3.6% walk rate was the lowest of his career. However, if you look at his numbers, he had a .274 BABIP, which when you consider a 20% LD rate means he was insanely unlucky. This is where it pays to have a manager and FO proficient in advanced stats. I know Francoeur probably “pressed” a lot once things went south, which likely caused him to try and “swing his way out” of his slump. You can’t help but wonder how things might have been different if someone came to him and said, “Damn Jeff, do you realize how unlucky you are this season,” further explained BABIP to him, and said, “Don’t worry man, it will all even out.” Maybe then he keeps his BB% around 6%, doesn’t press,  and his whole career looks different.

2009: 632 PA, .280/.309/.423, 15 HR, .313 wOBA
He finally gets moved out of ATL. This was another low walk year (3.6%), but everything else looked pretty accurate from a lucky/unlucky standpoint. A .305 BABIP with a pretty high LD% is pretty normal. This is probably the year in his career that you can look at all the advanced numbers and see that they add up to the end result.

2010: 503 PA, .249/.300/.383, 13 HR, .295 wOBA
This was the second worst year of his career. However, he once again had a little bit of bad luck, with a .270 BABIP. Given a decent LD%, that number should have been much higher. The book is written on him, and people know how to attack him. It shows in these last 2 seasons.

So, what do we make of all of this? Forget about what he has done this spring. Editor’s Note: Since this article was written, Francouer finally had a good game going 3-4 with a double in Sunday’s game. Forget about his weight. Forget about what Seitz may or may not do. Jeff is what he is. If you look at his career numbers, he has a .299 BABIP, which is about what one would expect given his contact %. Those numbers have yielded at .268/.310/.425 line, with a .314 wOBA.

Jeff is a “high variability” hitter, as are all most guys who swing at everything and make a lot of contact. Look at some of the other guys with low BB rates: AJ Pierzynski, Alexei Ramierez, Jose Lopez…these guys have all had the yo-yo seasons, and it is because BABIP is very, “luck driven.” On a year where it is in the .270’s, they will look like crap. When it is in the .330’s they are All-Stars. On the flip side, those guys with high BB% seem to be much more consistent. Hell even those outliers like Mark Reynolds or Ben Zobrist who had pretty rough years last year, still posted respectable wOBAs. They too had bad BABIP years, but that affects their total numbers much less, as they simply don’t rely solely on putting the ball in play.

Jeff is what he is. If he has a good year this year, it will be because his BABIP is unsustainably high. If he has an awful year, it will be unexpectedly low. If his BABIP is normalized (.280-.300) he will be a .270/.310/.430 type of player…which really isn’t all that great.

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