Talk baseball all season long with SI.com's Jacob Luft in Baseball Chatter, a journal for hot topic debates, Sabermetric ramblings and reader-driven discussions.
5/03/2006 12:32:00 AM
Here's an idea: Don't swing!
Scott Cunningham/Getty Images
One year ago today, the Jose Reyes Watch was on. Fans were taunting him. Teammates were ribbing him. Why? Because more than a month into the season, the young Mets shortstop had yet to draw a single walk. Reyes finally took a free pass on May 3, 119 plate appearances into the season.
Reyes must have learned his lesson well, because he got the first walk thing out of the way in the Mets' second game of the season. Instead, we have three other hackers who have stepped up to fill the free-swinging void: Atlanta's Jeff Francoeur (108 plate appearances, zero walks), Texas' Kevin Mench (93) and Minnesota's Rondell White (97). Oakland's Jay Payton just took himself off this list by walking against the Angels yesterday, his 78th plate appearance.
I'm not saying drawing a walk in a major league game is easy. I can say with a fair amount of certainty that it is something I will never accomplish, and I'm sure that's the case for most of you as well. But how tough can it be for an everyday major leaguer? Consider that there are 28 pitchers who have walked already this season; St. Louis' Mark Mulder has three. Washington's Alfonso Soriano, who would swing at a household appliance if it were pitched to him, has taken his base eight times this season. Even Reyes is putting these guys to shame -- his 12 walks are nearly halfway to his total of 27 for all of 2005.
Of the three walkless regulars remaining, the one I'm least concerned about is Mench. He may not have his walking boots on, but we all know by now that he is wearing his hitting shoes. Mench is batting .325 with seven home runs. That batting average will come down (he's a career .275 hitter) but the walks will pick up; he walked 50 times last season.
As for White, he's never cared much for plate discipline. His career high is 41 walks, and that was in 1995. He's hitting the ball hard -- his line-drive percentage is 21.3, according to The Hardball Times -- and his Batting Average on Balls In Play (BA/BIP) of .178 has to rise. But, at 34, it's fair to say White is closer to the end of his career than his beginning. He'll break out of this slump, but probably not to a great degree.
The really interesting case here is Francoeur. As our own John Donovannoted recently, the kid has the right attitude to get out of this slump, but is his lack of patience going to short circuit his rise to stardom? Francoeur has a similar problem to White -- he's putting the ball in play a lot but getting nothing out of it. Frenchy's BA/BIP is .225. Some of that is simply bad luck. Some of it is his newfound penchant for hitting a ton of ground balls. His ground ball rate is up from 43.4 percent last year to 58.8 percent in 2006. He ranks eighth in the NL in highest ground ball percentage. Among the seven players ahead of him, only Ryan Howard can be considered a reliable power hitter, and he is off to a relatively slow start (five homers) as well.
Francoeur is batting .333 on the first pitch, and almost useless once he falls behind in the count. Should the Braves send him down to the minors? This is the most cogent take I've seen on Frenchy's problems and I tend to agree that he should stay in the majors to work out of his slump. If he really is The Natural, then we'll be seeing his true talent level soon enough.
Why does everyone always wonder about young players like Francoeur? It is common knowledge that rookies and second-year players have a bigger strike then a guy like Jeter or Ramirez might. Rather than be naive about it Francoeur is playing the hand he is dealt. Should he work on not chasing terrible pitches? Of course, but don't think he should be laying off the close pitches becuase he isn't established enough to get the benefit of the doubt.
I think Francoeur is over his head right now. The Braves should have let him gain experience in the minors. This organization is going to ruin this guy just like the Royals have with many of their young pitchers. Please send him back to the minors to learn the art of hitting and taking pitches.
I wouldn't say Francoeur needs to go back to the minors. That's absurd. Let's keep in mind, he is putting the bat on the ball a lot, watching him I can't count how many times already that I've seen him hit some screamers...they just happen to be screamers right at a fielder.
And he has been robbed a few times too.
Does he need to learn a little more patience? Sure, but that comes with time. But to be honest, as a Braves fan, I'm not complaining because he's saving as many runs with his defense, as he isn't putting on the scoreboard. A little time and that'll change too.
Look, regarding Francoeur, I think they are making a big mistake by keeping him here. Just look at the Royals. I have followed both teams very closely and to me this kid will loose his confidence and will end like Ankiel of the Cardinals. This kid is getting ruined by the Braves in front of our eyes. Let hime learn it the minors and it is going to make him a better hitter. Right now, he is just swingng at everything and hoping that the ball will hit his bat.
How come everybody keeps saying everything is going to be alright for Francoeur??? I Remember a young stud up here in the great white north who could do NO wrong and won the rookie of the year award. next season the struggles began. However we were told not to worry because he was a great young kid with so much talent. Yeah right. Sounds like the same thing to me. Maybe he is the next Eric Hinskie?
I think everyone should try to keep in mind it is still quite early in the season. As previously mentioned, Jose Reyes took quite awhile to pick up his first walk, but ended up with 27 for the season (better than some other players). Keep in mind, Reyes also ended with a respectable .273 average to go with his 60 stolen bases. I am confused as to why so many people believe the best environment to learn is the minors. While this is true for most players, ones suc as Francoeur would truly benefit from being around the Jones' in Atlanta and facing major league pitchers while working with major league batting coaches. Remember when Jason Giambi was not hitting and everyone thought he was finished? The Yankees wanted him to accept an assignment in the minors to work out his difficulties. What did he do? He chose to stay with the team and work with Don Matting, the batting coach, to correct the issues. Now look at what he has done and continues to do. Overall, give him some time. Francoeur shot out to a hotter than hot start for his 70 games last season. He has already been pegged as "The Natural." How about relieving some of the pressure and let him work through the rough spots.
Francoeur will be fine. What I'm wondering about is the "Ryan Howard can be considered a reliable power hitter, and he is off to a relatively slow start (five homers) as well."
What? Excuse me?
Before this year, Howard had 351 at bats and 24 home runs. Yeah, he's got a lot of power, and he SHOULD be good, but this is his first full year--he's not exactly reliable yet. Plus, five homers a month gives you thirty for the season. That's pretty good for a guy in his first full year.
Before we condemn Francoeur to AAA ball, hitting isn't the only part of his game. He has a great arm and is a solid defender with good speed. From everything I have read he also seems like a great guy to have around the clubhouse. He is also hitting higher than Adam LaRoche and until last night Marcus Giles, so its not like he's the only weak link in the lineup.
Why is patience such an incredible thing? Nick Johnson's incredible eye hasn't helped his bat live up to the potential people kept talking about when he came up. I think that young players with great eyes can easily become too passive at the plate and hurt themselves in the long run. Let Franco hack his way out. It'll pay off in 5 years when he has matured, and matches plate discpline with aggressiveness.
Francoeur has been in this swinging for the fences funk since last September....hitting .169 with 3 walks over 200 plate apperances. The kid had a great debut when he was first called up but to much pressure has been put on him..The Natural, The Franchise,The second coiming of Dale Murthy...Please this Kids a .265avg 20hr 70 rbi player and yes a good arm...at best! He needs to be sent down on the first train, get disipline and focus and then may be he will be a average player..at the monent he is close to pulling a Jimmy Perciel in front of his fans...remember Cipper had him on suicide watch!
Last year at this time, there was a Braves outfielder who couldn't hit his way out of a paper bag. Cox left him in every day and he eventually hit his way out. I'm not saying that Francoeur will hit 51 homers and drive in 128 like Andruw Jones did for us last year, but if his 4 hit, 5 rbi performance last Sunday was any indicator, Francoeur will be fine in the majors. Go Braves!
First of all, if you don't follow most braves games then you would not know how great Francoeur is. For those of us who do... Yes, he is going through an offensive slump right now, but most ball players do. Also, he is an incredible defensive player and has an amazing arm. We've seen how well he can hit, so I'm sure he will get back into his groove. It's not his style to just sit at the plate and not swing, we saw that last year(and everyone was praising him for being a hacker). Also, Francoeur is obviously incredibly comfortable with the Braves and he has broughten Atlanta Fans to the games. I mean he turned down a Clemson football scholarship to play with the braves, and I think all braves fans are rooting for him. It is the best decision for Francoeur to stay under Bobby's instruction and learn from Andruw and Chippers lead. I predict he'll do great.
They don't need to send him down, he reminds me of a young Andruw Jones, always swinging no matter where the pitch. It would be a mistake to send him down bc before he was called up last year he had hit 15 HR's midway through the season and he's been in the minors for about 3 years already. Terry Pendelton needs to teach to be more patient like he did with AJ and they'll get more production from him. This just seems like a back slash bc he came out blazing when he was called up last year.
I recall reading during Spring Training that he was trying to add this to his game:
"I'm forcing [pitchers] to throw strikes -- when you do that, it makes baseball a lot easier," Francoeur said.
He only walked twice in 31 PA in March so it's obviously still a work in progress. Another thing that occurs to me is that he may have tried to do too much while 3/4 of the Braves' infield was out for a week or two there. I also recall him responding to a reporter about a impressive projection a statcruncher had published for his 2006 numbers with something like "yeah... I think I can reach that".
All this and the "Natural" sign around his neck says to me the guy has had a bit much heaped onto him. It's hard enough learning plate discipline when nobody's looking, but when people are expecting Babe Ruth to emerge fully-formed from the head of Zeus, it must make it all the more difficult to lay back and wait for one.
So, I think the prescription is for *us* to completely forget about the boy for about a month. Maybe two. Let him develop in peace. He's what, 22?
Now, how about that Brian McCann? Sure looks like the next Johnny Bench to me... Oops, sorry. :)
I just did some calculations based on some peripheral #s, specifically Francouer's (abnormally low) BA on balls in play and his (league average) line drive percentage. These say that with "luck" (mostly, "atom balls") taken out of the picture, he would be hitting .260. In other words, if he were hitting balls right "atom" exactly as often as the average player who hits as many line drives as he has, that's what his batting average would be. If his BA showed up as .260 I'm betting his lack of walks would not be as much of a headline.
He still needs to learn to be more selective - if only because walks are an additional weapon a team uses to score runs (unless you're the Cubs). But he's not hitting appreciably differently than the NL as a whole.
All the more reason to simply leave the boy in RF for the parent club, and talk about that Cooperstown-bound Brian McCann. I wonder if he's ever been to Binger, Oklahoma?