Unlike the last article in these series about John Maine, I have no qualms about wishing goodbye to this player. Acquired by the Mets for Ryan Church in July of 2009, Jeff Francoeur lasted just over a year in Queens. While he actually got off to a decent start, he quickly returned to his free swinging ways, found himself as the odd man out in New York’s outfield rotation, and was traded to Texas.
Prior to joining the Mets, Frenchy hit .266/.308/.424 with the Atlanta Braves. In 2006, he clubbed a career high 29 homers and knocked in 103 runs. In addition, he developed a solid reputation on defense, posting strong, positive UZRs in the outfield with the Braves from 2005-07 (14.1, 6.8 and 20.4, respectively) while saving 45 runs during that same time period. His success however, came with a caveat: strikeouts. From 2006-8, Francoeur posted the following OBP/strikeout/walk numbers: .292/132/23, .338/129/42 and .294/111/34, respectively (consequently his WAR according to Baseball Reference in 2008 was -3.0, which was also attributed to bad defense). Atlanta had enough of his hacking away and shipped him to the Mets in 2009.
As I mentioned above, Francoeur had a solid beginning to his short Mets career. While in New York in 2009, he posted a .311/.338/.498 line with ten home runs, 11 walks and 46 strikeouts. The success carried over to the first ten games (43 plate appearances) of 2010, where Frenchy went 16 for 35 (including three long balls) with an incredible seven walks and only three strikeouts! Imagine if he continued at something resembling that pace. Unfortunately for Jeff, he turned in an 0-7 performance in the 20 inning game against the Cardinals from which he really never recovered. Francoeur finished his 2010 stint in New York with a .237/.293/.369 batting line, 11 homers, 29 walks and 76 strikeouts. His offensive woes, combined with the return of Carlos Beltran and emergence of Angel Pagan, made him expendable and Frenchy found himself traded to Texas for Joaquin Arias.
Francoeur’s weakness has always been his low OBP and high strikeout total. His career OBP is just .310, and his career strikeout to walk ratio is 3.59, well above the MLB average of 2.04. Furthermore, his career walk rate is just 4.9%; to put things in perspective, the average MLB walk rate during Jeff’s career thus far has been between 8.2% and 8.9%. What really makes Francoeur special though is how much he swings.
If Frenchy had a campaign slogan, it would be: “Swing Early, Swing Often” (I can imagine the posters and buttons). According to FanGraphs, Francoeur’s lifetime swing percentage is 58.8, and has ranged from 56.0% to 61.6% over the course of a season. During his career, the major league average for swing percentage has stayed pretty consistent: about 45% to 46%. That covers the swing often part, but Francoeur also swings early: his career first pitch strike percentage (which doesn’t always have to be swinging, but with Frechy, it usually is) is 63.1%, whereas the ML average has been between 58% and 59%. His overall swinging strike rate is 13.1%, while the ML average is usually around 8.5%.
Just in case it wasn’t clear, Francoeur swings at everything. For his career, he’s swung at 37.4% of pitches outside the strike zone (the ML average during this time has ranged from 20.3% to 29.3%). This number peaked in 2010 when Frenchy swung at a whopping 43.4% of pitches that would’ve been called a ball, suggesting that he hasn’t attempted to become more disciplined as his career has progressed. An interesting stat from 2010 is how badly he struggled against the fastball. When being thrown a heater, Francoeur was worth -1.91 runs below average per one-hundred fastballs seen, far and away the worst showing of any pitch type he saw this year.
Francoeur does not fit with new General Manager Sandy Alderson’s vision, so it seems safe to say that he would not have remained with the team had he not been traded. Sometimes I forget that Francoeur is still so young, having just turned 27 last month. In theory, that means he might be able to change his ways, although as the numbers suggest, he has only become more of a free swinger as of late. Fortunately for Jeff, he will no longer have to play in the “joke” of a ballpark that is Citi Field (I mean hey, you can strikeout anywhere) having signed a one year deal with the Kansas City Royals. For his sake, I hope he doesn’t have to do much walking around while adjusting to his new home.