Potential Off-Season Targets: Jeff Francis

By Unknown author

With the 2011 season over, the old saying, “There’s always next season,” instantly becomes all Mets fan’s credo. But before we can think about riding the 7-train out to Flushing again, there is a whole off-season to project and pontificate about. Considering the amount of holes the Mets will have, this coming off-season holds a lot of importance.

In this new on-going series, Rising Apple will analyze potential off-season targets for the New York Mets. Today’s target at-hand is free agent starting pitcher, Jeff Francis.

Back in 2007, Jeff Francis was the Colorado Rockies ace. Granted, he wasn’t the most dominant pitcher (6.9 K/9), but the lefty did post a 4.13 xFIP, 2.63 BB/9, 2.62 K/BB, and a 4.1 WAR. Francis and his 17 wins helped propel the Wild Card Rockies all the way to the World Series. There were high expectations for both the Rockies and Francis in 2008, but both floundered. The southpaw regressed to a 4.50 xFIP, 3.1 BB/9, 1.92 K/BB, and 1.6 WAR. In addition, despite averaging 199 innings from 2005 to 2007, Francis only lasted 143.6 innings in 2008.

The left-hander’s season was cut short due to shoulder soreness, which he later claimed bothered him throughout the entire season. Despite cutting 2008 short and resting his shoulder, Francis underwent arthroscopic surgery (on his pitching shoulder), forcing him to miss all of 2009, April 2010, and a month between August and September (due to soreness). While Francis only lasted 104.3 innings in 2010, he hurled a promising 3.79 xFIP (versus a 5.00 ERA), 1.8 BB/9, 2.91 K/BB, and 2.0 WAR.

With almost a full-season under his belt, Francis jetted from the Rockies, and signed a $2 million, one-year deal with the Kansas City Royals. The left-handed pitcher, at age 30, was no longer the young “ace” he was for the Rockies back in 2007, but was instead a veteran presence in a rotation filled with recent Minor Leaguers. Francis continued his rock solid control (1.9 BB/9), but his strikeouts dropped even further (from 6.9 K/9 in 2007, to 5.9 K/9 in 2008, to 5.8 K/9 to 2010, to 4.5 K/9 in 2011), and his average fastball velocity dropped about 3 MPH (from 87.2 MPH to 84.7 MPH). In addition, of his three pitches (fastball, curveball, and change-up), only his curveball was worth in the positive column for RAA (1.9). In fact, his fastball was worth -18.2 RAA–which was third worst in the American League.

But then again, no one really expected Jeff Francis to dominant the American League or emerge as a top-of-the-rotation starting pitcher. As a pure control artist, Francis did his job. He pitched 183 innings of 4.29 xFIP baseball, with a good 47.1% GB%, and posted a 2.6 WAR (calculating to an $11.5 million season). Now two seasons removed from surgery, there’s a chance Francis will be even stronger and more reliable than he was in 2011. Yet given his injury history and lack of dazzling surface statistics, Francis should still come cheap. If the Mets decide to non-tender Mike Pelfrey and Chris Capuano commands a grander contract than he’s worth, Jeff Francis might be a good fit and a likely off-season target.