People keep asking me to eat crow for bashing the Jeff Francoeur deal when it happened, and I’m still not willing to.
I’ll admit this: Francoeur outperformed Ryan Church for the remainder of the 2009 season, so in that sense, it worked out for the Mets. But I maintain that Church — though not worth a ton — should have had more value than Francoeur when he was dealt, and if the Braves were as eager as they should have been to part ways with Francoeur, the Mets should have been able to get him for less.
Don’t try to tell me they couldn’t have used Church, injury-prone and unspectacular though he was, over the course of the last few months of the season.
As for Francoeur, yes, he did a fine job for the Mets, hitting .311 with a .338 OBP and a .498 SLG in his 308 plate appearances. And even though he barely ever walked, it’s true that — as many have pointed out — if he could sustain that type of performance over a full season he’d be worth keeping around in 2010.
The problem is, it’s not at all likely he can. Players cannot reasonably hope to maintain an OPS of .836 — Francoeur’s final Mets line — without taking pitches way more frequently than Francoeur does. That’s the issue.
I Twittered about this a couple of weeks ago, and someone responded that both Carlos Lee and Pablo Sandoval have. It’s true that neither is exactly a paragon of patience, but Lee has walked in 7.3% of his career plate appearances and Sandoval has walked in 7.1%.
Francoeur walked in 3.6% of his plate appearances with the Mets, or about half as frequently as Lee and Sandoval.
For a quick and dirty reference point, I searched baseball-reference.com’s play index for seasons in which players got at least 500 at-bats while walking 30 or fewer times and maintaining an OPS+ above 110, the Major League average for right fielders.
Only 17 guys have done it in the past 20 years, and only Andre Dawson and Dante Bichette have done it twice.
The idea is that pitchers and scouts are smart people, and will learn better than to throw you anything good to hit once you’ve proven you’ll swing at most pitches.
Of course, Francoeur wasn’t exactly facing anyone new when he switched teams in the same division, so it’s a bit puzzling that the change of scenery did seem to affect him so positively.
So maybe Francoeur really just needed to get out of Atlanta, and will somehow maintain his .300+ batting average and decent production moving forward. As a Mets fan, I really hope that happens, and I’ll gladly sit down to a nice big plate of crow if it does.
The odds are strongly against him, though, so banking on it to the tune of the rumored three-year, $15 million contract extension would be shortsighted at best.