Saturday, February 14, 2009

"Can Anyone Be This Good?"

Jeff Francoeur is heading to arbitration and seeking $3.95M, while the Braves have offered $2.8M.

Joe Posnanski has an advanced transcript, and here is an excerpt:

Francoeur's People: Only two other players in the National League have started as many games as him since he entered the league in 2005.

Arbitrator: Hmm. Who are those two?

FP: Jose Reyes and David Wright.

Arbitrator: Well, of course, I’ve heard of both of those players. This seems quite compelling to me. What do you Atlanta guys say about that?

Atlanta Braves: He sucks.

Arbitrator: I see.

I'm going to have to side with the Braves on this one. Last year, Francoeur had a 72 OPS+ as a corner outfielder. Just to frame that epic suckitude, Melky Cabrera had a 68 OPS+, but at least was able to play a somewhat competent CF.

Which made me think back to this:

The short answer to the question at the bottom: Yes, but not Jeff Francoeur.

When they wrote the article he was apparently batting in the .370's, and on the date on the cover (9/29/05) he was batting .351 with a 1.032 OPS. One good reason not to run a cover story on the guy was the fact that his OBP was only .377, meaning if his hits weren't dropping in, he wasn't getting on base. After the story ran, his production steadily dwindled until he ended the season at .300/.336/.549.

For the 2005 as a whole, Francoeur's BABIP was .337 which was still above average, but it was most likely much higher when he was tearing the cover off the ball (can't find those #'s). He actually had another BABIP of exactly .337 in 2007 but hit only. 261, meaning that he was getting lucky, but was still pretty bad. It might have been a good stat for SI to look up before devoting a cover to "Georgia's New Peach" and saying things like:

[Ed. Note: I am about to FJM an article from August, 2005 with the full benefit of hindsight. It's low-hanging fruit, I know. In exchange, feel free to make fun of me for spending my Valentine's Day writing for a sports blog.]

Although he'd played just 30 games in the majors, of course Francoeur was singing in the outfield. Why not?

Although... of course... Why not? No matter what words you fit between those three, that sentence and a half wasn't going to make sense. The fact that he had only played 30 games in the majors didn't really have anything to do with the fact that he was signing in the outfield. Maybe he was nervous, or maybe be just likes to sing. It should have, however, factored into the decision to run a cover story about how awesome he is/will be in the most read sports magazine in the country. (small sample size)

The TV highlights roll on, showcasing Francoeur's typically sublime game against the Los Angeles Dodgers the previous night. He went 2 for 5, lifting his average to .373, and hit his 10th home run, a 407-foot parabola that landed midway up the leftfield stands. He saw a total of 16 pitches, on par with his economical average of 3.34 pitches per plate appearance.

Odd, last time I checked, pitchers were the ones trying to be economical with the amount of pitches per plate appearance...

Speed, clearly, is yet another implement in the seemingly bottomless Francoeur toolbox.

A bottomless toolbox couldn't hold any tools, now could it? An unintentionally prescient statement, nice work.

Following that 10-2 win, Braves starter Tim Hudson said of Francoeur, "He's like Roy Hobbs. I'm waiting for him to come out of the bullpen and start striking guys out, throwing 98 [mph]. Or to start hitting bombs lefthanded."

He added, "I'm also waiting for that mysterious woman on the train to shoot him after he strikes out Walter "The Whammer" Whambold at a carnival, only to have him come back 15 years later and be involved in a completely unrealistic game-fixing scandal and strike out in his last at-bat."

So why the reference to The Natural, anyway?

Francoeur was born the year The Natural hit theaters...

So was I and about two million other Americans. Fucking INCREDIBLE!

Here is a short list of of players in the MLB who were born in 1984, along with a reason a similar article was not written about them:

Jose Arredondo  (Synthetic)
Elijah Dukes (Unnatural)
Scott Kazmir (Artificial)
Tim Lincecum (Supernatural)
Matt Kemp (Manufactured)
Jon Lester (Irregular)
Joakim Soria (Factitious)
B.J. Upton (Black)

The reason books--or at least baseball novels--often disappoint is that authors conjure preposterous characters and absurd situations to heighten the drama.

The reason mainstream baseball writing--or at least this article--had absolutely no chance of sounding even slightly reasonable 3 1/2 years later is that the author conjured a preposterous character and absurd situations to heighten the drama.

The kid proceeds to hit about 100 points higher in the majors than he had in Double A (a fanciful conceit), smacking homers and gunning down runners, all the while singing along to the soundtrack in his head (you've gotta be kidding!) and lifting the local nine into first place. Not even Hollywood would buy it.

No, of course not, because that would be ridiculous.

Producer: He's hitting 100 points higher in the majors than he did in Double A? What's his BABIP?

Assistant: .365, sir.

Producer: He'll be hitting .300 by the end of the season, tell them to fuck off.

But you know who did buy it? Sports Illustrated.

[He had] a 4 for 4 against the Giants five days earlier. "It was strange because that's my first four-hit game ever in pro baseball," Francoeur says. "Never had a perfect day in the minors, no 2 for 2 with two walks or anything. Because I've always been a free swinger, at some at bat during the game I'm going to get stupid and swing at a dumb pitch."

That should probably have told you something.


  1. Baseball Novels?

  2. Every single one of those is more realistic than The Natural.

  3. Frank: I hear that there is nothing better than reading a Matt Christopher book while eating a huge plate of shrimp scampi...

  4. Moscht schertainly, Joe.