Jeff Francoeur’s Offensive Struggles

After an impressive 2007 that saw much improvement in plate discipline, it seemed that Jeff Francoeur was poised to take the logical next step forward in 2008.  As of June 9, he is batting .253/.303/.415.  Atlanta fans are clearly still waiting for that step forward.  So what happened?  There’s a fine line between a flawed player and an unlucky player, and we have to look a little deeper to see which area Francoeur falls into.

Francoeur’s batting average on balls in play this year is .278, which tells us that while he can’t chalk up his struggles completely to luck, he hasn’t exactly had balls falling in either.  That naturally corrects itself, so expect Francoeur’s BA to slightly raise in the coming weeks as a result.  However, Francoeur could do things himself to help his BA, notably hitting more line drives.  His line drive rate is his lowest of the last 3 years.  If Francoeur levels his swing a little bit, he could really help his batting average.  It will probably reach .265 on its own by only the sheer probability of the situation.  Francoeur could conceivably make small adjustments to push it to .280 or so, though.

While Frenchy hasn’t taken a step forward, it’s not exactly accurate to say he’s taken a step back.  He has maintained his much-improved walk rate from 2007.  He has cut his strikeout rate to the lowest it’s ever been.  He’s more selective than at any other point in his career, seeing a personal best 3.48 pitches per plate appearance this year.  Not only is he seeing more total pitches, he’s seeing more balls.  66% of the pitches he’s seen have been strikes, a career low.  He’s more patient than ever – he’s taking more strikes than ever in his career and he has the fewest swinging strikes of his career as well.  His contact rate of 77% is a career high.

However, this improvement in pitch selection might also be the accidental root of his problems.  Frenchy is pulling the ball less than ever, and he’s hitting a pretty hefty chunk of his fly balls to dead center field, where it’s less likely to go out.  If he can pull the trigger on some fastballs a little sooner, and pull them into the left field stands, all while maintaining his improved plate discipline, I think he could finally pick things up.

The power is still there as well.  He’s hitting a home run about as often as he did last year, and he’s hitting doubles with increased frequency.  His average home run distance, courtesy of HitTracker, has only dropped 3 feet, and he’s clearing the wall on those shots with ease.

All in all, while the lack of results is troubling, there aren’t any serious warning signs in Jeff Francoeur’s peripheral stats.  Yes, it’d be nice if he improved his home run rate and walk rate, but there’s no regression to worry about.  Sometimes the game just isn’t kind to players for a month or two, and it looks like that’s the main culprit with Jeff’s meager season totals so far.  Among things that he can control, he’s not any worse than recent seasons.  In fact, he’s better in some areas.  There are things he could still do, but as fans and, in my case, faux-analysts, we have to remember that he’s only 24 and still has plenty of time to grow as a hitter before we start thinking his ceiling has been reached.  The stats show that the wheels are turning in his head, and he’s progressing in little ways every year, even if the results aren’t all evident in black and white.  Count me as still very optimistic.

Both comments and pings are currently closed.

Comments are closed.