|There's Still a Little Hope for Francoeur|
Written by Justin Zeth (Contact & Archive) on July 22, 2009
I like to imagine the conversation in the Mets' front office went something like this:
Omar Minaya: For Hal Lanier's sake, how many outfielders can fit onto one team's DL anyway? The fans want my head on a pike, ownership's breathing down my neck... people are acting like it's my fault everyone on this god-forsaken team is coming down with everything short of bubonic plague. Aarrrgh.
Not that it matters much; 2009 is a lost season for the Mets now. There are only so many games you can lose from your best players and still hope to compete. If Minaya acquired Francoeur strictly for having the stability (even if it's lousy stability) of one outfielder playing every day, he did no harm to the franchise at all for his effort. Actually, if you're cynical you might appreciate Minaya freeing up a boatload of presumably much-needed medical staff man-hours by making Ryan Church some other team trainer's problem.
Let's ask the interesting question: is there any upside left in this Francoeur character?
Yeah, actually. There's some. Not a ton, but some.
Let's say four nice things about Jeff Francoeur, shall we?
1. He shows up every day.
* Actually, Francoeur's glove is now overrated somewhat, probably because of the Ausmus Effect (if a guy obviously cannot hit at all, yet he's starting in the majors, people will assume his defense must be awesome even if it isn't.) Francoeur was an excellent glove through 2007, but his defense severely went south the same time as his offense did; plus/minus rated him #30 among right fielders next year, among the worst in the league. I don't know that he's that bad, but he's no more than average at this point. Still, that's something. He's not Carlos Lee out there.
That last one's important -- Francoeur is working on his fifth season in the major leagues, but he's only 25 years old. There's still potential for him to improve, and if he keeps hanging around he's probably going to randomly hit .310 some year in his late 20s, get 120 RBI and be commonly mistaken for a superstar. (That would be a very good time for whatever team he's on when that happens to trade him.)
But more than that, there's still some room for Francoeur to improve and become at least an average player again (as he was as recently as two years ago) and have a career. As badly as it stinks, it's not unprecedented for a young player to strike out a bazillion times before he's 25 and then figure it out well enough to become useful. For instance, Francoeur's top five statistical comparables through age 24, per baseball-reference:
1. Harold Baines
Remarkably, all of those guys were good hitters at least for a few years. Even PECOTA lists among his top comparables Glenn Braggs, who had some good years with the bat (albeit largely as a platoon guy or fourth outfielder) and Joe Adcock, who could really mash.
Of course, that was before this season began; if he finishes 2009 as weakly as he started it, I suspect his comparables lists will become populated with guys who were out of baseball before they were 30. But his record does bear some similarity to quite a few guys who did figure it out, and we should at least wait and see what he does these next two and a half months, and perhaps next season too, before we go ahead and toss him onto the scrap heap of history. He's young and healthy; in addition to those being qualities the Mets sorely need, those are the qualities to bet on in the junk drawers of the futures market.
Francoeur is very likely never going to be a star, not even if, as I alluded to, he somewhere down the line hits .310 and fools a lot of writers. Even so, there's still some potential to be a useful regular, or failing that, a useful platoon guy (he still has a career .801 OPS against lefties even now), or failing that, a useful reserve. It's not time just yet to toss him onto the scrap heap of history.