Jeff Francoeur: How do you like him now?

Posted on May 16, 2010 by

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Back on April 16th, the headline that accompanied David Lennon’s piece in Newsday read, “Francoeur to Moneyball Gurus: How ya like me now?” Jeff Francoeur was great the first 10 days of the season but since then he has been horrible. And when I say horrible, I do not mean average, run of the mill Francoeur horrible. I mean new levels of horrible.

From April 17th until today, Francoeur has a .126/.173/.189 line in 27 games covering 104 PA. Despite the promise of the opening 10 games of the year, Francoeur has 3 BB and 23 SO in this time frame. Yes, he has been unlucky on his balls in play, but even factoring that in – this is one truly horrible line over an extended period of at-bats.

Let’s be fair to Francoeur. Instead of eliminating his hot streak to start the season, let us look at his numbers for the entire year. He has a .215/.279/.369 line in 147 PA for an OPS+ of 72. We know that is bad, but I do not think we know exactly how bad that line really is. To put it in proper perspective, here are some other lines from 2010:

Luis Castillo – .267/.358/.314 OPS+ 82
Fernando Tatis – .222/.282/.389 OPS+ 78
Mike Jacobs – .208/.296/.375 OPS+ 78

Yes, Francoeur has been worse this year than Jacobs, who was justifiably released for his miserable performance. Just for fun, say that again – Francoeur has been worse than Jacobs. And the Mets are paying $5 million this year so that Francoeur can be worse than a guy they released.

Luckily for Francoeur, we do not have to look far in Mets history to find a worse line of production. Last year from May 11th to June 19th, Daniel Murphy put up a .204/.272/.290 line in 182 PA. Of course, Murphy was in his first full season in the majors and had to adjust to moving to first base for the first time in his professional career all while dealing with the pressure of producing while double-digit numbers of players were on the disabled list.

Murphy rebounded to go .294/.321/.504 over his final 266 PA. I think every Mets fan would be thrilled if Francoeur could deliver a .210 ISO over his next 266 PA. Of course we would also be thrilled if he was put on the bench or platooned with Chris Carter. Francoeur does have a .333/.375/.400 line this year against LHP, albeit in 32 PA.

Francoeur kept getting chances in Atlanta because he was the local boy who made good. But there is no such romantic storyline here in New York. By all accounts, Francoeur is a great guy. I believe that is worth something for a team. But there is no way that being a great guy is worth the level of ineptitude Francoeur has produced at the plate this year. Let him be a great guy who sits on the bench and keeps teammates loose.

Everyone is familiar with the concept of a replacement level player. Dave Cameron over at FanGraphs explained replacement level as:

“(P)roduction that a team could expect from players not projected to be good enough to make a major league roster next year. These guys have fallen into that Four-A category, where they show more ability than your average Triple-A veteran but not enough to hold down a major league job. They’re usually available every winter as minor league free agents, via the Rule 5 draft, or as cheap trade acquisitions where a team can acquire one of these players without giving up any real talent in return.”

To state it in numerical terms, a replacement level player is 20 runs below average over 600 ABs. With 10 runs equaling a win, a replacement level player is two wins worse than a league-average player over that time frame.

So far this season, when you look at the sum total of what Francoeur has given on offense, defense, playing time and position adjustment – he has been 0.1 Wins Above Replacement. This early in the season, no one has racked up a huge WAR. Among right fielders, Magglio Ordonez has the best mark with a 1.6 WAR. However, Francoeur ranks 25th among 28 qualified right fielders in WAR this year.

And what little value Francoeur has given has come on the defensive side of things. If you watched his wild throws in Saturday’s loss to the Marlins, you could be excused for thinking his defensive reputation was overblown. But UZR, never confused as a Francoeur fan, has him 1.6 runs above average, which is the ninth-best mark among right fielders.

But the Mets could have played Carter in right field and essentially been just as well off as they have been with Francoeur. And that is assuming that Carter is no better than replacement level, a point with which I do not agree.

At this point, the Francoeur contract for 2010 should be irrelevant. Like the Castillo deal, it is not big enough to cripple the team. The Mets should simply be concerned about putting the best lineup on the field. Now that the bench includes an outfielder better than Frank Catalanotto or Gary Matthews Jr. the best lineup for the Mets does not include Francoeur.

Francoeur should be platooned with Carter until Carlos Beltran is healthy enough to come back. Then Angel Pagan should become the everyday right fielder and Francoeur should take up a permanent spot on the bench, to be used as a pinch-runner or as part of a double switch or in pinch-hitting roles against lefties. And after the season he should be released. Unless the Mets want to pay an excessive amount for a bench player.

I am not sure how the “Moneyball gurus” feel, but Francoeur is not good enough to be a starter in the majors. A hot 10 games at the start of the season may have been enough to fool the headline writers at Newsday but Francoeur could not fool major league pitchers for very long. They continue to get him out on a consistent basis, something they have been doing since 2006.

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Posted in: Perspectives