Good Riddance: a postmortem for the 2008 Atlanta Braves (part IV: The Ugly)

The sheer badness of Jeff Francoeur 2008 cannot be shown in the statistics. Oh, the statistics are bad, very bad. He hit .239, 25 points below the league; got on base at a .294 clip, 41 points below the league; and slugged a big fat .359, 62 points below the league. Remember, this includes not only middle infielders, catchers, and Hamsters, but also pitchers. Only five players in the entire National League made more outs than Francoeur, and most of them were top of the order hitters, and centerfielders or middle infielders.

But that doesn’t tell the whole story. To really appreciate how bad Jeff Francoeur was in 2008, you had to see him. For me, the definitive Francoeur PA would not be a one-out, bases-loaded GIDP (he grounded into five bases-loaded double plays on his way to putting up a .182/.206/.242 line with the sacks full) or a one-out, runner at third popup, or a first-pitch out after two consecutive walks, though you could see all of these without waiting too long. The definitive Francoeur PA was when he would make solid contact on fastball with a vicious uppercut swing… and the left fielder would run in to make the play. The man’s bat speed has deteriorated to the point that even if he anticipates a pitch and makes contact, he isn’t generating enough velocity to do anything with it.

The entire 2008 Jeff Francoeur Experience can be defined with one word, and that word is “slowness”. His bat was slow, but that was more than matched by his feet. It was unbelieveable, watching him in the outfield, to think that he was recruited to play defensive back for a major college football team, or even Clemson. At times, particularly when chasing balls into the gap, he looked like he was running in molasses.

“Slowness” also defines the Braves’ treatment of Francoeur — and I mean slowness in all its meanings, as they both took far too long to address the problem, and then handled it incredibly stupidly. The only quick thing about Francoeur all year was how quickly the Braves backtracked once they’d finally done what was vitally necessary to keep the team in contention. The absurd three-day demotion gave the impression that whoever was running the show in Atlanta, it wasn’t the general manager, and that possibly it was actually a sponsor. Francoeur’s very serious problems could not possibly be addressed in a long weekend, especially since he refused to acknowledge that he was hurting the team.

The single biggest reason that the Braves did not win an eminently winnable division was the play of their right fielder. No one player can lose twenty games for a team, but Francoeur’s poor play probably had a greater effect on the ballclub than his mere three or so games below replacement, or his 6-9 games below average. When the Braves were in contention, they were kept out of first place by their miserable record in one-run games; if they had gotten anything from right field, things would almost certainly have been different. Moreover, the largest single systemic weakness in the Braves of the first half was a lack of righthanded power, and the reason for that is that the man employed to be the team’s righthanded power hitter — who at the beginning of the season routinely hit fifth against lefthanded pitchers — was a complete waste of space and hit eleven homers all year. The Braves hit .282/.364/.438 lefthanded , but only .256/.323/.373 righthanded; Francoeur accounted for 23 percent of their righthanded plate appearances.

I am generally opposed to selling low; however, there is such a thing as minimizing your losses. There are those who think that Jeff Francoeur is a talented player who had a bad year. I am not one of those people. I use statistics a lot, sometimes seemingly to a fault. You can’t possibly know enough from observation to make informed decisions about everything that goes on on a baseball field. But if you watch one player enough, you can tell when that player is done. Jeff Francoeur is done. He plays baseball like a 45-year-old man who maybe was pretty good in his early thirties. Even if he somehow, through an unprecedented educational program, figured out where the strike zone is and how to recognize the difference between fastballs and breaking balls, he lacks the ability now to take advantage.

All that Jeff Francoeur has going for him is his reputation as a talented athlete. That is it. Eventually, everyone will realize that his athleticism is shot, and there’s no call for a slow guy with a slow bat to play the outfield. To be perfectly honest, the only chance I see of Francoeur ever becoming a useful major leaguer again is if the Braves get rid of him, he signs on elsewhere as a minor leaguer, and he learns how to pitch.

46 thoughts on “Good Riddance: a postmortem for the 2008 Atlanta Braves (part IV: The Ugly)”

  1. I can’t disagree with any of that, although considering Jeff’s difficulty hitting his targets throwing from the outfield I don’t see much chance of him becoming a useful pitcher.

    What happened to part III btw?

  2. Part III (The Bad, which has to come before The Ugly) is in abeyance because I’m waiting for my copy of the new Sabermetric Encyclopedia to be delivered. I need to find out how certain players fit historically, and worst lists are a lot harder to find than best lists.

  3. I guess the question is: Is his athleticism really shot or is there some kind of fixable injury that sapped his power and caused him to play the outfield like a mid-40s father of four?

    Obviously if it’s an injury problem that could be overcome, well, then we could have the regular-sucky version of Francouer back instead of the super-sucky version. That would really help next season’s drive for third place.

  4. I agree with most of what was written, but I don’t think that Francouer is done. I don’t think he’ll ever be close to an elite player, but I think he’ll return to his 2007 level – which is probably enough to keep him from absolutely killing us again until we can get some value in a trade for him. This is not necessarily what I want us to do, but this is what I think we’ll do.

    IMO Francouer will take coaching and will work hard in the offseason. He worked hard this past offseason – only it was a workout and eating regimen designed for an offensive lineman. My guess is that he’ll do everything possible to improve bat speed and will lose weight down to his 2007 level. Again, I think he’ll see limited success.

  5. I agree 100% that Francouer hurt the team even beyond any quantifiable measure. It was almost comical how often he came up in key situations only to screw the pooch time and time again. The really, really bad thing is that the team was letting him play through because they expect him to get “back to normal”…”Yeah guys, once we can get Frenchy back to OBP’ing .328 we’ll made made in the shade!” I wish the Braves would hire a statistical analyst…or at least pony up for subscriptions to BP and Bill James Online.

    The point made above about letting him gain some value back is a viable one. I’d like to see someone else in RF but it’s probably going to play out that way, for better or worse.

  6. Part of the problems is hitting requires an ability unique to baseball player athletes: pitch recognition. Francoeur has no ability to recognize pitches or his strike zone, at least not quickly enough to do anything about it. A slow bat only exacerbates that problem, as it requires him to be even quicker in his recognition. He fiercely needs the minor leagues.

  7. At risk of ridicule, I’ll openly admit that I’m still a fan of Jeff’s.

    This year was obviously ridiculously bad and there’s really no excuse or explanation for it. The only thing that I can bring up in conjecture is that if baseball really is mostly mental as is the old adage, I can only hypothesize that this was indeed the problem with him. As to the factors, again, I can only guess. Maybe it is some side effect of his recent marriage, perhaps his previous success has really gotten to his head.

    Whatever the case, the 2008 campaign is one that should be the most humbling experience for him. I say send him back down to Mississippi for the first month or two after spring training. He needs to know his place, because he at this point obviously does not.

    I still hold that within all the recently acquired arrogance is an extremely gifted ballplayer. It’s just going to take some serious discipline to bring that guy back out.

  8. THey brought him up too quick and he is a victim of his own success. He couldnt catch up to a big fastball ever, only if he could guess it was coming. When pitchers figured out they could thorw high fastballs by him and puch him out with curve balls and sliders, he was done and has never adjusted.

    I always thought Javy Lopez had a “slidder speed bat” too, but he was smart enough to be a guess hitter and eventually his bat got so slow he was done. Francoeur isn’t smart enough to be a guess hitter and his athletisism can’t help him now.

    I say he gets sent down in June next year and we don’t see him until September and we move him the following winter. So sad.

  9. Francoeur is horrible, beyond horrible. His chances of being even a league average RF are about the same as Albie Lopez’s of one day being in the HOF. There are so many instances this year where had an opportunity to put the Braves in a postion to win a game and failed beyond miserably, I cannot begin to count them. Package him with whoever you need to and pawn him off for a Peavy, Greinke, Cain a la Andy Marte. Hell for a Kyle Davies (who looked really good at the end of the year and had a 2008 ERA 4.06)

    Get him out. Now.

  10. Josh,

    I am also aware that JC ran his PrOPS on Francoeur in mid season and had a significant underpeformance that ordinarily would be ascribed to luck.

    However, my eyes did not deceive me. If the “classifiers” who classified Francoeur’s line drives would count how many of them were caught (many by infielders) and which “line drives” didn’t appear ot be hit hard and do the same thing on 3 or 4 other MLB players, then the “classifiers” would understand that the line drives were not the same.

    I do believe the mobility problem in right field was partly the bad ankle and partly the weight. Late in the year he looked better. I think those conditions also affected his throwing a little negatively.

    So, going forward, Francoeur has the potential to rebound to 2007 Francoeur. He might have an 850 OPS year. He also might have another near 600.

    Francoeur needs to start in the minors next year. Barring that, he needs to be a part time player.

    We are so snake bit right now, that the best way for him to get better is to be traded.

  11. Mac,

    I however have a bone to pick. If Francoeur was the only UGLY for the year, this team could not have been this UGLY. I know some of these may go in your BAD, but here goes.

    Bobby’s overuse of bunts that weren’t successful.

    Most Braves players attempts to steal bases.

    Escobar’s whining at the umpires.

    Blanco’s arm in center field (or in left field, for that matter).

    Brandon Jones’ arm.

    Matt Diaz’ hitting against right handers and his crash into the wall.

    Texeira’s batting for the first 40 games or so.

    Chipper’s ability to hurt himself running to first. Really, shouldn’t a major leaguer’s conditioning at least cut that stuff down some?

    McCann’s throwing to try to get base stealers.

    Everything about Corky (hitting, catching, throwing, his looks.)

    The lack of announced appearances of Jamie Kotsay. Just think how much ugliness she could have overcome or covered over.

    Bobby’s use of Boyer and Ohman and Bennett (and Moylan and Soriano last year). Is it his object to destroy his bullpen? He couldn’t have done better if he tried with a hammer (at least then they could outrun him. Well, all except Wickman last year, but maybe he needed to be hammered.)

    Norton’s playing the field. Overall though, he seems like a good guy and hits well and plays hard. He just really is a stretch in the field playing “on deck circle”.

    If there is one small spec of ugliness in a beautiful universe, it only helps to magnify the beauty. If ugliness permeates the landscape and oozes from the cracks it overcomes any slight glowing star in the distance.

  12. I’m afraid I share the addition-by-subtraction approach to Frenchy. I’m not going to jump up and down about it, but I don’t see how he’s going to make us a better ballclub in the near or distant future.

    The idea that he “improves” and next year’s performance will be, say, somewhere between “his best” and “his worst” doesn’t inspire confidence. He’s always been a flawed player, but one (IMO) who did just enough to justify his continued presence in the lineup.

    Not anymore. We needed improvement this year—keep his power but add a better idea of what he’s doing at the plate. Instead, he regressed and now we see a career circling the drain in alarmingly swift fashion.

    Plus, I must confess, I’m just tired of him. Tired of seeing him fail, tired of discussing him. The drama of it all just bores me. (I mean, it’s not like he’s A-Rod or something.)

    So, I say, let’s just chalk him up as our Joe Charboneau. Sadly, I say, we cut bait.

  13. Unless he can be used to land a top pitcher I’d keep him.

    We can only fill so many holes with good players in one winter. If we wait until mid 2010 we should have Heyward almost ready anyway.

  14. yeah, yeah, yeah………..its nice to have a convinient(obvious) scapegoat but i really doubt this team could have won with a 1960ish Henry Aaron in RF. that team didnt win either .

  15. here’s hoping he improves to slightly below average……………’cause he’s not going anywhere.

  16. Mac,

    Who do you think would be the best historical comparison to Francouer?

    I mean his skills(which ones he had)literally just eroded in the blink of an eye.

  17. Ben Grieve comes to mind (and is on Francoeur’s comp list). He had a different skill set — he was always slow, and walked a lot — but he was also a corner outfielder whose power and batting average disappeared at an early age. He was more valuable than Francoeur after that because he could still walk, though. Steve Kemp was similar, though he didn’t fall off a cliff until he was 27. Most of the guys like this are players with old-players skills, which is another reason why Francoeur is unusual.

  18. Ellis Valentine might be a good match, too. He had an even better arm than Francoeur, an All-Star at 22, a complete bust at 26. He bounced back a little but was out of baseball at 30. But Francoeur was only 24 this year…

  19. Teams’ll be wary of his 500 IP in the past 2 years, but he’ll still make out like a bandit.

    Dodgers/Red Sox World Series?

  20. Ah baseball…where being the best during the regular season means absolutely nothing. Here’s to a 84 win champion.

    I think we could get lower though. Add two teams, go to eight four-team divisions. I think we could get a champion in the 70s win range.

  21. One thing that I noticed from watching Jeffy over his career is that pitchers were really slow to figure out his holes. I remember seeing Odalis Perez try to sneak a 0-2 high change-up in for a strike. Jeffy deposited it in the Dodger Stadium bleachers. And it happened several times. Pitchers (or advance scouts) were just slow to catch on, and I find this odd because I can see Jeffy’s holes just from looking at his stance.

    At first, no one realized that he’d swing at anything. By the end of the first full season, pitchers went low and away on him. He at least learned to restrain from swinging at these pitches somewhat before the second big hole was discovered, high and inside. It was exploited some last year, but really came to light this year. And then once teams noticed he’d swing at anything high and fast, it was all over. If you have three holes, you can’t be a good hitter.

    I don’t think he’s done, but he’s probably best suited to be Ryan Langerhans’s platoon partner.

  22. Gee Mac, Francouer’s struggles were a bigger factor to this lousy season than losing Smoltz, Glavine, Hudson, Moylan, Soriano and for all intents and purposes James to injury? Did I miss anyone?

    I agree with Ububba. I am soooo tired of the Francouer discourse. It is time for him to leave. I simply could not stomach another season with him ‘playing’ right field. It is interesting. The Braves have never been afraid to cut bait on players that couldn’t play yet they all the signals from the press indicate they still want him. I simply don’t get it.

    Grieve,Valentine,Charbanoneau? Not the list of comparables that I would want to be associated with.

  23. “to think that he was recruited to play defensive back for a major college football team, or even Clemson.”

    Ah, Mac – even with bitter criticism, you still find space for the well timed, humorous jab.

  24. Want a comparable sudden loss of capabilities? What about Andruw? Maybe Jeff caught whatever he had.

  25. But don’t you realize that Jeffy had a great September and is primed for a comback next year? :)

    There is obviously no one single factor in losing but I agree with Mac that Frenchy was the single biggest factor. Having a historically bad season from a corner outfielder can’t help but be a major factor. Clearly, the pitching injuries would likely have killed the team anyway but they certainly could have done better than 72-90 if Frenchy was even a average hitter with the bases loaded.

    I agree with Robert again. The baseball playoffs now officially suck; let’s forget about the first five months and just play September and see who gets hot. I would like to see them get rid of this stupid three division set up that almost always produces a weak division champion or wild card team that gets hot at the right time. The Dodgers aren’t the same team they were in June but the first part of the year ought to count as well. And, so far, we are getting a repeat of last year’s playoffs with few competitive series.

  26. lol wut?

    Quote:

    Still, he is keeping Smoltz (recovering from shoulder surgery at 41), Glavine (a free agent recovering from elbow and shoulder surgeries at 42), Hampton (always recovering from something) and Hudson in the mix until their arms show signs of snapping from their bodies.

    I like the bit about Hampton always recovering from something, but “…until their arms show signs of snapping from their bodies”? How many signs does it take?

  27. And a belated thanks to everyone for the college football recs a while back. Unfortunately, I’m about to spend most of October in Korea and Okinawa (as opposed to Tokyo), so I don’t know how much I’ll be able to watch.

    I honestly think that I’ll be pulling for Vandy this weekend, though, which is funny since I was an Auburn fan growing up. Cheers to Stu and other Vandy guy (whose name I forget at the moment–my apologies).

    b

  28. Not sure where that source got his information, but that is not what Wren said this morning on the radio. Basically, he is not counting on any of those pitchers, but would not rule out bringing any of them back if they are healthy.

  29. Yeah, what Wren plans to do is put together a rotation of 5 healthy pitchers then if he can also afford to sign Smoltz, Glavine, or Hampton (assuming the first two will be healthy and want to keep pitching), he’ll do that as extra depth. That means a rotation of

    Jurrjens
    Campillo
    Morton/Reyes/James
    New pitcher
    New pitcher

  30. I’ve kinda come around on the notion of signing Derek Lowe. He’s a ground baller, and Escobar is one of the best in the league at picking it. Kotchman’s a plus defensively, as well, and I’m not convinced we’re going to have a serviceable CF out there until Scafer gets the call, so a fly ball guy might be a bad plan. If we can get him for 3/45, I say do it.

    ETA: Frenchy sucks, and if he hadn’t sucked as much, we’d have won 80 games, maybe more depending on what we did with Tex.

  31. The outfield just needs to go away. I’m comfortable with Anderson in CF, but we need new blood on the coners. I dont know that I would give Frency another shot at the RF starting job…..

  32. Kevin Goldstein has a new stat up at Baseball Prospectus.

    Missed bat number. K-H-BB.

    No major league pitcher had a positive number this year, but 11 minor leaguers did, with Tommy Hanson getting 2nd place.

    Sadly, 3rd was Neftali Feliz.

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