RH Hitting, RH Throwing Outfielder
Braves Seasons: 2005-2009
.266/.308/.424, 78 HR, 359 RBI, 310 RS, 89 OPS+
Okay — I wrote this sucker up, might as well put it up.
As I said, in a 2007 update to the 44, Mac opined that if he redid the list, Jeff Francoeur would likely have to fall in in the thirties somewhere. I was surprised at the relatively high ranking, as Jeffy was easily Mac’s favorite punching bag. Mac did say that ranking was IF Francoeur had a decent 2008. And in 2008, Jeff’s OPS fell to .653 and the Braves in desperation sent him in midseason down to Mississippi to relearn to hit, where he didn’t. I left him off, but he didn’t miss by much.
I recall a Baseball Abstract in the early years in which Bill James was noodling a stat that would reflect a player’s intelligence. The concept was to cherrypick certain random stats that James thought reflected IQ. One of them I believe was basestealing success, the notion being that smart guys know when to go and when not to. Another was showing year to year improvement at the plate, and I think one was walk-to-strikeout ratio (having a good idea of the strike zone equaling brains or some such theory). It was just a rough draft, and I don’t remember much more, other than Ozzie Smith scored high. I don’t think Jeff Francoeur would.
Francoeur was one of those high school Golden Boy athletes, excelling in everything he put his hand to. He played both baseball and football in high school in Gwinnett County at Parkview High (Go Panthers!), winning everything in sight and being named All-Everything. He had football offers from Notre Dame and others, but chose Clemson, due to his childhood dream of gelding hogs. (I may have made up part of that last sentence.) However, the Braves took him in the first round of the 2002 draft at No. 23, and he postponed a promising career in tractor maintenance to play professional baseball. In 2005, he made his professional debut at the age of 21. He hit .300 in a half season and finished third for Rookie of the Year.
But Jeff’s promising career sort of fizzled. His OPS marched slowly southward, and he finished his Braves career at a disappointing OPS+ of 89. Part of the reason I thought he struggled at the plate was just a failure to adapt to higher levels of play. This was a guy who had been able to dominate everyone he faced in high school by just showing up and using his natural athletic ability. The game was simple for him: swing at the ball and watch it leave the park. When he got to the bigs, he seemed baffled that that non-strategy – just pick up the bat and do it – wasn’t succeeding anymore. He never saw a pitch that he didn’t think he could hit out of the park, and he swung at most. And he seemed unable or unwilling to change/improve/learn/listen to coaches. He was finally traded to the Mets, as a sort of Trojan Horse perhaps, for Ryan Church in the summer of 2009. There he mysteriously started to hit. He also tipped a Mets clubhouse attendant $50,000 when he left NY at the end of the 2010 season. That’s a lot of shoeshines.
The cobweb of years have perhaps made us forget, but Francoeur was an excellent defensive right fielder for us. In 2005, in 67 games, he led the league in outfield assists (13). He again led the league in 2007 with 19 – that’s a lot of assists. (He posted the same number for the Royals in 2012.) He’s actually the active leader in career OF assists with 124. (I have a theory about outfield assists that I actually like a lot. To wit, elevated outfield assists are largely a function of opponents underestimating a player’s arm and/or range. So a lot of OF assists means that 1) the rest of the league doesn’t respect your fielding and 2) they’re wrong about that.)
I think it’s kinda cool how many recent Braves were taken out of high schools in the Atlanta metro area. Sort of a throwback to the days when teams had regional first dibs on local talent.
Next: a few guys who also just missed the cut.