Ready for more thoughts on the Jeff Francoeur extension? Perfect!
– Bringing back Francoeur for next season means the Royals outfield you will see tonight against the Red Sox is the exact same outfield you will see on Opening Day 2012. The Frenchman is going to cash a hefty check, the Royals will certainly tender a contract to Melky Cabrera and there is talk of an Alex Gordon extension. Hell, there’s a decent chance that this is the outfield we will see on Opening Day 2013. This has to be an indictment of Lorenzo Cain. Cain, who is hitting .306/.376/.506 in Omaha, after tonight, has more than 600 plate appearances in his career at the Triple-A level. It would seem he doesn’t have much left to prove.
However, I’ve heard the rumblings… A hole in his swing, the lack of the necessary skill set that would ease a transition from the high minors to the big league level, and so on. I haven’t seen Cain all that much, so I’m not qualified to comment on his skills (or lack thereof). What I can comment on is that it is fairly obvious that the organization doesn’t believe he’s part of the future.
Think about it… We have seen a tremendous influx of young talent. Nearly every position player who was regarded as a prospect and opened the 2011 season in Omaha is with the big club. Except Cain. It’s also worth noting, the Royals were quick to pull the trigger on Kila Ka’aihue earlier this year. I may be reading too much between the lines here, but I’m thinking the Royals regard Cain as another flavor of Hawaiian Punch. Good for Triple-A, not so good in the majors.
– There was a tweet from Greg Schaum that this move says more about the (lack of) development of Wil Myers than anything and I’m inclined to agree. Myers was moved to the outfield in order to fast track his bat to the major leagues. However injuries and a lackluster season (.254/.354/.373 in 348 plate appearances) have pushed his timetable back at least a full year. Most troublesome has been the lack of power development. If Myers repeats Double-A next year, it’s possible he won’t arrive in Kansas City until 2014. Francoeur gives the Royals cover. It’s expensive cover, but it’s still cover.
– I understand that with the season Francoeur is having, he was going to shop for a two year deal. That doesn’t mean the Royals had to give it to him.
He is hitting for a higher slugging percentage, which is nice. But that’s because he’s already set a career high for doubles with 35 while maintaining his home run rate of one long ball roughly every 31 at bats.
Let’s talk about value for a moment. Here are his fWAR values going back to 2006 which was his first full season in the majors.
Yes, this has been quite the rebirth for Francoeur, but we cannot ignore the fact that in his three previous seasons, he posted a 0.1 fWAR. Combined. It is entirely possible that Kevin Seitzer has worked his magic and Frenchy has figured it all out. I suppose. But there’s no evidence to suggest this is the case. His walk rate is a career high at 6.6%, but he’s reached 6.0% three times previously, so this isn’t some sort of crazy development. It’s nice, but not out of the realm of possibility. His contact rate is 80.2%, which is actually lower than either of his two previous seasons where he posted a .309 and .300 on base percentage respectively. His line drive rate of 18.8% is right in line with his career rate.
Overall, he is swinging less, offering at just 53.9% of all pitches. That’s below his career rate of 58.1% and represents the lowest rate of his career. Maybe that’s it… A change in approach have yielded an improvement in results. Because his other rates haven’t moved all that much. (Interesting side note: He’s looking at a called third strike in 20% of all strikeouts. The highest caught looking rate in his career.)
While The Frenchman is having one of his better seasons, the fact that his secondary rate statistics have remained unchanged from the last several years, lead me to believe that the Royals won’t get the kind of production they seem to be counting on over the next two seasons.
– Going by the raw dollars, it looks like the Royals are expecting a pair of 1.5 WAR seasons from Francoeur. Again, I can’t help but feel that’s a shade on the optimistic side, given he’s played six full seasons and has topped that mark only twice (counting this year.) I know the defenders will argue he’s only 27, so he’s at his presumed peak, but I’ll counter with my previous argument that he’s never shown the ability to sustain an above average level of production.
Soon after the extension was announced, Joe Sheehan tweeted that because Francoeur was hitting .316/.352/.623 through May 4 and only .264/.320/.411 since, the Royals basically gave a guy a two year deal on one good month of production. Joel Goldberg countered with the fact Frenchy has hit .308/.369/.503 since July 1, and that should count for something. It’s a sound return volley and it really serves to underscore the fact he’s an extreme streak hitter. Not that there’s anything wrong with that, but if you’re going to live with the steak, you’re going to have to eat dog food every once in a while.
As the law of averages play out though, the cold streaks will prove to last longer than the hot ones. By the time 2013 rolls around, instead of talking about hot months for Francoeur, we could be reduced to discussing hot weeks.
– In Francoeur’s defense, I saw in several quarters where it was argued he was basically a platoon hitter, dreadful against right handed pitching.
Makes sense… Except for the fact it’s not necessarily true.
Granted, he does do worse against righties. That’s normal for a right-handed hitter. Here are his splits for 2011:
Vs LHP – .315/.379/.602
Vs RHP – .266/.314/.421
Many of my colleagues will look at that split and come to the conclusion he can’t hit a right hander. Except the league average right handed batter is hitting only .247/.307/.392 against right handed pitching this year.
I’m sure if The Frenchman sticks around for another 10 years, he will evolve into a platoon type player. However, I don’t see that happening during the life of his contract extension. Granted, he’s doing better this year against right handers than he’s done in quite some time, but like his cumulative stats, he’s not doing that much better where we would sit up and call it an outlier.
There’s definitely a difference in performance base on the handedness of the pitcher, but at this point, it doesn’t warrant a platoon situation.
– I’m extremely frustrated that the Royals didn’t move on Alex Gordon first. Yes, like The Frenchman, Gordon has had some horrible seasons. But realize that Gordon has seen his seasons cut short by injury and be being jerked around by the organization. He has almost 2,000 fewer plate appearances than Francoeur. This year, while Frenchy is playing well, Gordon is having an outstanding all around season.
I know that there has been talk of extension but the Royals want to wait until the end of the season… why is there a double standard here?
– Francoeur doesn’t annoy me as much as my basement dwelling comrades, and I had come to terms with the fact he was most likely going to return for the 2012 season. The extra year and total monetary package seems like the classic Dayton Moore play where he misreads the market and makes too strong of a move. He’s done this time and again in varying degrees. There’s the gross overpayment like he did with Jose Guillen. There’s the over valuing of his guys like we saw with Kyle Davies last winter. And there’s deals where he jumps head first into the trade market without taking the proper temperature like he did when he brought Mike Jacobs to Kansas City.
Moore has also fallen into a trap where he looks at only the last year of numbers and ignores the entire track record. Again, that certainly happened with Jacobs and to a lesser extent with Jose Guillen. He makes the mistake of ultimately paying full price for a player who can’t possibly maintain the level to justify the cost. That’s just a fancy way of saying he buys high.
I’m a fan of The Process and I feel like it’s the proper method to give the Royals the best shot at winning. But we have to realize that even a wildly successful Process will still leave management with holes to fill on the roster. This is where Dayton Moore and the Royals brain trust have failed miserably time and time again.
Now matter how great the minor league system, poor free agent acquisitions or misreading the trade market could completely derail The Process. I had hoped after this winter when the Royals pursued low risk, low cost free agents, that was a signal that GMDM had figured something out regarding how to build his team. It doesn’t feel like any lessons were learned.
Francoeur alone won’t prevent the Royals from winning in the future. Rather he’s a symptom of a much larger problem. One that doesn’t seem to be going away.
I’ll wrap this up by restating that I don’t hate Jeff Francoeur. I think for the money he’s been paid this year, he’s been a good value for the Royals – on and off the field. But there comes a point when you can overpay and cause the value to disappear, and I think that is what has happened in this case. Francoeur has been playing in this league for six seasons and has had a grand total of two good ones. The odds are long he’ll put up two more during his extension.