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Take My Francoeur…Please

August 11, 2010

Oh, things aren't so bad. You're just 26! You could, um, still go to college.

Heh heh. Really, Jeff? Play you or trade you? Good god, fine.

Five years ago this month, then-Atlanta Braves wunderkind and current New York Mets’ fourth outfielder, Jeff Francoeur was given the cover boy treatment in Sports Illustrated. The headline was “Can Anyone be this Good?” If the question were posed now, the answer would be, “Um, yes.”

I’m sure Francoeur is a lovely person. He loves him some Christ; he’s teamed up with these corporate sponsors to promote charities; he won the 2009 BBWAA “Good Guy Award” which honors candor and accessibility to the writers. Baseball-wise, he also – undeniably – has a really, really good arm.

But Francoeur isn’t real good at other things in baseball. Like walking and the whole plate discipline thing. Frenchy famously derided on-base percentage back in 2009. Now, granted, this may have just been him mouthing off to a reporter who was getting under his skin, but it’s pretty clear that he probably does believe that at a certain level. As of August 11th, his OBP was .295, and he had drawn 16 unintentional walks over 385 plate appearances this season.

It’s worth noting, in the days to come after Francoeur said “Play me or trade me,” that he’s pretty much the least valuable offensive player the Mets have. Considering that he’s a right-handed corner outfielder, Francoeur’s offensive worth is somewhere around a box of snakes and a mitten. According to FanGraphs, of the 77 major league outfielders with more than 300 at-bats this season, Francoeur’s batting value (Park Adjusted Runs Above Average based on wOBA) is -8.9, putting him slightly above Juan Pierre, Julio Borbon, and Nyjer Morgan. His WAR (wins above replacement) is at 0.2, above Jonny Gomes, Melky Cabrera, Carlos Quentin (mainly due to his inability to run after or catch a batted ball), Trevor Crowe, and Carlos Lee. Too esoteric? How about simpler stats: among 64 qualifying major league outfielders, Francoeur ranks second to last in OBP and third-to-last in runs created per 27 outs.

Francoeur hit two very clutch home runs last week to beat the Braves (off llama-farming Billy Wagner) and the Phillies (off Cole Hamels); that was fantastic. It really was. But that’s selective memory. How about other scoring situations? Francoeur has the second-most plate appearances with runners in scoring position (122) on the Mets this year, and has performed terribly. A .212 BA, .303 OBP, and a .313 SLG. Of Mets with more than 40 plate appearances with RISP, Francoeur ranks last in BA and OBP, and second-to-last in slugging, next to Luis Castillo. And to reiterate, Francoeur has the second-MOST PAs with RISP on the Mets. That’s not what anybody should want. Especially from a righty corner outfielder, who’s far below the league average in most categories, and has made a _ton_ of outs.

Brian Anderson, once considered, like Frenchy, a rising outfield star who was selected in the first round of the draft, also tried the whole “Play me or trade me” line last July while with the White Sox. Anderson had been sent to Triple-A in favor of the big league team keeping Carlos Quentin, Jermaine Dye, Scott Podsednik, and DeWayne Wise (who was achieving cult-like status following his save of Mark Buehrle’s perfect game); at the time of his request, Anderson was in the minors, and had a slash line of .238 / .322 / .319 for the big-league club. He was traded to the Red Sox, where he performed admirably over 21 games, signed a one-year deal with the Royals in the offseason, and is now, um, pitching in for their Rookie League team. Which maybe isn’t a bad idea for Francoeur.

Now that the Royals have done the previously-unthinkable in trading Rick Ankiel and designating Jose Guillen, there’s space on the team for an overhyped veteran outfielder who has name recognition and not much else. If the Mets eat the rest of Frenchy’s salary and trade him for, say, some Kansas City barbecue, it would be kind of nice to call it a day, and let Fernando Martinez platoon in Citi Field with low expectations for the rest of the summer.

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