The Mets and Braves trading right fielders gave me a great opportunity to share opinions on the deal with Braves blogger Peter Hjort of Captiol Avenue Club. Peter does a great job there of documenting the Braves performance. Here are the questions I had for Peter and his answers about what we’ll be seeing from Jeff Francoeur:
Mets Report: Every once in a while you see a very promising young player like Francoeur seemingly lose it and not be able to get it back. In your view, how did Francoeur go from a Rookie of the Year candidate in 2005 to where he is today?
Peter Hjort: Well, there are 2 fundamental problems with Francoeur. The first is his lack of plate discipline. Pitchers figured that out after his monster July of 2005 (his first month in MLB) when he posted an OPS of 1.326. He was able to get by during the remainder of 2005 through 2007 posting decent numbers despite his lack of plate discipline due to his incredible athleticism. After the 2007 off-season he tried to bulk up in an attempt to hit for more power. That backfired and he not only lost the ability to hit for power, he lost the ability to hit at all. His horrendous stats tell half the story and the fact that his bat speed was completely shot in 2008 tells the other half. So the combination of his lack of plate discipline and the deterioration of his athleticism are the reasons he is where he is today. Other issues like his stubbornness (early in his career) and his perceived birthright to a starting role didn’t help. Add that onto the high-pressure situation of playing at the highest level in your home town and you’ve got a rather unfavorable situation.
Mets Report: Is Francoeur’s fielding skill enough to carry him as a corner outfielder if he’s not hitting?
Peter Hjort: No amount of fielding skill in Right Field can make up for how bad he’s been over the past two years. Right Fielders simply don’t have enough defensive chances to make that kind of an impact with their glove. But when he bulked up pre-2008, his foot-speed went with his bat speed and he’s been a below-average defender in right for a year and a half now. In 2005, 2006, and 2007 he was very good in right displaying average range and a plus plus arm. The arm is still there and this year he’s re-gained some of the range he lost in 2008. As he continues to shed the raw muscle and get into better “baseball shape” his range should come back and he’ll be an above-average defender again before we know it. He has the potential to be the best defensive RF in the game. But when you’re putting up a sub-.300 OBP, you just can’t make up for it with corner OF defense.
Mets Report: It seemed like some ill will developed last season between Francoeur and the Braves when they sent him back to the minors for a few day. Is that accurate?
Peter Hjort: Yes. That is accurate. Francoeur didn’t approve of the demotion. He also seemed upset that Frank Wren and Bobby Cox only gave him “a five minute meeting” to explain the demotion. But Francoeur eventually realized he was being a bit immature and in the words of many, he grew up a lot from that experience. I’m sure the organization was irked by his public comments and refusal to admit he was hurting the team, but they never showed any signs of disapproval–especially since he was recalled after only 3 days. Francoeur has always been good about saying the right things to the media with regards to his teammates but not so much when talking about the coaching staff or the front office.
Mets Report: Do you think that the Braves would have non-tendered Francoeur after this season?
Peter Hjort: Yes. I don’t think there’s any chance they would’ve tendered him a contract. The Braves simply can’t afford to take a chance on a guy not producing offensively in his 2nd year of arbitration. I think the upside of the move for the Mets is that Francoeur has 2 option years left and if he continues to struggle the Mets can probably afford to stash a player in his 2nd year of arbitration in AAA in hopes that he gets his swing back.
Mets Report: What was Francoeur’s reputation in terms of locker room presence?
Peter Hjort: Francoeur was loved by teammates and was always a positive influence in the locker room. When Francoeur was down, the team was down. When he was up, the team was up. I’ve heard loads of anecdotes about him being a tremendous positive influence in the locker room and none about him being a negative influence. He will certainly be a great addition from that perspective.
Thanks to Peter for doing a great job with his answers and giving us some insight into what we’ll see from Francoeur. The down side of this deal is that it seems to be universal opinion that the Braves would have non-tendered Francoeur after this season and the Mets could have picked him up for nothing.
You can read my answers to Peter’s questions about Ryan Church at Capitol Avenue Club.