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.