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Monday, October 23, 2006

Now for a nugget from the Braves Mailbag

Does Jeff Francoeur's power make up for his lack of patience and gain him a break? If he gets off to a slow start next year, does he get sent down to learn patience?
-- Anonymous

When Francoeur hit .216 with 19 strikeouts and no walks in April, there were many wondering whether the Braves would send Francoeur back to the Minors [sic]. Some of the speculation was fueled by an erroneous comment made on ESPN.

No surprise, ESPN is goofy like that. Onward!

As the speculation mounted, I asked the appropriate parties, and they emphatically insisted they had no such intentions. At the time, there was at least justification to ask the question, but after Francoeur went on to hit 29 homers and collect 103 RBIs, there's obviously no reason for us to ever go down that avenue again.

Nope. Young homer-hitters don't grow on trees. And even if they did go down that route, who would replace Frenchy? Gregor Blanco? Hahahahaha!!!


Ahem. Moving on.

Instead, I think we should focus on just how much progress Francoeur made in his first full big-league season. During the season's first two months, he struck out 42 times and drew just three walks. During August and September, he struck out 45 times and drew 14 walks.

GASP! Call the newspapers!

Notice that he combines the months to make the walk total improvement better. That's fine. Frenchy did improve on getting walks. But do you know how many walks he had?


So that means from April to the start of August, Francoeur drew NINE walks!

So which Francoeur will show up next season? The walk-almost-never or walk-a-little-more model? This is really nothing to crow about. If Francoeur had 14 walks every two months next season, he'd barely crack 40. That's an excellent improvement for him, but the Braves need more than that. Much more. Something in the range that Chipper Jones had last season (61). And that was when he was injured for a couple of months!

Obviously, there's still plenty of room for improvement.

What did I say?

But the important thing is that he's already starting to show plenty of it. In the first 94 games of Francoeur's career, he drew a total of 11 walks. In his final 29 games this season, he drew eight.

That does make it look better, but again, that's a very low walk amount for someone who hits more than 20 homers!

There's no doubt that Francoeur's current level of patience prevents him from being somebody who will hit .280. He hit that mark in just two of this past season's six months.

That's the meat of the way he gets on base too. If he doesn't learn to walk, he's screwed.

But if you take away his aggression, you also take away his potential to hit 30 homers and ability to come through in the clutch. He hit .319 with runners in scoring position this year.

I'm not much of a believer in clutch hitting, but I do recognize that you have to get hits with runners in scoring position, especially with two outs. You HAVE to. If Francoeur's batting average goes up with runners in scoring position, that's great.

During Dale Murphy's first two full big-league seasons, he compiled 914 at-bats and hit .247 with 44 homers, 136 RBIs, 212 strikeouts and 80 walks. He was just 23 years old in the second of those seasons (1979).

I have just one thing to say to that: Strikeout to Walk ratio.

Murphy's K/BB ratios in first three full seasons:

1978: 145/42 = 3.45
1979: 67/38 = 1.76
1980: 133/59 = 2.25

Francoeur's K/BB ratios so far:

2005: 58/11 = 5.27
2006: 132/23 = 5.74

Seems like ol' Murph's got a leg up on Frenchy, doesn't it?

Three seasons later, Murphy won the first of his consecutive National League MVP Awards.

I still think he should be in the Hall of Fame, but that's another subject.

It remains to be seen whether Francoeur will ever win an MVP award, but he's following a path similar to the one taken by a former winner.

I think I have just demonstrated that the only thing they have in common is that they have K/BB ratios over 2 in that stage of their careers. Francoeur needs to up his walk total drastically if he is going to have any real success in the major leagues, I am convinced of that.

In his first 908 career at-bats, Francoeur has hit .271 with 43 homers, 148 RBIs, 190 strikeouts and 34 walks.

With a K/BB ratio of 5.88.

Jeff, please, learn to draw a walk.

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