The case for Jeff Francoeur…Wait, what?
For some unknown reason, I feel the need to tackle the chief complaint Iâ€™m hearing from fellow Royals fansâ€”Jeff Francoeur.Â Iâ€™m not about to sell you that Frenchy was a good baseball player last year, because he wasnâ€™t.Â He was awful, and that is putting it lightly.Â I have a couple theories as to why he wasnâ€™t very good in 2012.Â The first one is that Jeff was/is an elder statesman on the team, and was expected to be a driving force in the middle of what was supposed to be a very young, but explosive lineup.Â Unfortunately, thatâ€™s simply not who Jeff Francoeur is, and that is not what the Royals lineup was.Â He has neverÂ been that guy, and never will be.Â Francoeur is a guy you plug into your lineup, ideally no higher than 5th or 6th, and let him blend.Â In truth, Francoeur would be much more effective in a platoon situation, where he can feast on left-handed pitching, but that is a luxury the Royals seemingly can’t afford.Â Counting on Francoeur to be a true run producer was a monumental mistake made by the Royals front office, and was a prime example of trying to force a square peg into a round hole.Â Put yourself in that position.Â You go into work one day and all of the sudden the boss has not only promoted you, but promoted you to a position you had/have no prior knowledge of.Â I canâ€™t imagine that would work out very well in most cases.Â Really, it would be no different had they plugged him into batting leadoff.Â Francoeur belongs in the leadoff position about as much as he belongs as a main cog in the middle of the order.
In my opinion, 2007 was Jeff Francoeurâ€™s Â second best season.Â He was a member of the Atlanta Braves at that time, and he posted a .293 Average/.338 OBP/.782 OPS with 19 HR and 105 RBI. Â Youâ€™re probably reading that, and thinking thatâ€™s not a great yearâ€”especially for a corner outfielder.Â Youâ€™re absolutely right! But that was Francoeurâ€™s high-water mark.Â That was his peak, or close to it.Â That isÂ Jeff Francoeur. Â Francoeur didnâ€™t anchor that lineup.Â He simply complimented or blended in with an already potent Braves lineup.Â He was insulated by guys like Chipper Jones, Mark Teixeira, Edgar Renteria, Yunel Escobar, Brian McCann, Kelly Johnson, Matt Diaz and Andruw Jones (kind of). Â Â Fast forward to 2012, and youâ€™re asking Francoeur to be a majorÂ run producer of a youthful lineup, and protecting him in the lineup with Billy Butler and Alex Gordon being the only proven bats, and even that is a stretch.
So, what about Francoeurâ€™s best season?Â Well, in my opinion, that came in a Royals uniform in 2011.Â No, there was no Chipper.Â There was no Mark Teixeira.Â There was no Brian McCann or Edgar Renteria eitherâ€¦or so we thought.Â As it turns out, Francoeur was heavily insulated in that lineup too.Â Melky Cabrera and Alex Gordon had career years.Â Billy Butler kept on being Billy Butler.Â Eric Hosmer emerged as a young power-hitting first baseman.Â With limited exposure, Salvador Perez burst on the scene, and was very productive as well.Â Francoeur was thrust into a run producing spot in the lineup that year as well, and while thatâ€™s not his niche, it worked out because of all the production around him.Â He was just able to blend.
Werenâ€™t all of those guys in the 2012 lineup as well?Â Yes and no.Â There was no Melky Cabrera, nor was there anyone to make up for the type of numbers he posted in 2011.Â Alex Gordon, no longer having Cabrera to protect him, was largely ineffective the first part of 2012.Â He kicked it in gear and had a very good second half, but still fell short of his 2011 campaign.Â You know the story ofÂ Eric Hosmer and Mike Moustakas.Â Hosmer never hit, and while Moustakas posted a decent first half of the season, his second half was nothing short of a dumpster fire.Â Salvador Perez missed Â over half the season, despite playing quite well for the half he did play. Â The Royals lineup hardly got anything at all from their CF and 2b spots.Â It wasnâ€™t all bad.Â Billy Butler and Alcides Escobar posted fine hitting seasons.Â Butler emerged as a true power hitter, and Escobar made a large leap in reaching the potential that earned his top prospect billing while in the Milwaukee Brewers organization.Â Â Suffice it to say, the Royals lineup provided very little punch, and nearly zero protection for a guy like Francoeur.
Another theory I subscribe to is that I believe Wil Myers, in an indirect way,Â exacerbated Francoeur’s problems.Â Francoeur was undoubtedlyÂ well aware of the monster numbers Myers was posting in Omaha, and when it became evident that Myers wasnâ€™t going to be called up to play LF or CF, Francoeur saw the writing on the wall (or what should have been the writing on the wall).Â Myers certainly wasnâ€™t going to get the nod over Alex Gordon, and when his numbers started getting ridiculously good, Lorenzo Cain was getting healthy and the Royals needed to see what they had in him.Â Whether that caused Francoeur to press, or give up altogether, I have no idea, but I think he certainly felt the heat coming from Omaha.
So, in my opinion,Â a combination of being asked to do something heâ€™s not capable of, being surrounded by a punchless lineup, and knowing there was a hotshot prospect nipping at his heels were the key ingredients of the shit-burger recipe that was Jeff Francoeur in 2012.Â By no means do I think Francoeur is completely innocent. Â Â Despite all the contributing factors, 2012 was much worse than it should have beenâ€”even for a player like Francoeur.
No,Â Francoeur isÂ not a great MLB player.Â He never has been, and probably never will be.Â As clichÃ© as it sounds, he is what he is.Â Heâ€™s a solid RFâ€™er with limited range, and a rocket arm.Â Heâ€™s a guy who possesses some pop in his bat, but is not a true homerun hitter.Â He lacks any semblance of plate discipline.Â Â Â He is also a good teammate, and a clubhouse leader for these young Royals, and while there is ample evidence that heâ€™s not a guy who can shoulder the offensive load while others are scuffling, there is also evidence suggesting he could be a nice complimentary piece in a strong lineup.
Iâ€™m really not a Francoeur apologist, despite how strongly this piece would suggest otherwise.Â I remember the hype that surrounded him in Atlanta, and I understand the Royals organization was somewhat hoping to catch lightning in a bottle.Â The numbers, however, just arenâ€™t there for the guy we call Frenchy.Â Heâ€™s not a guy you build your team aroundâ€”at all.Â Hereâ€™s the deal though, no lineup is perfect.Â Even the best lineups have weak spots or warts.Â He presented as precisely that last year.Â Oddly enough, if all goes well, heâ€™ll be one of the weaker parts of the 2013 lineup as well.Â The expected progression of Hosmer, Moustakas, Perez, and Cain along with continued production from Gordon, Butler and Escobar, should allow Francoeur to just blend.Â If those things happen, I donâ€™t think it is unreasonable to expect something close to the 2010 version of Jeff Francoeur.Â He wonâ€™t be expected to be the linchpin of the lineup.Â He wonâ€™t be looking over his shoulder for Wil Myers.Â Heâ€™s playing for money, as this is the final year of his contract.Â If he flounders again, he knows his best money-making days are behind him.Â He also, hopefully, will be playing for a winner this summer.Â Success breeds more success.Â If the Royals are winning and clicking, Francoeur should be too.
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