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Jeff Francoeur Extension: Locking in Mediocrity or Worse

By Howard Megdal ~ September 22nd, 2009. Filed under: Howard Megdal.

Count me among the skeptics regarding the discussion this week about providing Jeff Francoeur with a three-year, $15 million deal. Not skeptical of if it will happen, of course; I’d bet decent money in Vegas that it will, given the team’s inability to distinguish between small samples and likely future performance.

But I am skeptical that such a deal will be worth it under any but the most optimistic circumstances.

Let’s take that best possible circumstance first: Jeff Francoeur playing as well over 2010-2012 as he has in his 266 plate appearances since coming to the Mets. Such a circumstance would require him to post a .340 BABIP, well above his career mark of .306, and a stat that is often an indicator of unsustainable performance.

Should he do so, however, he would be the tenth-best right fielder by OPS+ in the major leagues this year. His defense by UZR is -7.1 in 2009, -4.7 in 2008. Now, that doesn’t take his arm into account, but given how important range is defensively relative to arm-think how many plays turn on an outfielder’s range as opposed to his arm- it is fair to say, statistically, that Francoeur has been a below-average defender for the better part of the last two years.

In total, the Mets would be locked into paying $5 million a year for a roughly league-average right fielder-in the ABSOLUTE, likely unsustainable, best-case scenario.

The reality is likely to be far worse.

In reality, Francoeur is much more likely to regress to his career BABIP of .306, knocking much of the impressive performance out of his 2009 season. In fact, his overall 2009 season numbers are a pretty good example of what BABIP-neutral Francoeur is likely to be. His BABIP for the full season in 2009 is .305. And his overall season line? .277/.307/.410.

That translates to an 88 OPS+. Among right fielders with 250 at-bats or more, only three are worse offensively: Gabe Gross, Jay Bruce and Brian Giles.

And that doesn’t take into account his defense, which measures out below average. Or the fact that he had an entire season in 2008 that failed to come close to this modest standard. Or the fact that he had another season in 2006 that was nearly identical to his 2009 season.

So the Mets appear set to promise Francoeur $5 million a year for the next three years for production that is more likely than not at the bottom of the right fielders in baseball. Not only can this money be spent elsewhere, but the chances of finding a right fielder with a better OPS+ in 2010, 2011 and 2012 at a less expensive price has to be considered high.

After all: had the Mets been using anyone but Gross, Bruce or Giles in 2009, they’d have done it already.

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Howard Megdal is the Editor-in-Chief of The Perpetual Post. He covers baseball, basketball and soccer for Capital New York, MLBTradeRumors.com, New York Baseball Digest and has written for ESPN.com as well as numerous other publications. He is the Poet Laureate for SBNation New York. His book about Jewish baseball players, “The Baseball Talmud,” is available for purchase on Amazon.com and wherever books are sold. His next book, "Taking The Field", is available for pre-order on Amazon.com and will publish in May 2011.

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9 Responses to Jeff Francoeur Extension: Locking in Mediocrity or Worse

  1. Ceetar

    Why does everyone realize this, but the Mets, and Mike Francessa? *sigh*

  2. Sam Page

    I agree with the conclusion but not all of the analysis.

    RE: his batting average
    His BABIP doesn’t necessarily mean he’s been lucky. There are several factors that influence BABIP, including the number of line drives hit, the “spray” of his hits, park factors, etc. Given his improved LD%, and lower GB%, his BABIP could indeed remain higher. The up-and-down nature of his career make gauging Francoeur’s true talent BABIP is hard. After all, he’s already posted a .340 BA in two season in his career. I’m not saying he couldn’t or won’t hit in the .309 BABIP neighborhood, it’s just not a given.


    More importantly, assuming he maintains an improved contact% and HR/FB%, his batting average would be higher anyway. A HR/FB% with his career norm BABIP would put his average in the .280-290 range.

    RE: defense
    UZR DOES account for an outfielder’s arm, both on throwing out runners and preventing them from advancing. Francoeur has posted positive UZRs in the past, despite his bad range, because of his outstanding arm rating.
    I’m not willing to make conclusions based on this years data because:
    a. It’s not statistically significant, his -11 rating with the Mets so far just seems like noise. A year of UZR data is the equivelant of 1/3 of hitting data. His career mark is still positive.
    b. Citi Field park factors are not yet accounted for.

  3. Chris Silva

    I like Francoeur since the trade. I think he brings a lot to the clubhouse and idenity of the team. But, I think the Mets would be able to neogoiate this deal a bit better. Also, 3 years might be a bit more of a committment than you might want to make. Ideally, I think Ike Davis is the RF of the future but you can’t bank of that. I’m hoping the Mets aren’t going to throw things at the fans and not think at all. Also, if they give Francoeur a deal like this they better not drop the ball with bigger name players and opportunities.

  4. Joe B

    I have watched the Mets for 35 years and I have never seen the amount of criticism in Francouer. I’ve put up with Vince Coleman, Bobby Bonilla etc. Francouer is a complimentary piece. Where are you going to find 80 RBI guy with good defense for 5 mil. He’s an ideal 6th place hitter. He also has had two 100 RBI seasons so I do not think that expecting 80 is stretch. I know he does not walk alot but neither does say Robinson Cano or met favorite, Mookie Wilson. I would home grown talent to play but Davis or F-Mart are not ready. All the Mets did was lower F-Mart’s value in playing him this year. He was clearly exposed. Do think Nick Evans could ever put up 80 RBI’s in a season?

  5. Howard Megdal

    Great comments all around.
    Sam, to start with yours, I think the LD% is a good point, but for his improvement in it since coming to the Mets, his season total of 20.7% is now exactly what it was in 2008. In other words, for all the noise of the trade, he’s right in the same place.
    The UZR point is an interesting one, but obviously further points to him as a below average fielder. I don’t take UZR as set in stone, of course, and his UZR over just two-plus months in a field not yet adjusted for it is pretty meaningless. But he was also below-average by UZR in a year and a half in Atlanta, and anecdotally, I don’t see him as a particularly good fielder, range-wise, either.
    To Chris’s point, my feeling is that Davis is hitting well enough to be the 1B of the future, but certainly I wouldn’t mind him in RF and LaRoche at 1B. Sadly, I think we’ll end up seeing Francoeur in RF, Murphy at 1B.
    And Joe B, you’ll find an 80 RBI guy with good defense if you put a decent hitter in a lineup and enough runners in front of him. But Francoeur isn’t even that guy, and not just because evidence shows he isn’t a particularly good defender. He has 69 RBI in 594 plate appearances. I don’t happen to think clutch stats tell you much here, but if you hang your hat on them, he’s got a .598 OPS with runners in scoring position, .629 with runners on, and .805 with the bases empty.
    You make a good point, though: he’s never thrown a firecracker at a child. That is not a skill, however, that I think calls for a three year deal.

  6. MetsKnicksRutgers

    As fans. What do we have to do to convince the Wilpon’s to NON-TENDER THIS GUY? He is awful and at times has been the WORST position player in baseball. RsBI are meaningless stats to an individual player. Nonetheless, we haven’t even taken a look at the worst-case scenario of Jeff. Even if it is bad luck and his babip dips to say 290 over a season, his INABILITY to take walks will literally put his OBP at or below 300. That is Yuniesky Betancourt territory out of an OFFENSIVE position with below average defense for 5 million a year. Id rather bring endy back for $500,000 at least he will be an extreme plus in the OF.

  7. The Legend

    You guys are nuts..only 5 mil for a guy who is only 25..only 2 years removed from 100 rbi 20 plus hr seasons back to back not to mention steller right firled play.. i say give it to him,,,

  8. MetsKnicksRutgers

    The Legend: RsBI are meaningless! They are a stat dependent on the players around you and in no way are indicative of future success. Frenchie does the worst thing in baseball all too often as shown by his abysmal OBP. Are you one of those people that actually believe Jose Guillen was once a good player b/c of RsBI?

  9. Evan

    I’m pretty sure UZR does take his arm into account

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