Frequently asked questions about Jeff Francoeur

Al Messerschmidt

You knew it was coming when the Giants traded for Melky last year. It just took a while.

Jeff Francoeur is on the Giants. Well, he will be. After a 16-inning loss on Monday night, your reward on Tuesday was the news that the Giants signed Francoeur, who has been the worst player in baseball since the start of 2012.

But maybe you're a casual fan. Or maybe you follow the Giants like I follow the Warriors -- so wrapped up in your team, that you have no idea what's going on with the rest of the league. So you're confused about this hubbub over Francoeur. Isn't he a right-handed outfielder? Don't the Giants need a right-handed outfielder? What's to lose?

Here, then, is a Frequently Asked Questions for you about Jeff Francoeur. Apologies for the stylistic choice, but I didn't make it lightly.

Q: Isn't it only a minor-league deal? What's the harm?
No, the minor-league part buys them time. It allows the Giants to play with a 25-man roster for the next couple days while Francoeur gets settled. You're delusional if you think he's is going to toil in Fresno while Cole Gillespie or Juan Perez is on the roster. This is a minor-league deal like Pat Burrell's was a minor-league deal. Burrell hit well in Triple-A for 16 at-bats, but it's not like the Giants were making their decision to put him on the roster based on those 16 at-bats. That decision had been made.

Q: Right. This is like the Pat Burrell deal, isn't it?
No. Before Burrell signed with the Tampa Bay Rays in 2009, he had 251 homers and a career .367 on-base percentage. He was an established low-average slugger. He was a rich man's Rob Deer, and it was a pretty good gamble for the Rays to take. He was miserable in 2009, though, and the Rays released him after 84 at-bats in 2010.

In retrospect, the Rays were freaking out over a small sample. Considering that they owed Burrell $9 million, and that he was good for the five previous seasons before he was awful, he should have gotten more of a chance. Luckily, the Rays didn't agree.

See, Burrell had a history of being a good hitter. Francoeur hasn't been good since 2011, and before that he hadn't been good since 2007. Burrell was a good hitter in every season but one over his career. Francoeur was a bad hitter in every full season but two over his career. That's the difference.

Q. What if he's used exclusively against left-handers? That makes sense, right?
He's a career .287/.338/.471 hitter against lefties. That's … pretty good. It's kind of what the Giants need. If he's used properly, he can be a bench asset. The reason it's easy to call Francoeur the "worst hitter in baseball" instead of Juan Perez or Cole Gillespie is that Francoeur's been a starter. If he were a limited platoon player, we would think of him like Perez or Gillespie. That is, very little. Every team has a fifth outfielder who isn't very good; that's why they're fifth outfielders. Doesn't mean they're incapable of contributing.

Francoeur is going to start every game against left-handers, alright. And when the starter is out, Francoeur is going to stay in to face the right-handed relievers. He's not going to get the Belt treatment. Right-handers rarely do with Bruce Bochy. Lefties can't hit lefties, but righties are usually cool against righties. That's the implied idea, at least.

Do you think Andres Torres is going to get every start against right-handers? No. Francoeur is going to play a lot.

Q. But he's better than Torres, right?
I don't think so, but that's open for debate. I can't figure out what Torres is doing out in the outfield right now, and why it's different from what he did the last time he was on the Giants. If the blundery is real, if he's really Glenallen Hill covered in a Charlie Brown ghost costume, then, fine. Maybe it's a draw. But Torres has better range, runs better, and hits lefties at the same clip as Francoeur. Finding a right-handed hitting complement to Blanco wasn't as important as finding a left-handed hitting complement to Torres.

Francoeur has a better arm and a little more power. So … Juan Perez without the range or plus speed. But more likely to get playing time.

What do the Giants have to lose?
At this point … you know, I guess nothing. Other than games. But there weren't any good options. There weren't many acceptable options. If the Giants stood pat, they would have been playing bad outfielders. Now they're going to be playing bad outfielders. Is Francoeur exponentially worse than Perez of Gillespie? No. The difference is probably negligible.

It's the idea that counts. Other teams probably wanted Francoeur for the back of their bench. The Giants got him because he figured he would get the most playing time here. It's a dangerous mix of a team with at-bats to give, and an outfielder with outs to give back. I'd say the odds are at least even that he's with the Giants next year, too.

Isn't he a good guy, though?
Supposedly, yeah. I really like him. He does stuff like this, and his teammates generally adore him. I'm rooting for him to make me look bad. You should, too

Isn't he toolsy? What if he's a late bloomer like Carlos Gomez?
Stranger things have happened than a 29-year-old figuring things out late. There's always been latent talent in Francoeur; he showed as much when he was an exciting rookie.

But the odds are against it. This is a list of players who got more than 4,000 plate appearances in their 20s while producing below the league average. Most of them are middle infielders. Here's a list of the players from that selection who were above average in their 30s. The first list has 101 names. The second list has six. Most of the six had good plate discipline to start.

Why do you keep bringing his name up in connection with Yasiel Puig?
Because I want to make myself feel better. From something I wrote a couple weeks ago:

Here's what he did in his first 23 games in the majors:

AB: 81
HR: 8
AVG: .432
OBP: .439
SLG: .827
BB: 0
SO: 16

Let's compare that with Yasiel Puig's first 23 games:

AB: 89
HR: 7
AVG: .427
OBP: 457
SLG: .708
BB: 3
SO: 18

You might not remember Francoeur being as exciting or electric or scintillating as Puig, but that's a bit of revisionist history. Francoeur was every bit the big deal that Puig is now.


I want to believe that Puig is the next Francoeur, even if I have serious doubts. That's all. Makes me feel better

Now I don't feel better, everybody. The Giants have Jeff Francoeur. They probably weren't going to make the playoffs with or without him, but now we have to watch him. Shucks

Over/under on first "He can hit" from Mike Krukow: July 20. I'll take the under.

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