Jeff Francoeur came to the Mets with his strong right arm, his optimistic attitude, his dazzling white choppers and a complete inability to get on base. The Mets took a flier on him, as the Braves gave up on their hometown hero.
And in his time in Queens last season, it seemed like the gamble may have paid off. He unpacked his "clubhouse intangibles" and set up shop in the Mets locker room, taking over for the surly, negative Carlos Delgado and other ghosts of immediate years past. But, more importantly, he actually produced on the field. In 75 games, he put up a .300/.338/.498 line, with 10 home runs and 41 RBIs. Getting on base at a .338 clip is not overly impressive, but it's something you could live with if you're contributing in other ways.
And Francoeur is still young after all, younger than David Wright, Jose Reyes, Angel Pagan and Chris Carter. He's only 26 - it just seems like he's been around forever and should be 32. So maybe, just maybe, he'd see the light and change his ways just enough to minimize his obvious weakness.
But after a torrid first few weeks of 2010, where he briefly was somewhat selective at the plate, Frenchy has regressed so badly, the whole population of Atlanta is saying "I told you so." There have been a few well-documented players who can swing at everything thrown at them no matter where the pitch is and be successful (Yogi Berra, Kirby Puckett, Vladimir Guerrero), while there are others who swing at everything and that approach just doesn't work (Jeff Francoeur, Jeff Francoeur, Jeff Francoeur). And if he's buried in a slump (but if the slump lasts for three months, is it really a slump or just who he is?), he's pretty much useless.
Francoeur doesn't draw walks, he barely puts the ball in play and right field isn't a position to hide an offensively useless player.
What does he do well? Throw. Not only does he gun out runners at each and every base (well, he tries to throw runners out at first), he prevents runners from even attempting to advance an extra base. How many times this season alone have we seen a runner stopping at third because of the threat of his arm? Probably going on a dozen now. During the sweep/shutout streak against the Phillies (was that even this season?), Shane Victorino stopped at third on what would normally have been an easy run-scoring single. He was eventually stranded there, and the scoreless streak remained intact. Another run saved by the strong-armed Francoeur. And he does a good job of maneuvering around the tricky right field corner of Citi Field.
Of course, he's also a team leader and "good clubhouse guy." While some may scoff at that label or importance of chemistry in baseball, it does count for something. Sure, teams have won without so much as a friendly word to each other, but so much of baseball is mental, and if a team feels it can pull together, gain confidence in each other, and extract mental toughness and a never-say-die attitude from it, that can translate into runs on the offensive side and outs on defense, which can translate into an extra win or two. OK, I just made that up. I have no idea if any of that is close to the truth. But they are human beings, after all, and not robots. And the Mets surely needed to wash away the stink on and off the field of the previous disastrous seasons. And who better than a smiling Jeff Francoeur to lead the way?
But talent overrides chemistry, of course. Even the Mets see that. With the emergence of Angel Pagan, and Francoeur's woeful line of .248/.299/.379, Frenchy gets a seat at the end of the bench. He's never hit enough home runs to compensate for his inability to lay off pitches that are in another county, let alone close to the strike zone. And his "good" seasons with the Braves were probably more mirage than anything. It's that rifle of an arm, good-guy personality and constant smile that have been blinding everyone. That toothy beam of his reminds us of Isiah Thomas, who, legend has it, during the interviewing process with the Knicks, just silently stared at James Dolan with that creepy grin of his until the owner shouted, "OK, enough with that damn smile! I can't take it anymore. You're hired!" Is that what Francoeur has done to us? (Though I feel guilty for even mentioning Thomas and Francouer in the same sentence.)
Just saying the words "Jeff Francoeur" can send sabermetricians into convulsions, but we don't need advanced stats and mathematical formulas to see that Francouer is, unfortunately, just not that good. We can just use our eyes for that. He went from high school football legend and local-boy-makes-good baseball star to a backup player by the age of 26 (but he hasn't complained about his demotion -- he is a team-first guy after all). And how effective can he really be as a part-time player? He can only play one position, and he can't hit. Maybe there's just room for one right field star with a French nickname in Mets franchise history, for Jeff you are no Le Grand Orange, at least not the vintage, circa-1973 Rusty Staub.
But damn it, I still like the guy. I just can't help it.
But I'm not sure I want him on my team.
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