Let’s Talk About Maikel Franco

Maikel Franco is not off to the start Phillies fans hoped to see. He’s posted a 91 wRC+ and his 0.2 fWAR ranks 25th of 26 qualified major league third basemen. Last night, he hit his ninth home run of the year and over his past ten games he’s batting .306/.350/.500; so, maybe a corner has been turned. But whether brighter days are on the horizon or not, it’s worth taking the time to look at what’s gone wrong.

I’ve stopped and started writing an analysis on Franco’s struggles multiple times over the past month, and the reason why I haven’t completed one until now isn’t good. It’s been hard to find an interesting or compelling angle on this analysis because what Franco has been doing is in line with his known profile. To be clear, there have been changes and areas where we can expect to see Franco improve going forward, and we’ll get to those; but, overall, what’s happened in 2016 so far aligns well with what we know to be true about him. Maikel Franco has been Maikel Franco this year and, given the results, that’s a scary thing.

If you were to boil down Franco’s offensive profile to one sentence, it might look something like this: Franco is an aggressive hitter with power and strong bat-to-ball skills. Now check out Brooks Baseball’s automatically generated profile of Franco at the plate in 2016:

brooks franco

(click to enlarge)

That’s “very” to “exceptionally” aggressive, “average” to “above average” power, and “average” to “above average” likelihood to swing and miss. The aggressive approach and power check out with our assumptions heading in, so let’s start by taking a look at his propensity for whiffs.

Last year, Franco posted an ISO (isolated power) of .217 and a strikeout-rate of 15.5 percent. Of the 20 qualified hitters with an equal or better ISO, only two — Albert Pujols (10.9 K%) and Anthony Rizzo (15.0 K%) — posted a lower strikeout-rate than Franco. Despite that impressive achievement, his Contact% was 76.9%, or a touch below the league average mark of 78.8%. Perhaps it would be more accurate to update our simplistic profile of Franco to say that he has “strong bat-to-ball skills for a power hitter.”

This year, his strikeout-rate has crept up from 15.5% to 17.0% and his Contact% has fallen from 76.9% to 74.5%. So he is, indeed, making less contact this season. Let’s break down his contact by pitch type:

Pitch Type 2015

Count

2015

Whiff/Swing

2016

Count

2016

Whiff/Swing

Change
Fourseam 356 14.29% 236 22.95% +8.66%
Sinker 271 14.38% 150 12.16% -2.22%
Change 113 33.33% 95 43.14% +9.81%
Slider 237 39.66% 154 32.63% -7.03%
Curve 128 36.21% 81 35.14% -1.07%
Cutter 65 28.00% 34 31.25% +3.25%

What’s most striking about this chart, to me, is his increase in whiffs against fourseamers. Secondary pitches are designed to induce whiffs, but a contact-oriented power hitter should be crushing fastballs and that doesn’t appear to be happening for Franco so far this season. According to Statcast, Franco’s whiff-rate against fourseamers is the 43rd worst out of 186 major leaguers (min. 100 swings). This certainly passes the sniff test for anyone who has watched Franco flail helplessly at high fastballs this season.

In a likely related development, pitchers are throwing Franco pitches in the zone more often this season. If he isn’t giving pitchers reasons to fear him, then pitchers won’t be afraid to challenge him.

Year Zone% O-Swing% O-Contact% Z-Swing% Z-Contact%

2015

41.5% 32.9% 61.1% 69.3%

87.2%

2016

46.0% 33.3% 56.3% 75.4%

83.9%

He’s seeing more pitches in the zone, swinging at them at a higher rate, and making significantly less contact. That’s a surefire way to become less productive at the plate and, frankly, it makes it impressive that his strikeout-rate has only increased slightly to 17.0 percent. He’s being less selective at the plate and the results are incredibly poor. As David Murphy recently pointed out on Philly.com, Franco would be wise to work on his plate discipline.

Which brings us to one final chart, Maikel Franco’s batted ball profile:

 Year LD% GB% FB% IFFB% BABIP
2015 18.2% 47.0% 34.8% 14.8% .297
2016 17.3% 45.7% 37.0% 18.3% .261

This is actually really good news. His pop-up rate is elevated (a problem which could likely be rectified through being more selective at the plate), but beyond that his batted ball profile is remarkably similar to last year’s.

Now look at his spray charts —

2015


Source: FanGraphs

2016


Source: FanGraphs

Just like last year, he’s a bit pull happy on grounders, but is doing well to spray balls in the air to all fields.

Maikel Franco is still Maikel Franco, but his BABIP has fallen from .297 to .261. BABIP luck is often an overstated analytical crutch and I do think it’s a strong hypothesis that poor plate discipline could be leading to weaker overall contact for Franco, but that’s not enough to dismiss the likely fluky nature of a fall of 36 points of BABIP.

The tweaks and adjustments Franco needs to make going forward are relatively small. He should work to become more selective in the zone and, in doing so, cut back on whiffs against high fastballs. But beyond that 2016 Franco looks eerily like 2015 Franco. The question then is which results do you believe are real? Is he the 128 wRC+ player of a year ago? The 91 wRC+ of this year? Or somewhere in between?

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13 comments

  1. Scuffy McGee

    June 03, 2016 05:41 PM

    Great analysis.

  2. Romus

    June 03, 2016 06:28 PM

    Spot on with this in depth look.
    I wonder if the team is aware of things like this to help the player in correcting!
    Eleven for 36 (official ABs) in his last 10 games, so maybe things are heating up for him.

  3. Eddie

    June 03, 2016 08:31 PM

    Not worried. They’ve adjusted to him, and he needs to adjust back by being more selective, not just out of the zone but in it. Given the crappy surroundings, I suspect that he feels pressure to hit every hittable pitch.

    • KMG

      June 04, 2016 12:59 PM

      Great point- if Joseph can provide even average production, it should help Franco feel less pressure.

    • Josh

      June 05, 2016 07:55 PM

      Not buying this reasoning. Odubel’s season is based around plate discipline. Different players just have different approaches and need to adjust to their individual skills.

  4. smittyboy

    June 04, 2016 12:25 AM

    In watching him he appears to be over anxious and too aggressive. Tonight he swung mightily and hit the ball off the handle of the bat. Everyone, including the LF thought the ball was a homer but in fact he swung so hard and the sound made it appear to be “out” when it was a dying quail in front of the LF, an rbi in a critical situation ! He does not seem to make smart swings but appears to be trying to smash every pitch. Every time I see him bat I start murmuring, “slow down, get in the game, and just punish the ball, but exercise control.” I somehow hope he will begin to mature as a hitter and slow down, take more pitches, and look for “his pitch.” That looks like a ways off……

    • Romus

      June 04, 2016 08:01 AM

      If Herrera can do it and be the prime example this season sitting at the top of the order…Franco should take it, and also be able to adjust his hitting approach.
      The number three hole hitter is suppose to be the best hitter in the lineup….perfect balance between hit and power, Franco however is swinging as a 4 hitter.

    • Capitalist

      June 05, 2016 02:32 PM

      That Fantex deal might be a curse in disguise. Franco has his downside covered & he is free to swing for the fences on every pitch to go for broke….

  5. GB

    June 06, 2016 12:12 AM

    Growth is very rarely linear or consistent. There will be ups and downs, hot streaks and slumps. Put Franco at 3B and let him develop. Keep bringing in talent to the farm just in case things do not work out like we would in any other situation, but keep supporting and encouraging Franco. Please Phillies do not start jerking him around and undercut him. Growth does not happen overnight.

  6. Dante

    June 06, 2016 09:22 AM

    I see those spray charts a bit differently. I see much less power to the right of CF, which jives with the idea he is yanking the ball more in trying to crush each pitch.

    Also, he has a very odd mix of plate discipline numbers. His swinging strike rate is 13.1% good for 28th in the league, but his K rate is well below everyone in front of him (only 2 players whiff as much as him while striking out less than 20% of the time (CarGo and Adam Jones). This makes me a bit more optimistic, in that he has shown the quality contact skills for years, and certainly has enough power to show it with a more controlled approach. Basically, he is showing us his floor as a hitter this season. This is where a hitting coach can prove to be worth his salt by getting him to control his aggression.

  7. Major Malfunction

    June 06, 2016 12:31 PM

    I pointed out at the beginning of the season that he’s swinging out of his shoes to hit the ball. Still at times, his helmet either comes off or just about comes off when he’s swinging. Plus he’s swinging at pitches above his eyes and then fouling off fat pitches down the middle.

    His bat speed is electrifying, but he’s got to get a handle on it. There’s no such thing as 9 run home run, but he’s sure swinging like he’s trying for one. Notice he never seems to have towering home runs? They are always rocket line drives due to his want to generate absolute bat speed. Sure, a HR is a HR, but like any batted ball or swing, it can tell you some simple things you might be overlooking.

    • Romus

      June 06, 2016 02:40 PM

      Maj Mal…correct ..his exit velo was I think 108 for yesterday’s HR

    • Gary

      June 06, 2016 03:03 PM

      “Pitch selection” Was not this RyanHowards Downfall orBeginning of it as Pitchers Knew that They Did not have to throw him strikes, 2 getOut.plus his usual weaknesses of High fastball above belt,Sweeping Sliderfrom lefties, & set up changeups? By not taking Walks,by not Swinging Strikes, but balls;why Throw him a Strike if he Swings out of the Strike zone? Franco falls into just about Every player coming into the Lesgue, 3 or so of Progress, Learning curve, and I do not think that you can change that for Hitters or Pitchers Even. Even Harper Took until last year to break out. Young talent 21-22-23 it takes longer to Develop. Plus stronger Starting pitching in the Last 3-4 Years and Bullpen men the Last 2 innings,plus Graphics&computer info and Shifts make for even harder Progress in Development. You hope the Hand/Eye Can make the Progressive Adjustments.

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