2022 Pod Projections: Wander Franco by Mike Podhorzer February 28, 2022 It’s been a longer wait than in the past, but it’s finally Pod Projections time! The 2022 forecasts are now available and include nearly 550 player lines. As usual in my Pod Projection posts, I’ll dive into my projection methodology (detailed in Projecting X 2.0) by sharing my process on several hitters and pitchers. Today, I’ll analyze former top overall prospect, Wander Franco. He made his eagerly anticipated debut last season and was as solid as expected, despite being just 20 years old. While a 14 homer and four stolen base pace over a full season certainly didn’t thrill fantasy owners, he posted a .348 wOBA and managed to maintain his sterling contact ability by striking out just 12% of the time. That’s mightily impressive for a rookie who wasn’t even of legal drinking age yet. So the sky’s the limit then, right? Welllll, fantasy owners can’t seem to agree on the answer to that question, particularly for the 2022 season. While his 57.5 ADP during the month of February in all NFBC leagues has made him the 54th player selected on average, he has been picked as early as ninth(!!!!!!) and as late as 83rd. That’s a massive gap, though I imagine such gaps are more typical for players with limited to no MLB track record, versus established veterans. So can his meh fantasy line become magnificent this season, or will he remain a much stronger real baseball player than fantasy contributor? Let’s jump into the metrics and try to figure that out. Plate Appearances: 645 Incredibly, Franco spent the majority of his time batting second and third in the Rays lineup last year. Our RosterResource page projects Franco to bat second, and I agree as he makes more sense there than third. To hedge, I’m projecting a small drop in PA/G versus 2021, but given how often the team juggles its lineup, it’s still the highest forecasted PA/G on the team! BB%: 8.2% Franco’s walk rate stood near or above double digits in 2018 and 2019 at the lower levels, but it dropped to just 7.8% at Triple-A and remained there during his half season MLB debut. He posted a 7.5% xBB%, as his pitches per plate appearance were below average, he took 3-0 counts less frequently than the league, and he made such good contact that he put balls into play more often. It’s hard to walk when you’re so good at putting the ball in play. I’m projecting a small jump in walk rate as players generally improve this mark as they age. K%: 12.8% It’s rare that you see single digit strikeout rates, but that’s exactly what Franco had done in the lower levels from 2018-2019. Predictably, it was too difficult to maintain such incredible rates at the Triple-A and MLB level, as his SwStk% nearly doubled from his High-A mark in 2019 and strikeout rate jumped into double digits, but technically just short of the teens. Obviously, both marks still remained fantastic. His MLB xK% backed up his elite strikeout rate, as it sat barely worse at 12.3%. My projection takes a slightly conservative stance as it acknowledges how difficult it is to maintain such a low strikeout rate. Only five qualified hitters (132) posted a strikeout rate below 12% last year. My forecast also accounts for the risk that pitchers make some adjustments during his second season that Franco will have to then adjust back to. GB%/LD%/FB%: 45% / 20% / 35% Surprisingly, Franco wasn’t any good at hitting line drives in the minors, so his 20.4% mark with the Rays actually represented a professional high. I can’t tell you if that was a fluke and he’ll revert back to his struggle hitting line drives, but I’m forecasting a minor decline, but one that still falls just below the 2021 league average of 20.7%. From 2019-2021, Franco has posted FB% marks between 32.6% and 37.3%, plus a 34.3% mark in the Majors. I simply shot for the middle and assumed most of his missing minor league line drives would come out of his grounders (more line drives in the Majors than minors and fewer grounders in the Majors than minors). BABIP: .305 Franco has posted a BABIP above .300 at each level of his professional career, though it hit a low during his MLB debut, despite the career best line drive rate. Perhaps surprisingly, my xBABIP equation suggests his actual BABIP should have actually been a bit worse at .305. That’s actually slightly higher than Statcast’s implied xBABIP of .302 given Franco’s good speed, offset by a tendency to hit grounders into the shift and a lower than average rate of opposite field grounders. Major League BABIP marks are always lower than minor league marks to begin with, so I chose to settle on using his 2021 xBABIP as his 2022 BABIP forecast. HR/FB Ratio: 10% Given the elite base skills and his young age, you figure big power will eventually come. The only question is when. His professional high HR/FB rate was just 13.7%, posted at Triple-A before his promotion last season. He then posted an 8.3% mark with the Rays, and his xHR/FB rate almost mirrored that at 8.1%. Nearly every single one of his xHR/FB rate equation components were worse than league average, but that doesn’t mean they can’t jump significantly this season. It’s a complete guess when “the leap” will occur, assuming it does. I’m projecting a small step forward this season with his HR/FB rate getting into double digits, but given his prospect pedigree, no one will be shocked if he posted a high-teen mark. Runs and RBI: 96 and 76 Franco posted an absurd 0.460 runs per times on base (a Pod Projections metric), versus a 0.351 AL average over the last three seasons. That will be impossible to repeat over a full season, but I’m still projecting a strong number, well above the league average even with just a potentially average Rays lineup. Batting second with a solid OBP should allow him to flirt with the 100 run level, especially if his power flourishes sooner than projected. Because he actually recorded slightly more PAs batting third than second, his RBI/BIP (another Pod Projections metric) was significantly higher than the league average for two-hole hitters. I don’t expect him to hit third nearly as often this year, so I’m projecting a big drop in the metric, but still a bit above the league average. More power would likely push his projected RBI total over 80. SB: 11 Franco’s Sprint Speed was very good last year at 28.5 feet/second versus a 27.0 league average, but he failed to use that speed to try stealing bases. It’s possible that the Rays held him up given his consistently poor success rates in the minors. I’m projecting a half-rebound in his stolen base attempt rate toward his 2019 and 2021 minor league rates, with a better success rate than in the minors, but not significantly so. These are all just guesses though, as we know he has the speed, but we don’t know if his willingness will change and he’ll learn to steal more successfully. Below is my final projected hitting line, along with the other systems for comparison: Wander Franco Projections System AB PA AVG HR R RBI SB BB% K% BABIP Pod 583 645 0.286 18 96 76 11 8.2% 12.8% 0.305 ZiPS DC 585 644 0.283 19 102 85 10 7.6% 13.6% 0.303 THE BAT X 560 621 0.298 19 83 80 9 8.0% 10.0% 0.305 THE BAT 560 621 0.294 17 81 76 8 8.1% 10.1% 0.305 ATC 564 621 0.292 18 90 80 8 7.7% 11.9% 0.309 FGDC 584 644 0.286 19 93 84 10 7.6% 12.9% 0.305 Steamer 589 651 0.289 19 85 84 10 7.5% 12.2% 0.306 ZiPS 487 536 0.283 16 85 71 8 7.6% 13.6% 0.303 Yellow = most optimisticRed = most pessimistic First of all, I want to make it clear that when I manually project the various metrics that result in the above calculations (of the above, I only manually project BB%, K%, and BABIP, the rest are formulas based on my rate forecasts), I don’t look at any of the already published projection systems. I don’t even look at the projections when I finish mine to “make sure they are reasonable” or whatever. Heck, I start my projections back in October/November, and there aren’t even any projections published yet! So with that said, I’m always amazed at how close some of my projections are to the rest of the pack, especially for rookies or young players with limited MLB track records. We all agree that Franco is one of those hitters who will contribute a little everywhere, without standing out in any particular category. That typically leads to undervaluation by the fantasy community, but when it’s a former top overall prospect, that undervaluation is far less likely to occur. However, we saw in the NFBC pick range that it’s clear your leaguemates play a big role in how Franco is viewed. Obviously, it’s silly to draft him ninth overall, but he should be a bargain as late as 83rd. Remember too that these projections don’t factor in a ton of growth from his rookie season. Major breakouts do occur and are rarely projected, so with his broad base of skills, he’s easily capable of crushing these forecasts (no, not a Vladimir Guerrero Jr.-esque ascension, but more like 25 homers, 15 steals, and batting .310).