Jeff Francoeur and RBI Opportunities

The Jeff Francoeur hype machine never ceases to amaze me. The new meme is that Francoeur is producing because he is freed of the pressure of playing in front of the hometown crowds in Atlanta.

Now, make no mistake, Francoeur is off to a good start and has produced since being acquired by the Mets just prior to the All-Star break. In 12 games for New York, Francoeur has posted a .327-2-14-2-0 fantasy line.

But let us set aside that the only two runs he has scored have come on home runs (that probably has more to do with the Mets’ offense than it does with his zero walks) and instead focus on the two categories that Francoeur is doing well: AVG and RBIs.

Francoeur’s .327 AVG comes with a .333 BABIP, which is 30 points above his lifetime mark in the category. He made his reputation in the first 70 games of his career, when Francoeur posted a .341 BABIP. In 2007, when he drove in 105 runs and batted .293, Francoeur had a .342 mark. To have a good AVG for fantasy, Francoeur needs a very high BABIP.

While he has shown the capability to post those high marks, we have to counter that with the .286 mark in 2006, the .277 mark last year and the .281 mark in 82 games with Atlanta this season.

Meanwhile, 14 RBIs in 12 games is a nice streak. But while some might point to this as a reflection of Francoeur’s ability to come through with men on base, more rational people will see that it is a hot streak coinciding with very fortunate RBI opportunities.

In just over half of his plate appearances with the Mets, Francoeur has batted with runners on base (27-52). If we look at the three hitters the Mets hoped would make up the heart of their order, we see this is pretty typical. David Wright (219-421), Carlos Beltran (142-280) and Carlos Delgado (59-112) all had between 51-53% of their PA with runners on base.

Where we see the difference is with the breakdowns of where the runners were on base. The following numbers are from Baseball Prospectus, with OBI% defined as “Others Batted In Percentage — the fraction of runners on base who were driven in during a batter’s plate appearances. OBI is distinguished from RBI (runs batted in) in that OBI does not credit the batter for his own scoring on a home run. In otherwords OBI = RBI – HR”

R1 R2 R3 OBI%
Beltran 89 66 42 .16244
Delgado 43 31 18 .20652
Francouer 16 16 8 .30000
Wright 150 102 51 .13861

The contrast between Francoeur and Wright is striking, with 60 percent of Francoeur’s runners on base being in scoring position. Francoeur being hot in this stretch has led to a 30 percent rate of driving others in, a mark that would easily lead the majors. Currently, Bobby Abreu has the top overall mark with a 22.3 percent mark. In 2008, David DeJesus led the way by driving in 21.5 percent of other runners.

By contrast, this season with the Braves Francoeur drove in a little over 12 percent of other runners in, as only 49 percent of runners on base were in scoring position. Below are Francoeur’s RBI numbers in previous years with the Braves.

R1 R2 R3 OBI%
2008 236 164 94 .12146
2007 230 170 87 .17659
2006 222 154 72 .16158
2005 91 57 29 .17514

Prior to last season, we see Francoeur being pretty stable in his OBI%, with the two higher percentages in 2005 and 2007 corresponding to the years where he had higher BABIPs.

Since joining the Mets, Francoeur is swinging at more pitches in the strike zone (88%-80.3%) and making more contact on those swings (92.4%-88.1%). But even in our small Mets sample, we see he is still swinging at 35.5 percent of pitches outside the zone and is still having trouble with harder pitches.

Pitch Type Values shows him with nearly identical poor rates versus both fastballs and sliders per 100 pitches while with the Mets as what he did earlier with the Braves. Apparently, he has done most of his damage in New York versus curve balls and changeups. This should be a pretty simple thing for advance scouts to identify and for pitchers to implement versus Francoeur going forward.

Francoeur has been an asset for the Mets since the team acquired him. But do not think he can be the same thing for your fantasy team. Neither the 60 percent of baserunners in scoring position nor the 30 percent of other runners driven in nor the .333 BABIP is likely to last for the rest of the season.

We hoped you liked reading Jeff Francoeur and RBI Opportunities by Brian Joura!

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James K.

A fine read, Brian. This meme needs to die.