Phillies: Defending Maikel Franco’s Upsetting 2016 Season

Maikel Franco’s struggles this past season were well documented. But, could they have been overblown? What do the Phillies third basemen’s numbers suggest?

Maikel Franco is a key cornerstone in the Phillies rebuild. It’s easy to make an argument that he is the cornerstone of the Phillies rebuild. 

He’s got all the talent a team could want in a slugger. But what stands out for Franco at the plate is his strength. An argument could be made that the guy has the strongest hands in the league. His bat absolutely flies through the zone due to his hand strength and wrist quickness.

Franco possesses that “natural instinct” when it comes to driving in runs. In just 305 career plate appearances with runners in scoring position (RISP), Franco has slashed .251/.325/.483 (.808 OPS) with 16 homers and 113 RBI.

However, it’s not all rainbows and butterflies for Maikel Franco.

Franco’s Flaws

What hinders Franco is his approach and discipline. He doesn’t strikeout as often as one would assume (only 106 K’s in 2016), but his eagerness get’s in the way far too often. With two strikes (292 plates appearances in 2016), he only hit .175 with 18 walks. He gets anxious, ahead of himself, and ultimately hurts his value to the team.

His defense hasn’t been a plus either. He’s got an absolute rocket of an arm carried with tremendous footwork – you’ll see him on many highlights throughout his career.

What Franco lacks is the overall range (league-worst 2.20 range factor in 2016) and awareness (13 errors) of an elite defensive third basemen. His career -1.1 dWAR for his career is nothing special either. Needless to say, the guy has got to improve on that side.

Numbers Don’t Always Tell The Full Story

So was it all really that bad for Franco in 2016?

I say no.

Sure, Franco only finished the season hitting .251/.306/.427 (.733 OPS). And yes, he should’ve finished with more than 25 homers and 88 RBI. His flaws obviously prevented such.

However, what if I told you that for 88 percent of Franco’s season, he was better (offensively) than we all saw?

Allow me to explain:

Mini-Slumps

Franco went through five, semi-major, hitting slumps this season. Consisting over the course of 18 games (12 percent of his season).

  • May 28th – May 31st: 1 for 15, one double, one walk, four strikeouts.
  • June 16th – June 19th: 0 for 15, one strikeout.
  • July 17th – July 19th: 0 for 13, one RBI, six strikeouts.
  • July 29th – July 31st: 0 for 13, one RBI, one strikeout.
  • August 29th – September 2nd: 1 for 16, two strikeouts.

Tally these stretches of slump together, and you’ll get a horrendous (.028/.041/.042) slash line with two RBI and 14 strikeouts in 74 plate appearances for Franco.

Defending Maikel

In defense of Franco, again, this was only 12 percent (18 out of 152 games) of his season and plate appearances. The team was outscored 32-88 (-56 run differential) in those 18 games. With the Phils having to face Jose Fernandez, Jacob deGrom, Max Scherzer, Zack Greinke, J.A. Happ, Kyle Hendricks, John Lackey, Julio Teheran, Gio Gonzalez, Joe Ross, Robbie Ray, and Tanner Roark (twice), in 13 of the 18 games.

Every hitter in baseball has to deal with good pitching, that’s no excuse. However, it’s easy to see how an aggressor like Franco can fall into poor habits when trying to carry the load of a poor offense, which veterans will feast on. And boy did they ever.

Positives

To paint a brighter picture, there were positives in the other 88 percent (134 games) of Franco’s season. A much, much, much, larger sample size.

Franco slashed .286/.340/.481 (.821 OPS). Hitting all 25 of his home runs, driving in 86 of his total 88 RBI, while adding a solid 92/38 strikeout to walk clip in the other 134 games (556 plate appearances).

The Phillies (for what it’s worth) would also have a record of 68-66 (.508) in those 134 games. Solidifying the type of impact Franco can have on his team.

Add in Franco’s final 26 games – where he hit three homers, drove in 16 runs, and slashed .306/.352/.449 (.801 OPS) over 105 plate appearances – and it’s more telling that Franco is just fine.

What Do We Make Of Franco’s 2016?

Understandably, Franco didn’t quite live up to the hype this past season. But that doesn’t mean there wasn’t more to what we were seeing. Both good and bad. He had five different ice-cold slumps, spread out over just 18 games (not consecutive), hitting in arguably the worst National League lineup, facing some pretty good pitchers.

Maybe I just have a hard time saying Franco took a step back considering the sample sizes and circumstances. However, as an observer, I thought there was more to Franco’s numbers. And this was my best argument in defense of Franco.

Yes, he still has to make improvements to his game. And yes, it’s understandable to accept that Franco still has a long way to go before he becomes the player the Phillies envision him being.

The point is, don’t let 18 games change your mind on Franco. Time will show just how special of a hitter he will be. And he’s already pretty darn good.

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