August 17, 2005
Chasing Two Awards
Jeff Francoeur (who I've taken to calling Jeff Francaieour, since he seems to be the Franco-American version of the Mets' first baseman) has sparked a revival of interest in The DiSar Awards. The DiSars, you'll recall, honor the players in each league who accumulate the most at-bats in a given season before drawing their first base on balls.
Francoeur, the Braves' rookie right fielder, has opened his career with a .371/.389/.724 start that includes no walks in his first 105 major-league at-bats. As impressive as that is, it's only good for second in the majors this year, according to Keith Woolner:
Jose Reyes 114 Jeffrey Francoeur 105* Aaron Miles 86 Raul Chavez 74 Adam Kennedy 73 Jose Lopez 72 Orlando Hudson 68 Joe McEwing 66 Jason Smith 58* B.J. Surhoff 54 Grady Sizemore 54 Geronimo Gil 50 Robinson Cano 49 *activeThere are no other position players with active streaks of 40 or more ABs. Jason Smith needs a recall to Detroit and some playing time if he's going to make a run at Adam Kennedy in the AL.
Jose Reyes buried the competition early on with a mark that ranks among the top 15 DiSar numbers since 1972. However, as we've seen over and over in the history of this award, you win it from behind. Francoeur is just days away from passing Reyes, and given his success at the plate, you have to think he has a strong chance of doing so. After all, there's no reason for the guy hitting .371 with a .353 Isolated Power to think he has to start messing with his success. Francoeur's best shot at a walk between now and the weekend is likely an intentional pass.
Reyes' inability to draw walks has a deleterious effect on his value. Unlike Francoeur, he's not batting .370, so his OBP has hovered around .300 all year long, making him a marginal regular and a terrible leadoff batter. With just 18 free passes in more than 500 plate appearances, he's having a season out of the Omar Moreno Collection, with impressive speed data (42 steals, 81% success rate, 11 triples) that is overwhelmed in importance by his inability to reach base. Even if you spot him those first 114 ABs, he's walked in less than 5% of his plate appearance since then. Maybe he's not Shawon Dunston--he makes more contact--but he's far from the star the Mets have been touting.
Francoeur has more power than Reyes and isn't expected to set the table, so the threshold at which he needs to provide OBP to be valuable might be lower. On the other hand, he's a corner outfielder, not a shortstop, which means his OBP can't be hand-waved away by looking at his positional value. More significantly, unlike Reyes, who has a strikeout-to-walk ratio (59/18) that indicates he's not being completely overmatched, Francoeur has whiffed 19 times in 105 at-bats. That's a high strikeout rate, and a K/BB that, it's fair to say, no player has ever succeeded with.
Plate discipline has been Francoeur's problem at every stop along the way, and he's been promoted in spite of it:
Team Lvl AB BB SO 2002 DAN R 147 15 34 2003 ROM A- 524 30 68 2004 MYR A+ 334 22 70 2004 GRN AA 76 0 14 2005 MISS AA 335 21 76 2005 ATL NL 105 0 19Francoeur's K/BB above A ball is 109/21 in 516 AB. Unless you really believe he's a .370 hitter with .700 power, it's pretty clear that what we're seeing here is a fluke, a Shane Spencer month to kick off a career. Francoeur is a tremendous talent--big, strong and very young, with a terrific arm--but his drive for the DiSars is more than just a fun stat: it's an indication that he's not actually ready to stick in the major leagues.