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August 17, 2005

Prospectus Today

Chasing Two Awards

by Joe Sheehan

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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

*active
There 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    19
Francoeur'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.

Joe Sheehan is an author of Baseball Prospectus. 
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