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ATLANTA BRAVES
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  • Jinxed?: On August 22, Jeff Francoeur had played in 35 games and swatted himself a monstrous batting line of .362/.381/.700 with 10 home runs, a triple and 12 doubles among 47 hits. He had a 27-to-1 K-to-BB ratio (27-to-0 K-to-Unintentional BB), but he was slugging the ball so monstrously that about the only person complaining was our very own vox clamantis in deserto, Joe Sheehan (by the by, Dartmouth College borrowed that phrase for its motto, which means we have to link to this. From St. John the Baptist to Keggy the Keg in two sentences–what is this, a Steven Goldman piece?)


    Since that day, Francoeur has hit .250/.305/.396 in 27 games. His XBH% during this period was still a strong 41.7%, and to be fair, the walk rate came way up–seven BB in 105 plate appearances vs. one in 135 PAs prior. All in all though, it’s hard to call this anything but a slump.

    What happened that week? Sports Illustrated happened. Headline: “The Natural: Atlanta Rookie Jeff Francoeur is off to an impossibly hot start. Can anyone be this good?” Thanks, SI…


    In fairness, the slump started a week or so before Sports Illustrated hit the newsstand, but that’s less spooky. What are we getting at here? Over his entire season Francoeur is hitting .318/.352/.578 as a 21-year-old who reached the majors for the first time in the middle of a playoff race. The pre- and post-Sports Illustrated stat lines quoted above are both taken from small sample sizes and in as much as we looked at the .362/.381/.700 and said, “he can’t keep this up…” why not look at the .250/.305/.396 and say the same thing?


    Sure, the walks are coming up a little, but this is still a player with 46 strikeouts and eight walks in 236 plate appearances. If he can’t keep the batting average above .300 and his isolated slugging rate above .180 then his value plummets in a hurry due to an inability to get on base via the walk.


    Worst-case scenario: Pedro Feliz with 20-30 more points of batting average? Francoeur had a far more distinguished minor-league record than Feliz, and hit the majors at a much younger age, but our point is plain enough: Francoeur either needs to learn to walk, or he needs to keep his batting average solidly above .300 to be the sort of elite player that everyone wants him to be.

  • Keeping up with the Jones’: BP has made a lot of hay out of the NL Most Valuable Player debate. We won’t delve into that debate other than to say that Andruw Jones is having a monster season (.262/.352/.594) wherein he has already broken the Braves single-season HR mark, but he hardly ranks on a list of the very best Braves’ offensive seasons of all-time.

    Atlanta Braves’ Single-Season Hitter VORPs
    (since 1972)

    NAME YEAR TEAM VORP
    Chipper Jones 1999 ATL 114.6
    Chipper Jones 2001 ATL 92.6
    Gary Sheffield 2003 ATL 87.5
    Chipper Jones 2000 ATL 81.8
    J.D. Drew 2004 ATL 78.7
    Chipper Jones 1998 ATL 78
    Javy Lopez 2003 ATL 78
    Dale Murphy 1983 ATL 75.2
    Chipper Jones 2002 ATL 75
    Dale Murphy 1987 ATL 73
    Darrell Evans 1973 ATL 71
    Dale Murphy 1985 ATL 70.8
    Andruw Jones 2000 ATL 70.5
    Marcus Giles 2003 ATL 69.6
    Chipper Jones 1996 ATL 68.2
    Jeff Blauser 1997 ATL 66.9
    Andres Galarraga 1998 ATL 66
    Jeff Blauser 1993 ATL 65.5
    Dale Murphy 1984 ATL 63.7
    Davey Johnson 1973 ATL 63.6
    Andruw Jones 2005 ATL 62.9**
    Lonnie Smith 1989 ATL 60.6
    Jeff Burroughs 1978 ATL 60.3

    **At press-time


    1) Chipper Jones was a stud in his prime. 2) Dale Murphy wasn’t half-bad either. 3) There have been 13 better offensive seasons by Braves hitters just in the last 10 years.


    Andruw Jones is good, but this is hardly a season for the ages, home run title or not.

James Click contributed research to this article

Tom Gorman

PHILADELPHIA PHILLIES
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Ryan Howard had a big night last night. Not only did he hit a game-winning grand slam to keep Philly’s playoff hopes alive in a 10-6 victory over Atlanta, but he overtook Jeff Francoeur in the VORP lead among rookie position players. Francoeur helped a bit, going 0-for-5 at the plate and dropping his overall batting line to .311/.344/.566 (his AVG alone dropped seven points, hammering home just how partial his partial season has been). Francoeur’s plate discipline issues are perhaps starting to get exploited, as he’s cooled off after his scorching start; he’s at just .247/.273/.425 this month, while Howard has hit .308/.366/.754 down the stretch. If both trends continue, Howard would have to be considered the new favorite to win the Rookie of the Year award.

VORP doesn’t matter, though, not in the ROY voting. Last year’s NL race saw the overall VORP leader, Khalil Greene (37.6) lose out to Pittsburgh’s Jason Bay (34.6). If we’re looking to rationalize that selection, well, Greene had more playing time; Bay’s VORPr (.310) was higher than Greene’s (.294), and so prorating Bay’s season gives him the edge in “intended VORP” or some such thing. One would also think that playing a more demanding defensive position would have given Greene even more of an edge.

This sort of history matters in the race this year, in which there’s no clear favorite candidate in the NL; all have many reasons to not get a vote, and there’s historical precedent to suggest none of the more promising candidates will win. Obviously, that’s absurd. From a counting stat standpoint, Howard is now in the lead, as he’s technically put the most runs on the board despite being on pace to play about half the season. VORP also doesn’t take defense into account, and Francoeur’s well-publicized 12 outfield assists give him a boost in that department. Howard gets no such boost, as his FRAR and FRAA scores are just 5 and -3, respectively.

But position players who play in only part of the season simply don’t win ROY awards, and that includes both Howard and Francoeur. Which means that in the NL, we may be looking at a winner from among Willy Taveras and Garrett Atkins, with Jeff Francis, Brad Halsey, Wandy Rodriguez and D.J. Houlton representing the starting pitchers (despite all of them with negative VORPs), and Gary Majewski and Chad Qualls representing the relievers. This is, to put it mildly, a very odd year for rookies. From a counting stat standpoint, the most valuable run-producing or run-preventing players have played the least, and those who have played the most have been pretty terrible. It’s entirely plausible that the award goes to Majewski or Qualls, which wouldn’t be a bad thing–though without gaudy save totals, neither has much precedent for winning, other than top-of-the-ballot finishes by Akinori Otsuka (3rd in 2004), Kelly Wunsch in 2000 (5th) or Jeff Zimmerman in 1999 (3rd). None received a single first-place vote.

From a purely performance standpoint, the race for ROY should be between Jeff Francoeur and Ryan Howard on the position player side (Howard now gets the edge in both playing time and offensive production), with Pittsburgh’s Zach Duke tops among rookies on the pitching side (tops among everybody according to VORP). Rickie Weeks, Clint Barmes, and Ryan Church have all been solid in their abbreviated seasons, and help to fill out a pretty nice looking ballot.

Thanks to Francoeur’s slump, Howard now has as good a chance as anyone. He has more than capably filled in for incumbent Jim Thome, and just may wind up with a trophy to show for it.

John Erhardt

SAN FRANCISCO GIANTS
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Much like the career of San Francisco native Lisa Bonet, the 2005 Giants faded quickly; the boys in orange and black haven’t had more than a 20% chance of making the playoffs since mid-May. Will the story be any different in 2006?

We know that Barry Bonds, Armando Benitez, Edgardo Alfonzo, Omar Vizquel, Pedro Feliz, and Mike Matheny are already under contract for next year, and that if their options are exercised, so could Jason Schmidt, Moises Alou, Ray Durham, Randy Winn, and LaTroy Hawkins. This figures to be a veteran team, not that there’s anything wrong with that. What is wrong is when the team does a poor job of filling in around their veterans. This season was a prime example:


Player               PA%   VORP
Jason Ellison       6.70    5.9
Mike Tucker         5.10    2.6
Deivi Cruz          4.00    3.8
Todd Linden         3.00   -2.7
Marquis Grissom     2.60   -7.5
Yorvit Torrealba    1.90    0.3

Total              23.30    2.4

Blithely handing 23% of your plate appearances to people who can’t hit never works out well. These guys did not exactly flash the leather eithe, as they combined for just 5.6 WARP1 this season. The Giants seemed to pick up on this–four of those players are no longer with the team–but for 2005 it was too little, too late. The Giants would do well to avoid this mistake in 2006; ridding themselves of guys like Angel Chavez and Doug Clark and giving guys like Kevin Frandsen a shot would be a good place to start. Another way to shed some dead wood would be to cut bait on J.T. Snow. Everyone still harbors good thoughts of Snow’s 2002 playoff performance, but he was not really any better than Lance Niekro this year. Looking at the chart below we can see the Giants would be well served to let Niekro play and spend their money in other areas:


Player          PA    EqA   WARP1   VORP   FRAR   FRAA
J.T. Snow      379   .258     2.9    8.2     16      8
Lance Niekro   277   .255     2.1    6.2     11      6

Chief among these areas is the rotation. Schmidt, Noah Lowry, and Matt Cain should be there come April, but what of the four and five spots? Brad Hennessey and Kevin Correia could be in the mix, and they could certainly bring back Brett Tomko, but what’s the point really? To date, 92 NL pitchers have started at least 10 games, and Hennessey and Correia both grade out in the bottom 25% of that group. If the Jints
are serious about making “one last push” to get Barry his ring, they have to do better. It may be time to see if Merkin Valdez can contribute, and it may be time to reel in a free agent pitcher. While San Fran will likely not be in the market for a top-dollar free agent like A.J. Burnett or Jeff Weaver, pitchers like Kevin Millwood or Kenny Rogers might be propositioned to a reasonable one- or two-year deal.

The starting rotation needs to be the main focus because the bullpen, for the most part, has been productive. Scott Eyre has been a rock, and while Benitez and Hawkins did not pitch full seasons in ’05, Will Carroll’s preliminary calculations show that neither will given the infamous red light in the ’06 Team Health Reports. Full seasons from both should help the bullpen’s performance. Also of interest is Scott Munter. Munter doesn’t have great peripherals, but does sport a freakish 3.46 GB/FB ratio, which has its uses. Lastly, if Valdez does not work out in the rotation he could and should be added to the bullpen mix as well.

Fact: the Giants have the worst offense in baseball this season, using AEqR as the measuring stick. With most of the starting positions having already been spoken for in ’06, this is a problem that can only be corrected in two ways: 1) more Barry Bonds, 2) better judgment in bench players. Unless the Giants pull off a big trade, they are unlikely to find a cure-all for their offensive problems. However, they can bulk up on pitching by signing a free agent starter or two. Stepping into our BP De Lorean we see a topsy-turvy NL West in 2006. The division is clearly there for the taking, and the Giants are as well positioned for that as anyone. Indeed, the future has not been written.

Paul Swydan

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