NY Sports Dog: Learning to Walk?

Thursday, April 8, 2010

Learning to Walk?

By Andy the Lawyer

On the heels of two exciting games to start the season, the Mets faithful have plenty to talk about and debate. Why is Jacobs (with a career OPS under .800, and who hit .228 last year) batting cleanup? Was it really necessary to convert Mejia into a reliever so he could pitch one inning (poorly) in a game where the Mets were down by 3? Is Rod Barajas our favorite pudgy catcher since Todd Pratt?

But lost in the various debates is an interesting, yet seemingly minor development. Thus far into the season, Jeff Franceour has walked twice in two consecutive games.

I repeat - Jeff Franceour has walked twice in two games.

Do you realize how bizarre that is? This is a guy who has a career OBP of .312, and who walked 23 times ALL OF LAST YEAR. Last year, he took a free pass in consecutive games once with the Braves (June 18 and 19) and once with the Mets (Sept 6 and 8). That means if he takes a walk in tonight's game, it will be the longest stretch of plate discipline he has had since August of 2008, the last time Frenchy took a walk in three straight games.

Now, I'm not one to make too much of a two game trend, but it certainly seemed that in the eighth inning, Franceour made a conscious effort not to get himself out. After swinging badly at a slider in the dirt (which he still has a huge propensity to do) and fouling off the second pitch, he worked a walk to load the bases. You can argue about the strike zone in that at-bat (Keith Hernandez certainly thought Franceour should have been called out on strikes) but the fact that he was able to keep the bat on his shoulder for 4 straight pitches is remarkable in and of itself.

For his career, Frenchy has a very low "pitches per plate appearance" of 3.4 (the league average is 3.78) meaning that in most situations he doesn't even have a chance to walk, since he doesn't even let 4 pitches get thrown before putting the ball in play. This year? Its 4.11 through two games.

We are dealing with minuscule sample sizes here, but at the very least its encouraging. The difference between Frenchy the below-average MLB RFer and Frenchy being a key cog on a good team is basically his unwillingness to take a pitch. If he can get his OBP up to a still-pedestrian .350 (which would be the best of his career by far) he becomes a MUCH more valuable player, more in line with the Nelson Cruzes and Nick Markakises of the world (each of whom took about 50 walks last year), rather than a guy who dead last among qualifying RFers in OPS last year (.732).

Keep it up, Frenchy!

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