In August of 2005, Jeff Francoeur was put on the cover of Sports Illustrated after a torrid start, it was one of the most amazing starts to a career and his month-long streak was far more impressive than what Jay Bruce did in the first week of his big league career. “The Natural” was the title given to him by the popular sports magazine and the baseball community silently gave him the title shared by Charles Dickens’s classic Great Expectations.
Closing in on three years later, Francoeur line is: (.239, 8, 41); inspiring attention in a very different way. I will take my turn at explaining what is up with Francoeur in two ways:
- It is important to remember that outside of the first month of his career, Francoeur has not been the type of hitter that Fred McGriff would endorse. He does not work counts well, he is inconsistent with all aspects of the game, yet still the guy has a great deal of potential and I think everyone can see that. Players that do not work counts well generally will be held back from stardom over the course of their careers because they swing at pitches that great hitters lay off. Francoeur has done incredibly well for a player that averages 33 walks per season in 670 plate appearances. This lack of patience is something that would absolutely crush an average player and the fact that he hit .293 last year shows the talent that Francoeur has. This season he looks too slow though, his bat speed and his outfield play make it seem as though there is no quick fix to this issue because he potentially lost agility in the offseason with the weight added to his frame. What has surprised me is that the strikeouts have not shot up above his career averages leading me to believe that there may be something else with him.
- I identify Francoeur as an inconsistent hitter that can go months of being hot or cold. Players that endure prolonged streaks strike me as having some makeup problems that can be linked to confidence in themselves and with their swing. Francoeur is from this area and to have people from his home telling him that he is struggling has got to be difficult, plus to have the onus of being “The Natural” can really hurt the development of a twenty-four year old outfielder. It would be very reasonable to imagine how difficult it is to deal with failure after some of the successes that he has enjoyed early on in his career.
Now is the time for Jeff Francoeur to mature as a hitter and show that he can get through his problems both mentally and with his approach. This has the potential to be a season long slump because it is becoming a combined issue of physical and emotional nature from my opinion. If he breaks out of this slump this season, it will be because he is doing something new as his approach that has been thoroughly exposed in 2008. Great hitters adapt and improve over time; we will see how great Francoeur really is or if we all had greater expectations.