We’re less than two weeks from the thrilling conclusion of the 2016 baseball regular season. The Phillies, despite a woeful offense and its American Red Cross pitching corps, will finish with a better record than last year’s version. Yes, we have improvement.
In some areas, at least.
Here’s a statistic to pocket, at least until it’s no longer applicable: Maikel Franco hasn’t hit a home run since Aug. 18.
And since that home run, Franco is hitting .234 with a .258 on-base percentage and .298 slugging percentage. Those are poor numbers.
Others have taken notice, primarily his manager, Pete Mackanin. Benching him for six of the Phillies’ previous 12 games, Mackanin noted Franco was “scuffling. … He’s swinging wild again. Every time he swings, his helmet falls off … just like the roof falls off.”
This isn’t a revelation. Franco has displayed poor selectivity this season, swinging at 34.2 percent of pitches outside the strike zone and connecting with 60.5 percent of them. That 60.5 percent mark is much higher than where he was earlier in the season, but maybe that’s a bad thing. Maybe his ability to hit non-strikes is resulting in weaker contact.
And here’s how it’s really problematic. He pulls 46 percent of his swings, among the highest in baseball. So take a hitter who will swing at pitches outside the zone. If he’s pulling nearly 50 percent of the time, he’s pulling pitches outside (fouls and grounders), low (infield pops, grounders), inside (fouls) and high (pops).
Add to that more than 21 percent of his batted balls are soft. In essence he’s not getting all of the ball in one in every five connections, meaning his swings (and he pulls a lot) are merely grazing the ball, meaning he’s hitting weak fouls, grounders and pops. If you’ve watched the Phils more than three or four times this season, you can confirm some of Franco’s wild pull swings result in weak grounders and infield pops.
This also isn’t a revelation. Last season Franco pulled 44.7 percent of his swings (going opposite field a paltry 16.6 percent of the time) while putting up softies 22.1 percent of the time.
There are pull hitters (Brian Dozier, Edwin Encarnacion, Jose Bautista). And there are hitters who generate soft contact (Jose Iglesias, Kevin Pillar, Denard Span). But the combination of these two is unique almost exclusively to Franco, resulting in a player whose at bats result in weak outs more frequently than others.
The only other hitter who is as extreme in this combination is the Mariners’ Leonys Martin. He’s hitting .249/.309/.392. Franco is at .246/.297/.417.
Franco has apparently acknowledged his problems, as he has expressed wanting to get more reps in the Dominican Winter League to become more selective. But selectivity addresses only some of his problems. If Franco wants to emerge as a consistent middle-of-the-lineup threat – and not a comparative to Leonys Martin – he must also pair that selectivity with a level swing.