Saturday, March 3, 2012

The Improved Approach of Francoeur

I noticed in the very early going last season that Jeffrey Braden Francoeur was swinging significantly less than he ever had in his career. I finished that post off by saying, "Six full years of data certainly carry more weight than the 84 plate appearances his 2011 rates are based on, and he is a near-lock to regress towards his career norms. But these early numbers are surprising, and something to watch as the season marches on." Not sure what took me so long, but I finally got around to analyzing his final 2011 numbers. His plate discipline did regress a bit, but not nearly as much as I expected. Frenchy will always be a free swinger, but he reigned it in enough last year to turn himself into an offensive weapon. Judging by wRC+, it was the first full year of his career in which he was an above average hitter. And at 117 wRC+/119 OPS+, he was significantly above average. Here are some Frenchy plate discipline numbers for you to chew on.

3.62 pitches seen per plate appearance was a career high:

Year Pit/PA
2007 3.44
2008 3.48
2009 3.34
2010 3.58
2011 3.62
7 Yrs 3.46
MLB Avg 3.79

This chart shows his swing percent compared to league average. He swung at a career low 55.5% of all pitches he saw last year, compared to the league average of 46.2%, so it shows on the chart as 9.3% higher than average. O-Swing% means swings at pitches outside the zone, Z-Swing% in the zone:

Just as a hunch, I would expect when a player is swinging less that he is getting better at identifying balls out of the zone to lay off of. But Frenchy actually had a steeper decline in pitches in the zone at which he swung.  Looking at the below heat map of all the pitches he took with no swing in 2011 shows he had a clear plan to lay off certain strikes: those on the outside half of the plate. The plot almost creates a straight line down the middle:

If a pitcher has enough control to live on the outside half of the strike zone, he should be able to get ahead of Frenchy. But Francouer did a good enough job of hammering mistakes on the inner half of the plate to have an excellent season at the plate. With a new two year deal starting this year, Royals fans will be hoping he can keep it up.

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