Stubborn Francoeur has a ways to go

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ashamed francoeur.jpgMatthew Cerrone has a fine interview with sabermetric whipping boy Jeff Francoeur over on Metsblog.com, where you can watch the video or read the text. I’ll just post the first question and response, since it was the one most interesting to me:

Cerrone: Yesterday, you did a chat with MLB.com, and, on it you were asked a question to compare On-Base-Percentage guys to RBI guys, and you said one does one thing, one does the other. But, it seems to me you would want to both. What is the difference there, and what did you mean by that?
Francoeur: Well, I think you obviously want to go both. But, you look at a guy that I played with in Atlanta this year, Garret Anderson, who’s had a heck of a career and his OBP isn’t that great. I think you learn as you go, I’m still 25 and I’m learning different things, learning the strike zone and hopefully I will continue to get better at that; but, at the same time, I’m not going up there thinking to walk, thinking about this or that, if there is a guy on second or third I’m gonna try to drive him in – that’s my first priority. Whether I ground out or fly out or whatever, I want to get him and do my best to help the team. I think as you learn more you’re OBP goes up; but, I think for me, that’s not something I just think about. I know to a lot of statistical people OBP seems to be a huge thing… 15 to 20 years ago it wasn’t a big deal… and all of a sudden it is.

A big part of what’s made Francoeur a favored target of so many is that he seems to think he doesn’t need to improve, or at least, he comes off that way in interviews. Of course, part of the problem there is that he’s gotten an awful lot of publicity for someone with a .271 average and 88 homers in 4 1/2 seasons as a major leaguer.
Another issue is that there really wasn’t any need for him to improve initially. He was treated like a star from the day he came up, and the Braves weren’t worrying about the ugly strikeout-to-walk ratio as long as he produced 100-RBI seasons. Furthermore, he was going to get paid strictly based on his Triple Crown line during his first six years as a major leaguer. OBP hardly matters in arbitration.
In the long run, it might well be for the best that he was such a huge liability in 2008 and the first half of 2009 that the Braves gave up on him. Francoeur is blessed with plenty of talent. He hit 29 homers as a 22-year-old in 2006 and he batted .293 with a decent enough .338 OBP in 2007. But he’s not going to find a lot of demand for his services if he heads into free agency as a .270-20 HR guy with a .310 OBP.
So, reality is catching up to him. In July, Francoeur was traded for an outfielder his original team never really wanted in the first place (and who has already been non-tendered). He had a fine second half for the Mets, yet there’s been no indication that he’s going to get the long-term deal from the Mets that he’d like. If he goes to arbitration, the Mets can portray him as a corner outfielder with middling power, a middling average, a terrible OBP for a corner outfielder and no value on the basepaths.
And Francoeur needs to hear it if he’s going to truly turn his career around.

Columnist calls for Sammy Sosa to “come clean.” He probably shouldn’t.

15 Sep 1998:  A silhouette portrait of Sammy Sosa #21of the Chicago Cubs taken in the dug-out as he looks across the field during the game against the San Diego Padres at Qualcomm Park in San Diego, California. The Cubs defeated the Padres 4-2
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Yesterday Sammy Sosa — quite ridiculously — compared himself to Jesus Christ. The idea: he has suffered greatly since retirement, having been shunned by the Cubs and disparaged by the baseball establishment and . . . well, I don’t know how that makes him Jesus, but forget it, he’s rolling.

Today, predictably, a Chicago columnist does what columnists have been doing for years with respect to guys suspected of PED use: argues that Sosa should “come clean” if he wants to come in from the cold. Here’s David Haugh of the Tribune:

The game welcomed back Barry Bonds and McGwire from steroid exile after both separately acknowledged their involvement with performance-enhancing drugs. Fox Sports employs Alex Rodriguez, who admitted to PED use during his career. The door back to baseball is open for Sosa, but only if he follows the same path his contemporaries from the steroid era did. The Cubs have made this clear to Sosa, in no uncertain terms, yet he continues to paint himself as the victim.

This is not accurate. Bonds has never “come clean” about his PED use. He was in litigation over it until 2015 and wasn’t giving any confessionals about it. When the Marlins hired him he said nothing. He made allusions to being “an idiot” in an interview last summer, but that was clearly focused on his cagey attitude, not his drug use. There was no deal with the Marlins that his job was prefaced on his “coming clean,” and he never did.

The same can be said for McGwire. Big Mac was hired by the Cardinals as a hitting coach on October 26, 2009. His acknowledgment of PED use came months later, just before spring training in January 2010. While it may be plausible that the Cardinals told McGwire that they would not hire him absent a confession of PED use, that’s not how it tracked in real time. At his hiring, John Mozeliak and Bill DeWitt each said there was no set blueprint for how McGwire would proceed as far as his public statements went and they allowed him to control the timeline. His confession seemed to be very much a function of heading off spring training distractions and questions from the press which would have access to him everyday, not some precondition of his employment.

But even if we grant the apparently erroneous premise that Bonds and McGwire “came clean” to return to baseball’s good graces, such a road map is of no use to Sosa. He’s not looking to coach or, as far as we know, even be employed by a club. If the study we talked about four years ago remains accurate, coming clean about PED use makes an athlete look worse in the eyes of the public than those who deny. Ask David Ortiz how that works. It likewise will do nothing for his Hall of Fame vote totals. Ask McGwire and Rafael Palmeiro how that works.

Sosa may be engaging in some unfortunate hyperbole, but as far as can be determined, he’s not asking for a whole hell of a lot. He’s not asking for a coaching job or to have his number retired or for them to rename Wrigley Field after him. He’s asking to be acknowledged as a part of Cubs history. He’s asking for the same kind of treatment other retired greats receive from time to time. A first pitch? A public appearance or two? Some minor role as a team ambassador? The bar for that isn’t very high.

The Cubs, who benefited greatly from Sosa’s production — and, necessarily, by whatever juicing Sosa did to achieve it — aren’t being asked to do much. Just to be decent to a person who is an important part of their history. That should not require that Sosa give a weepy interview about steroids which will serve no one’s purpose but the tut-tutting media. A media which, if McGwire’s example is any guide, will still slam Sosa if he comes clean and claim that his confession wasn’t good enough and his contrition wasn’t genuine. If he does confess, bank on that reaction. Bet the mortgage on it.

All of which makes me wonder if it’s the media, and not the Cubs who are the ones who really want to see such a thing.

Rob Manfred on robot umps: “In general, I would be a keep-the-human-element-in-the-game guy.”

KANSAS CITY, MO - APRIL 5:  Major League Baseball commissioner Rob Manfred talks with media prior to a game between the New York Mets and Kansas City Royals at Kauffman Stadium on April 5, 2016 in Kansas City, Missouri. (Photo by Ed Zurga/Getty Images)
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Craig covered the bulk of Rob Manfred’s quotes from earlier. The commissioner was asked about robot umpires and he’s not a fan. Via Jeff Passan of Yahoo Sports:

Manfred was wrong to blame the player’s union’s “lack of cooperation” on proposed rule changes, but he’s right about robot umps and the strike zone. The obvious point is that robot umps cannot yet call balls and strikes with greater accuracy than umpires. Those strike zone Twitter accounts, such as this, are sometimes hilariously wrong. Even the strike zone graphics used on television are incorrect and unfortunate percentage of the time.

The first issue to consider about robot umps is taking jobs away from people. There are 99 umps and more in the minors. If robot umpiring was adopted in collegiate baseball, as well as the independent leagues, that’s even more umpires out of work. Is it worth it for an extra one or two percent improvement in accuracy?

Personally, the fallibility of the umpires adds more intrigue to baseball games. There’s strategy involved, as each umpire has tendencies which teams can strategize against. For instance, an umpire with a more generous-than-average strike zone on the outer portion of the plate might entice a pitcher to pepper that area with more sliders than he would otherwise throw. Hitters, knowing an umpire with a smaller strike zone is behind the dish, may take more pitches in an attempt to draw a walk. Or, knowing that information, a hitter may swing for the fences on a 3-0 pitch knowing the pitcher has to throw in a very specific area to guarantee a strike call or else give up a walk.

The umpires make their mistakes in random fashion, so it adds a chaotic, unpredictable element to the game as well. It feels bad when one of those calls goes against your team, but fans often forget the myriad calls that previously went in their teams’ favor. The mistakes will mostly even out in the end.

I haven’t had the opportunity to say this often, but Rob Manfred is right in this instance.