The defending world champs have Jeff Francoeur starting in center field

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Never has a team fallen so far, so rapidly.

Jeff Francoeur is making his third career start in center field as the Giants take on the Brewers in San Francisco tonight. His other two both came last year with the Royals, when he played 16 innings and somehow never had a ball hit his way. Or, at least, was never able to get in the way of all hit in his general direction.

Francoeur also played three innings in center field for the Braves in 2006, and he actually did handle a chance flawlessly, at least according to his career stats. Visual evidence of this phenomenon has long since disappeared.

What’s doubly amazing is that Francoeur is playing center field with a right-hander starting against the Giants tonight. Maybe one could justify getting his bat in there against a lefty, but Francoeur has typically been significantly worse against right-handers in his career. Just not this year, when he’s been equally abysmal against everyone (.560 OPS against righties, .565 OPS against lefties).

Alongside Francoeur tonight will be Roger Kieschnick in left and Hunter Pence in right. Kieschnick never played an inning of center field in the minors, which apparently ruled him out. Pence started 95 games in center for the Astros in 2007, but he’s played exclusively in right field since. He’d still be a better option than Francoeur in center, but at AT&T Park, many believe it’s harder to play right than center.

Francoeur is hitting .234/.250/.277 with no homers and four RBI in 47 at-bats since being called up by the Giants. He’s scored one run in 15 games.

Pitch clock cut minor league games by 25 minutes to 2:38

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NEW YORK — Use of pitch clocks cut the average time of minor league games by 25 minutes this year, a reduction Major League Baseball hopes is replicated when the devices are installed in the big leagues next season.

The average time of minor league games dropped to 2 hours, 38 minutes in the season that ended Wednesday, according to the commissioner’s office. That was down from 3:03 during the 2021 season.

Clocks at Triple-A were set at 14 seconds with no runners on base and 19 with runners. At lower levels, the clocks were at 18 seconds with runners.

Big league nine-inning games are averaging 3:04 this season.

MLB announced on Sept. 9 that clocks will be introduced in the major leagues next year at 15 seconds with no runners and 20 seconds with runners, a decision opposed by the players’ association.

Pitchers are penalized a ball for violating the clock. In the minors, violations decreased from an average of 1.73 per game in the second week to 0.41 in week 24.

There will be a limit of two pickoff attempts or stepoffs per plate appearance, a rule that also was part of the minor league experiment this season. A third pickoff throw that is not successful would result in a balk.

Stolen bases increased to an average of 2.81 per game from 2.23 in the minors this year and the success rate rose to 78% from 68%.

Many offensive measurements were relatively stable: runs per team per game increased to 5.13 from 5.11 and batting average to .249 from .247.

Plate appearances resulting in home runs dropped to 2.7% from 2.8%, strikeouts declined to 24.4% from 25.4% and walks rose to 10.5% from 10.2%. Hit batters remained at 1.6%.