The summer of ’05 marked the NL takeover of the “Baby Braves,” who would help Atlanta clinch the last of their 14 straight division titles. With five rookies reaching 100 ABs, a first among a playoff team in MLB history, none had more of an impact on that playoff run than right fielder Jeff Francouer.
Dubbed “Frenchy,” Jeff Francouer took the league by storm almost taking home Rookie of the Year honors in just 70 games. Blessed with prodigious power and a rocket arm in right, the Georgia native racked up 14 homeruns and hit an even .300 down the stretch for the Braves. Although the team floundered in the playoffs, the likes of Francouer and the other Braves’ rookies gave Atlanta hope to continue their run of dominance in the NL East.
Although 2006 and 2007 were strong statistical seasons for Francouer, he endured long slumps throughout each season and both years finished with an OBP below .340, including .293 in ’06. With his power numbers dropping, including a HR% of 5.1 in his rookie year falling to 2.7 by 2007, the Braves had a hard time giving regular playing time to Francouer by 2008.
Along with his declining power, the strikeouts began to mount for the right fielder as he passed the 100 mark in each of his three full seasons. Without the high walk rate other power hitters enjoy, the Braves began to lose patience with Francouer’s lack of patience.
Even with above-average surface stats, such as HRs and RBIs, baseball minds were worried about a fall from grace for Francouer starting in his rookie year. Because of his reputation as a free swinger and underdeveloped plate discipline, scouts voiced their concerns about him becoming susceptible to prolonged slumps. Although his first two full seasons slightly eased concerns about his career path, the Braves’ scouts would have their fears confirmed during the’08 season.
The 2008 season saw Francouer crumble both statistically and mentally at bat. Even with regular playing time, the Braves right fielder couldn’t surpass a .300 on-base percentage as he barely reached double-digit home runs with 11. After an embarrassing demotion back to AA to refine his swing, Francouer couldn’t recover at the plate. With his options exhausted it seemed that Frenchy’s time in Atlanta was winding down and a change of scenery was needed.
As the story goes, the Braves traded their once-top prospect to the crosstown rival New York Mets midway through 2009. Enhanced by a new playing platform, Francouer had a mini-revival to end 2009, but reverted back to his old self during the ’10 season as his OBP hasn’t reached the .300 plateau once again and the days of 20+ homeruns seem gone.
Whether he was rushed too fast to the majors or just couldn’t seem to figure out how to handle major league pitching, Francouer confirmed scouts’ fears about his approach at the plate. In his sixth season, Jeff still hasn’t grasped the idea of plate discipline or pitch selection. In his attempt to try and change his free swinging style, Frenchy has lost the power and confidence that he had early in his career.
Because he came up at the ripe age of 21, Francouer is still only 26 and has the ability to turn his career around. With a trade out of the limelight in New York, Jeff would benefit from regular playing time and reduced everyday pressure. Although its not too late for Frenchy, time is running out for the former phenom to recapture his glory.