13 July 2017

Should The Orioles Trade For Maikel Franco?

Like it or lump it, the Orioles consider themselves buyers. It appears that they want to take advantage of the next two years before they need to decide which free agents they want to keep. So, the Orioles should be interested in the rumor that the Phillies have made Maikel Franco available. Canfardo argues that Franco has had a poor season, hitting .227 with eight homers and 36 RBIs and his game has really gone downhill after showing so much promise last season when he hit 25 homers and knocked in 88 runs. CSN Philly has also heard that Franco is available, but the price will be high. The Orioles have received minimal production from shortstop, and this is probably Hardy’s last year with the club. Should the Orioles consider trading for Franco and moving Machado to shortstop?

The Philadelphia Daily News had an article last month suggesting that Franco should be demoted to AAA because he’s unable to recognize pitches. He argues that Franco is so strong that he’s able to make contact with horrible pitches, but isn’t able to do much with them and that Franco has a strikeout problem. According to Heyman, the Phillies think that Franco has suffered because he’s paid too much attention to analytics and is focusing overly much on exit velocity and launch angle.

There’s no question that Franco is struggling, as he has only a .220/.277/.389 line so far this season. However, his problem isn’t with his walk and strikeout rate. A walk rate of 7.3% is perfectly respectable, especially when he has a strikeout rate of only 13.4%. Franco is swinging at 71% of pitches in the strike zone, good for 25th out of 165 batters while swinging at only 26% of pitches out of the strike zone, good for 96th out of 165. It doesn’t seem like his problem is pitch recognition and its false to suggest that he has a strikeout problem.

Where he has struggled this season is when he puts the ball into play. Franco only has a .307 wOBA when putting pitches into play this season, good for 159th out of 165 batters. He ranks 155th out of 165 batters when putting pitches in the strike zone into play this season, suggesting that his struggles aren’t due to swinging at bad pitches. He’s simply showing an inability to do damage.

Statcast tells a better story. According to Statcast, Franco only has a .300 wOBA when putting pitches into play this season, but should have a .326 wOBA. If he did have a .326 wOBA against pitches in play, it would improve his performance from a .289 wOBA to a .310 wOBA. League average is .321, so such an improvement would take him from bad to merely below average. This makes him a slightly more attractive trade option.

This is considerably worse than his numbers in both 2015 and 2016. In 2015, Franco had an actual wOBA when putting pitches into play of .396 and an expected wOBA of .369. A .396 wOBA in such situations would give him an overall wOBA of .365 while a wOBA of .369 in these situations would give him an overall wOBA of .344. If he could replicate either of these stats, he would be at minimum above average. Having a wOBA of .365 would make him a star, although that’s probably unrealistic to expect.

In 2016, Franco had an actual wOBA when putting pitches into play of .354 and an expected wOBA of .364. In both 2015 and 2016, his expected results were pretty similar even if there was variation in his actual results. In addition, having a wOBA of .365 when putting pitches into play would make Franco a successful hitter. He would have a .340 wOBA if he had results similar to his expected results and a .333 wOBA if he had results similar to his actual results. Either would be perfectly respectable for a third baseman eligible for arbitration that isn’t yet in his prime.

However, his 2017 numbers are significantly worse. A look at his production based on distance groups shows the reason why.

Franco has a similar percentage from 2015 to 2017 of the type of pitches he puts into play. 70-75 percent of pitches that he puts into play are in the first two categories, which is acceptable. The problem is that he’s struggling against pitches that are more than half a foot away from the center of the plate. This suggests that he’s having issues with his range and that his problems in 2017 could be real. If he’s only able to do damage on pitches that are close to the center of the plate, then pitchers will be able to destroy him by throwing pitches that are still strikes but farther away from the plate. Such a strategy will force him to swing at fewer pitches and make it difficult for him to do any damage offensively. If so, one would expect his strikeout rate to increase significantly. In addition, looking at his actual production versus his expected production makes the case for him look even grimmer.

Franco is doing especially worse than expected against pitches that aren’t close to the strike zone. This could suggest poor luck, or it could suggest that he’s vulnerable to shifting and that his results shouldn’t be expected to improve. It could also suggest that he is focusing overly much on velocity and launch angle and that is impacting his range.

This problem really should define how one judges Franco. If one thinks that this range problem is a fluke, then he probably should be considered an above average hitter. Given his average defense at third base, this probably makes him somewhere between a 2 and 2.5 win player. He’s 24 right now, and will likely be eligible for arbitration as a Super Two next year. This means he’s under team control for the next four and a half years or for a good chunk of his prime. If he improves during his prime, he’d be able to contribute nine surplus wins. If one valued him this highly, then it would take a few prospects in addition to Sisco to make a deal.

On the other hand, if one thinks that this isn’t a fluke, then Franco is probably a below average hitter. If he continues to degrade in this regard, then he’ll quickly become nothing more than a platoon bat against left handed pitching. In such a case, his value would be close to zero.

I'm not fully sure what this means and would want a scout's opinion before making a definite statement. But I would think that this is a worrisome sign, and would lower my valuation of Franco accordingly. Going forward, I would project him to be an average batter and maybe worth 1.5 fWAR per year for the next four years. This wouldn’t make him a star by any means, but it would allow him to be an acceptable regular until he reaches free agency. It is likely that the Phillies are hoping is value is higher.

Franco is a very high risk trade option. Unless the Phillies are in love with one of the Orioles prospects or they’ve actually given up on Franco, there’s too much uncertainty to make a deal. I'd pass.


Pip said...

There's an old far side cartoon which shows a group of lions spying on some gazelles, and one turns to the others and says," Forget this ' Old and infirm' stuff. I want something in its PRIME!"

At the moment the Orioles have nothing to offer in buying, so it would be foolish to acquire a weak player just because he is young and has had success in the past. That has frequently been the logic behind that trades in the past.
We can't get anything worthwhile to improve the team, but we can sell off a few guys and prepare better for next season.
Miley if anyone will take him, Castillo and Smith without doubt, but also Brach and/or Britton. Listen to offers on Machado.
Frankel is bad defensively and gives no indication that his bad hitting will certainly get better in the American League.
Please not another "qualified major leaguer"

Thanks for the article, I always enjoy reading your thoughts.

Matt Perez said...

Thanks. Looks like the Os are going to surprise me and sell.