Was it time for Jeff Francoeur to head back to the minor leagues to work on his swing and plate approach. No question. His overall game was out of control and the Braves front office had to do something. Braves fans need to realize that Francoeur's 1st summer in Atlanta, when he hit .300-14-45 will never again be realized. While Jeff may (and should) still believe he can be that good again or even better, his potential as a player needs to be reconsidered.
Francoeur most certainly has the skills to be an everyday right fielder on a championship caliber team. He played in all 162 games in 2006 and 2007 and won a Gold Glove Award last season. After hitting .260-29-103 with a .293 OBP, Francoeur decided during that off-season that he needed to improve the average and OBP numbers.
He almost doubled his walks in 2007, going from 23 to 42 which helped the OBP rise all the way to .338 - a very respectable number - for a guy that hits close to 30 HR's. However, even though Jeff's average in 2007 was .293, his HR number dropped to 19.
Could the Braves live with this from their right fielder? A season of .293-19-105 with 40 doubles and 88 runs scored along with a Gold Glove? You're darn right they could. That's a solid season which showed marked improvement in the areas where Jeff needed to improve.
This takes us to this past off-season. Francoeur decides that he is going to put on a bunch of weight in hopes of getting his HR numbers back up near 30. Well, as we all painfully witnessed, his swing fell apart trying to up those power numbers. Rather than being the player he was in 2007 that played pretty well most of the season, he wasn't even good enough to remain on the team.
Jeff's walk, strikeout, double, and runs scored numbers remained close to what they have been in the past. It was the average and OBP drop coupled with the sustained lack of power that made him a minor leaguer. Not to mention that of his 49 career assists, only 5 are this season.
I think it is very likely that his potential as a hitter is not a .300-30-110 guy, but
as a .280-20-105 guy that plays top-notch defense. There is no question to me that his defense has been seriously affected by his struggles at the plate. While in AA, Francoeur needs to focus on driving the ball to all fields and recognizing pitches better rather than upping his power numbers.
He will always be a 120 strikeout guy and a sub-50 walk guy, so without the threat of 30 HR's a season and being a right fielder, Jeff must get the average close to .300 and the OBP above .330. Hit 40 doubles like he did last year and play great defense while coming up with some big hits and there will be no complaints.
You can get away with average and OBP numbers like Francoeur has in 85 games this year is if you A) Are a slick fielding shortstop. B) Are a career .300 hitter and still young (Cano). C) Hit for a ton of power (Mike Jacobs). D) Run like the wind (Bourn).
Michael Bourn is actually the only major league outfielder with a lower OBP than Francoeur. However, his 31 SB's and solid defense has kept him in the lineup most nights. The only outfielder having a season as bad as Francoeur's? Emil Brown of the Oakland A's, who has recently been benched.
Maybe getting some confidence in the minors will give Francoeur a boost when he is re-called in a week or two. Those that watch these Braves most nights know that they need all the offensive help they can get.