Tuesday, May 3, 2011

A Tale Of Two Outfielders.

Rany’s posts are so long. – Will McDonald, Royals Review.

Guilty. As I’ve said before, I write long posts because I don’t have time to make them shorter.

But I’ll try to squeeze in a quick one today, by writing about two very specific players – our two redemption projects in the outfield, Alex Gordon and Jeff Francoeur – and one very specific question – whether their hot starts are meaningful or not.

Specifically, I want to look at whether their performance in the month of April has precedence in their careers or not. If it has, well, then they may have simply had the good fortune to time their annual hot streak to the start of the season. If it hasn’t, well, maybe it means something more.

First up, Gordon, who in the month of April* hit .339/.395/.541 in 119 plate appearances, albeit with 21 strikeouts against just eight walks.

*: As per standard baseball convention, “April” includes the stray regular season game played in March. Take out Gordon’s 0-for-5 on Opening Day, and his April line was actually .356/.412/.567.

Thanks to injuries and demotions to Triple-A, in his four previous seasons in the majors, Gordon had batted 70 or more times in a month on just 13 different occasions. Here are the five best months (min: 70 PA) of Gordon’s career:

Apr 2011: .339/.395/.541, 936 OPS
Jun 2007: .327/.383/.500, 883 OPS
Sep 2009: .279/.359/.471, 830 OPS
Aug 2007: .271/.320/.490, 810 OPS
Apr 2008: .301/.363/.447, 809 OPS

This past month was pretty clearly the best month of Gordon’s career. He not only had an OPS more than 50 points higher than in any previous month, but he set career highs in batting average, OBP, and slugging average. And for all the talk about how Gordon is sacrificing power for average, it’s notable that in only one of the other four months listed above did Gordon have more isolated power (slugging average minus batting average) than he did this April.

However, this is not the best stretch of Gordon’s career. He finished the 2008 season on fire, but he missed three weeks from August 21st to September 14th that season with a mild injury (an oblique pull, if I remember correctly.) So he only batted 69 times in August, and 49 times in September. But he hit .268/.377/.500 in August, and .311/.367/.556 in September.

If you go back to July 27th, from that date until the end of the season, Gordon played 33 games and batted 133 times – a little more than a full month’s worth of action. Compare his numbers then with his numbers this April.

2011: .339/.395/.541
2008: .301/.400/.549

2011: 12 doubles, 2 triples, 2 HRs
2008: 11 doubles, 1 triple, 5 HRs

2011: 8 walks, 21 Ks
2008: 20 walks (3 intentional), 25 Ks

Gordon is rapidly approaching the point at which we can say that he’s never played so well for so long. But he’s not quite there. For the better part of two months in 2008 – his best season – Gordon had a better performance, and a performance that was not nearly as reliant on a high batting average. He hit for more power, and drew a lot more walks. It’s worth noting that Gordon was rarely healthy in 2009 and 2010, and in some ways he may be picking up in 2011 where he left off the 2008 season.

Verdict: I don’t think what Gordon’s doing is sustainable, in the sense that he’s going to hit .339 all year. But I think that, if he stays healthy, the odds that he regresses back to the Gordon of the last two years is remote. He might only be as good as he was in 2008, but the Gordon of 2008 was a pretty good player. If he starts walking more as pitchers realize they have to pitch him more carefully – and I think he will, as patience has always been a signature skill of his – I think he could be even better than that.

And now Francoeur, who in April hit .314/.357/.569, and perhaps more impressively given his reputation, drew 7 walks (one intentional) against 18 strikeouts.

Unlike Gordon, Francoeur has been a very durable player throughout his career, and after debuting in July, 2005, batted at least 70 times in every calendar month from August 2005 until last September, when he batted only 56 times as a bench player for the Rangers. Here are the best months of Francoeur’s career:

Apr 2011: .314/.357/.569, 926 OPS
Apr 2007: .306/.367/.541, 908 OPS
July 2007: .330/.371/.519, 890 OPS
Apr 2010: .284/.355/.531, 886 OPS
Aug 2005: .312/.364/.514, 878 OPS

As streaky a hitter as Francoeur has been in his career, I’ll admit: I expected to find at least one calendar month in his career where he better than he did this April. I did not find one. He has certainly played at close to his April level in the past; it’s not hard to find a month where Francoeur hit over .300 and slugged over .500. But his performance this year is at the top of the list, and when you consider the historically low offensive levels (as Joe and I discuss in this week’s podcast – go to iTunes now and download “The Baseball Show With Rany And Joe”!) so far this season, his numbers are even more impressive.

Like Gordon, though, this is not the hottest stretch of Francoeur’s career. That remains – and probably will always remain – the first six weeks of his career, the six weeks that put him on the cover of Sports Illustrated. In July 2005, he hit .413/.413/.913 in 46 plate appearances. He debuted on July 7th; from that day until August 20th, he hit .379 and slugged .734 in 33 games. He hit 10 homers and 12 doubles in 124 at-bats.

He also did not walk a single time.

Naturally, pitchers adjusted. Obviously, given his track record, Francoeur could not adjust back.

What I think is fascinating about Francoeur’s track record is that he always starts hot. You’ll notice that three of his five best months listed above are Aprils, and one of the remaining two was his first full month in the majors. He hit well in his first two months with the Mets, and in his only month with the Rangers. Francoeur’s career line in April is .278/.321/.483, easily his best line of any month. It’s almost as if, every winter, pitchers forget that Francoeur can’t hit any pitch with a bend in it, and it takes them a few weeks of getting their fastballs crushed to remember.

Whether Francoeur can make the adjustment this year depends on whether he can maintain some semblance of plate discipline. His 6 unintentional walks in April were encouraging, but relative to his history, not unprecedented. He has drawn more than six unintentional walks in a calendar month five times in his career. (He has never drawn more than eight walks of his own accord in a month, however.)

Verdict: It’s been a nice month for Frenchy. But if you don’t mind, let’s hold off on offering him a long-term contract a little while longer.

Programming note: “Rany on the Radio” makes its triumphant return this Thursday at 6 PM. Here’s the setup, basically: unless the Royals are playing at 6 PM (which happens only twice the rest of the season, I think), I will always be on 810 WHB at 6 PM. If the Royals are playing at 7 PM, then I will be on with Danny Clinkscale as part of WHB’s standard pre-game show. If the Royals are off that day, or playing an afternoon game, then I will host “Rany on the Radio” – alone. (My partner in crime the last two seasons, Jason Anderson, now hosts an afternoon show in Louisville, where presumably he’s forced to discuss horse racing or college basketball all the time. The poor thing.)

Rob Neyer has graciously agreed to be my first guest this Thursday, and we’ll – I’ll – probably take callers in the final segment. So those of you who complained that there wasn’t enough Rany on “Rany on the Radio” – well, be careful what you wish for.


Michael said...

So far, I'm believing in both. Francouer is taking walks like he's never been, and Gordon's approach seems to be drastically different. I guess it's possible that they revert back to their old ways eventually, but until that happens I'm a believer.

Unknown said...
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Adam said...

Rany- I love your long posts. This is the best Royals commentary on the internet. I wish you had the time to put out more stuff, because I check this website almost twice a day in anticipation.

good stuff as always.

Unknown said...

Rany--regarding the comment about the length of your writing--at least your posts aren't unnecessarily negative. I wonder why some people even follow, let alone write, about the Royals. If you can't at least enjoy a moderately hot start or look for a turnaround story, why bother?

Anonymous said...

i agree with the Adams. I would be all for shorter posts if that meant there was more frequency, but i love your long posts too. Why cant the Star hire you too. All of a sudden they are fine with less columnists and more Royals and Chiefs journalists.

Antonio. said...

Rany's readers suffer from ADD.

Maggie said...
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Blake said...

What's may be different about this year is that he is combining all 3 aspects of his game that he never has before: The 6% BB, lower K% (1.3% lower than career avg) and he found his power stroke again. He's had a 6% walk rate before, he's had as low as a 14.2% strikeout rate and he's had a 5.1% HR rate before, but never at the same time until this year. His HR/FB rate is at his highest ever at 14.3% when it hasn't been higher than 7.8% since 2007. After tonight he now has 3 of his 7 HR off RHP, raising his avg vs. RHP to about .283 and SLG to about .494. There are signs that he might be different, but only time will tell.

Phil said...

Short and really sweet post...

More please.

1.What to do with Betemit long-term
2.Variation between AAA Crow and MLB Crow
3. How great it is that the rest of the central looks so terrible
4. How the Royals should approach free agency

Phil said...

Correction: AA Crow

KHAZAD said...

I like the long posts.
Will Mcdonald memorizes entire volumes of poetry, so getting through one of your posts shouldn't be that taxing.

Jayboid said...

We discuss stats till the cows come home. Yet, I do think fate or luck comes into a program too.

Otherwise how can you explain players like a Gorman Thomas. Nobody scouted this outfielder as mlb ready, white, gangly, gruffy, but he helped big time to lead the Brew Crew to respectability. Total different personalities, but feel both former 3rd basemen have the ability to dominate.

It seemed at the most hopeless times Gorman would unload a couple of bombs, make a play in the outfield, and do something on the bases. Maybe not bombs from Gordon but do see a game changer.

Gordon reminds me of Gorman in this respect.

Antonio. said...

There are also stats that give you a measure of luck.

Chris said...

Hosmer to KC!!!!


Michael said...

I'm giddy like a teenager on prom night. :)

Kenneth said...

ahem .. no need for a 1500 word post on Hosmer .. just feed your rabid fans some scraps. Or did you learn from Greinke and are going to let us suffer until tomorrow :-)

Kenneth said...

When I clicked on the link you posted to listen to some Rany perspective on the radio I got around the horn and pardon the interuption, not Rany on the Radio

Unknown said...

I got the espn feed too. Hopefully they post the podcast soon.

Michael said...

Got my tickets for tonights game! It's Hosmer time baby!! :)

Scott Anglemyer said...

The value of your blog is the depth of your analysis. I think that would suffer if you made a conscious effort to shorten your posts.

Tampa Mike said...

There was a post from last year I believe about how Rany got into the Royals after moving to the states. Does anyone remember about when that was, or what post it is? Thanks

christopher said...

I am not an expert, but I think Hosmer could literally pay a decent chunk of that $10M over the next month. There are 17 home games over the next month. We saw a substantial bump in attendance over the weekend due to our success and hosmer's premeire. It is possible that a struggling, hosmer-less royals team averages 17,000 over the next 17 games. Let's say that number goes up to 27,000 because we are playing well and everyone wants to see Hosmer. Let's also assume each fan spends $40 between ticket, parking and food. All of a sudden, Glass has pocketed an extra $6.8M due primarily to Hosmer. Plus that money is invested and let's say it returns 8% a year. All of sudden, this move may end up costing Glass not more than a few million bucks. And if this move causes us to stay in contention until late summer or fall, well....