Why Juan Francisco Needs To Have Better Plate Discipline

As we've discussed before, there aren't a whole lot of comparable players for Juan Francisco. He is a once in a generation type player - a guy who appears to have zero command of the strike zone, but somehow still manages to mash at the plate. His minor league numbers defy logic. Last season he batted .295/.329/.518 over two levels despite walking just 4.2% of the time and striking out 20.4% of the time. Both of those numbers were improvements over his career rates of 3.8% for walks and 23.4% for strikeouts.

There have been 22 non-pitchers in the history of Major League baseball who have managed to get 500 or more plate appearances in their career while walking less than 5% of the time and striking out more than 19% of the time. (I chose those numbers in order to broaden my search and because I'd like to work under the assumption that Francisco might improve, even if only a smidgen). Of those 22, only one batted over .260 (Delmon Young - .290), only 2 had an OBP over .300 (Young - .322, Orlando Miller - .305), and only 3 slugged over .420 (Todd Greene - .444, Bill Schroeder - .426, Miguel Olivo - .423). I'm guessing that a batting line of .290/.322/.444 wouldn't make many people too happy, especially coming from a third baseman or left fielder.

But that's not Francisco, you say. Francisco hits an extra-base hit every 9 plate appearances. That's pretty special, even if he does strike out at a high rate and walk at a low rate. That kind of power overcomes poor discipline. Except...

Let me tell you a story about Corey Patterson. All of the words in that previous paragraph could describe Patterson. In Corey's first three seasons in the minors before he was called up to play for Dusty Baker, he batted a combined .281/.339/.498 and hit an extra-base hit every 9.0 plate appearances (actually a slightly better rate than Francisco, who is at 1 ever 9.8 PA). Corey Patterson is one of the 22 players who have acquired at least 500 big league plate appearances with a walk rate under 5% and a strikeout rate over 19% (4.7% and 21.8% respectively). In fact, he's received more plate appearances than any player in history that meets those benchmarks.

No one would likely argue that Patterson and Francisco are comps. That's not really the point I'm trying to make here. The point that I want to make is that success with the sort of plate discipline that Juan Francisco has is rare at the big league level, and by rare I mean that it's pretty much non-existent.

Francisco likely needs to improve his walk-rate by a couple of percentage points before he should be taken seriously as a big leaguer. Strangely enough, I don't say that because it will improve his on base percentage, which it should. No, I say that because if he were able to put together any real success with the walk-rate he currently has, he truly would be a freak among freaks.Improving on his strikeouts isn't really the way to go. Looking back at all of big league history, if we leave the walk-rate below 5% and lower the strikeout threshold to 17%, we see some improved batting averages, but Todd Greene continues to be the highest slugging percentage in the group.

However, if we leave the strikeout rate at 19% or higher and raise the walk-rate to between 6% and 7% then we start to see some serious boppers join the list. Names like Alfonso Soriano, Andres Galarraga, Matt Williams, Reggie Jefferson, Lee May, and Xavier Nady. Now it starts to feel like maybe he can put a career together. A 6% walk-rate isn't all that impressive, but for a slugger who strikes out quite a bit, it looks like the bare minimum for success. (If you are wondering Matt Diaz (.459) and Tony Armas (.453) are the only players who top Greene's .444 slugging percentage with a walk-rate under 6% and a k-rate over 19%).

When I first started writing this, I was thinking that it made sense to go ahead and bring Francisco up. After reading this quote from Bill James (via CNati.com):

Sometimes there's no point in sending those guys down because they just go to AAA and hit .350 and don't learn a damn thing from it.

I thought, yeah, that makes sense, and that's probably exactly what Francisco would do. But then after seeing truly how rare it would be for him to have success at the big league level with that plate discipline, I think maybe another year at Louisville is necessary, but only if he's down there to learn to take a few more pitches. The likelihood of any extended success at the big league level seems very far-fetched to me at this point, given what history has shown us.

Maybe Francisco is a freak among freaks, but I think the Reds are much better served trying to get him to be a little less freaky and a little more normal.

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