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who-should-we-worry-about-the-offense | June | 2009 Articles

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Who should we worry about? The offense

Written by Joe Lucia on .

We're a tad over 2 months into the season, and some Braves players are having some bad seasons. People are screaming about trades that need to be made, players that need to be called up, and dead weight that needs to be cut. I'm going to examine some of the more popular candidates, and let you know if you should worry about them, or if you should just remain patient and wait for a rebound. Kelly Johnson. Kelly has been getting a lot of flack lately, with a lot of fans complaining about his statistics that resemble those of the right fielder more than the KJ we're used to. Coming into the game this afternoon, Kelly had career lows across the board in his most of his rate stats...his BB%, K:BB, OBP & OPS were all in the pits. Casual fans would look at Kelly and shudder at his horribly low batting average. But is Kelly really in trouble? I don't think so. Kelly's K% this year is a career low, and he's swinging and less pitches outside of the strike zone than he was last year. Kelly' ISO is also the second best number of his career, and his BABIP is unsustainably low at .266. Kelly's LD% is right around his career mark, and actually is higher than his best season in 2007. Kelly has also turned his much maligned defense at second base around, posting a positive UZR/150 for the first time in his career (currently at 5.9, good for third in the National League). Another thing to look at with Kelly is his spot in the batting order. In his career leading off, which is where he primarily found himself this season, Kelly's line was .259/.343/.439. However, with the acquisition of Nate McLouth, Johnson won't find himself leading off any longer, and will hit lower in the order. Batting 7th, Kelly has a line of .324/.398/.526, and hitting 8th, his line is .324/.392/.414. Big improvement, right? One more thing to look at is how Kelly performs with runners on base. Over his career, Kelly has a line of .265/.343/.425 with the bases empty, and a line of .275/.358/.451 with runners on. Hitting lower in the order behind the Braves' tablesetters, Kelly should come to the plate more often with men on than with the bases empty, as he was when he was leading off. My conclusion about Kelly Johnson is that you should be patient. Jeff Francoeur. Ah, I'm gonna use his name in this entry. Jeff Francoeur is one of the most loathed figures on the Atlanta Braves over the past season and a half. Francoeur came onto the scene hard in his rookie year of 2005, and began to be pushed as the face of the franchise...a local boy makes good type of situation. The wheels came off in 2008 though, and so far in 2009, the wheels are still off the car, and people are bashing its windows in. Francoeur was one of the worst players in the entire league last season, and he's doing the same thing again this year, but worse. The much-ballyhooed offseason training wtih Rudy Jaramillo worked reasonably well during April, when Francoeur only struck out 7 times, walked 4, and had 6 extra base hits in 88 plate appearances. And then May rolled along, and he fell off a cliff. 1 walk compared to a whopping 23 strikeouts in 115 plate appearances, and 4 extra base hits. But hey, some people weren't concerned because he had 10 RBI during the month! And theres nothing more important than driving in runs, right? Before today's game, he was mired in a 2/18 stretch that some people are proclaiming as not a failure, but a success...due to his 3 walks compared to 2 strikeouts. Looking at Francoeur's rate stats for the year, one may get confused. His BB% is comparable to the first 2 seasons of his career, but for a player Francoeur's age, you're looking for a statistic like that to mature as he ages, not regress. At 4.0%, its below the percentage of 6.1% that he posted in 2007 and 2008. Another interesting development is that despite his horrid May, Francoeur's K rate is actually a career low, a respectable 15.2%. With the regression in his walk rate, and improvement in his K rate, Jeff's K:BB for 2009 is a perfect match to his career rate, at 0.27, which is much too low for a successful major leaguer. Francoeur's ISO has also dropped each year, and now sits at a gastly .097. His BABIP is very low at .267, but Francoeur may be a player that cannot sustain a high BABIP, as the number has been below .300 in 3 of his 5 seasons. His LD% (19.8%) is right around his career average (19.5%), so nothing appears out of the ordinary there. Its easy to look at Francoeur's career and deduce that he will not become a star in the league, but can he become a replacement level player? If Francoeur can raise his walk rate up to something in the neighborhood of 7%, while keeping his strikeouts at the level they're at now, maybe, just maybe, he can. But the continual decline in power is worrisome. Its really a dicey situation with him, as his value is so low right now, but he could eventually become a decent spot starter and a bat off the bench.  I think a change of scenery would be best for him in the long run. My final decision on Francoeur is to be worried...if you expect him to be a starter. Thats it for this fun little feature for today, I'll tackle a couple of pitchers tomorrow.
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