Maikel Franco’s Contact

There has been a lot written and said about Maikel Franco‘s swing over the course of the season.  There have been talks about the shape and length as well as how much power it is going to generate.  Overall scouts have questioned how the swing as a whole will translate to the next level.  Franco has big time raw power and he has elite bat speed and hand eye coordination.  He has demonstrated the ability to make contact, but the quality of that contact has begun to come into question lately.  The goal is to explore if that is true and what that deterioration in contact might look like.

Contact Type:

So the first question is what kind of contact is Franco making.  Here is a break down of his percentages across each level Franco played at this year (sample size of 228, 249, and 88  balls in play respectively).

Contact Type

The first thing that jumps out is the spike in ground balls in AA that coincided with a drop in fly balls.  The next thing is that outside of a spike in winter ball, his line drive rate is very low (for example the lowest LD% among qualified 3B in 2013 was Todd Frazier at 18.1%), given that line drives have the highest probability of being hits, that is troubling.  The decline in flyball rate is troubling as well because that is where the HR power is coming from.  Overall it is an indication that Franco is not making the best contact possible, but given that minor league ball in play classifications can be off lets look at some spray charts.

Hit Location:

So next lets look at some spray charts and heat maps starting with Franco’s full season (including winter ball).

Full Season Heat Map Full Season Spray Chart

There is a lot of ground balls to the right side but also a decent spray to all fields.  It is not an especially concerning distribution so lets break it down by stop starting with Clearwater.

Clearwate Heat Map Clearwater Spray Chart

Here we have Franco going all over the field.  He is driving the ball deep to the OF and taking advantage of the friendly conditions for HRs down the lines.  There is still a strong ground ball pull tendency but there are some ground balls going the other way as well.

So now we move to Reading:

Reading Heat Map Reading Spray Chart

The first thing that jumps out to me is a much tighter group on the heat map as defenses get better and make outs.  You also notice the number of singles through the holes in the IF, especially up the middle.  You can really start to see here where there is that increase in ground balls from Clearwater to Reading.  The number of fly balls has also decreased and we see less non-HR balls to the deep parts of the park.  We do see that Franco has enough power to put the ball all the way out to any part of LF and the other way.

Lastly here is his winter ball charts:

Winter Ball Heat Map Winter Ball Spray Chart

I don’t want to read too much into the small sample sizes here as there are many factors at play, but we see a ton of stuff to the pull side and less the other way.  He has struggled to really elevate the ball at all in winter ball.

So Why Does This All Matter:

Maikel Franco has the tools to make good contact, but he needs to make good contact.  He has immense raw power that is close to a 70 grade, but if he is not making solid contact he is robbing himself of a lot of that ability.  Additionally France has not drawn walks (Franco’s AA walk rate would have been the 3rd worst amongst major league qualified batters), this means all of his value is based on his babip and balls in play.  This means that Franco has to continue to keep his strikeout rate low and his contact solid to make up for that lost value.  This isn’t a conclusion that Franco needs to walk more, as much as Franco needs to be more selective at the plate in order to maximize his abilities.  Because of his power pitchers are going to give him walks while they work around him, he needs to recognize that and also be willing to work with the pitches he is given.

So overall this isn’t the death sentence to Franco’s prospect status, it is just a warning sign.  Franco has a ton of natural talent and in many ways it is getting him into trouble right now because he can survive lower level pitching.  If he can put it all together he can be an offensive monster, he is going to need time and patience, you can’t rush everyone to success.

(All graphs from mlbfarm.com)

20 thoughts on “Maikel Franco’s Contact

  1. I’d love to see data on his swings based on pitch locations and resulting GB%/FB%/LB% (and swing & misses) as well as what counts they occurred to more fully evaluate his selectivity. If a lot of these ground balls (and strikeouts) are coming on borderline pitches with two strikes that is a completely different story then on balls out of the strike zone early in the count. I am not saying that is the case. I am just saying that I don’t have that information. In fact, there is a world of difference among a solidly hit ground ball, a seeing-eye single, and a dribbler. His BA in Reading at least suggests he is hitting the ground balls pretty hard.

  2. I don’t find the drop off at reading all that concerning since he only had 292 PAs there. That means we’re judging his performance against much stiffer competition with very little time to adjust.

    The line drive rate is more concerning but the results have been good so I’m not worried just yet. Also, if he hits 30 home runs a year as he did this year that’s plenty of value not tied up in babip.

  3. He’s young and he shot through the system last year. Just as Asche did, he put up less than great numbers at his final stop of the season. Unlike Asche, he was very young for that level. There are going to be flaws in his game, that is expected. This is just proof that the talk that he is competing for the Phillies 3B job out of ST 2014 is just blather. He clearly isn’t ready for that yet, nor should he be. His real weaknesses remain. He is painfully slow. He won’t be a great fielder at 3B. He doesn’t walk enough.

    1. I’m really not convinced he won’t be an above average 3B. For every report saying he’s slow and has no range, it seems like I’ve seen one from someone who’s watched him play and says he actually plays the position well.

      John Sickels is one guy I know has said he is very solid defensively. I think the idea that he’ll be a bad fielder will go the way of the arm bar swing concerns before too long.

      1. Most of the defensive concerns are that he is already slow now and the body suggests bad weight, so as he grows older the fear is his range gets even worse. Right now the range is poor but the actions are good and the arm is better than plus (he has a weird side arm sling)

        1. I guess when you look at his physique and the corresponding foot-speed that goes with a large-legged lower torso/trunk, he would comp to a Miguel Cabrerra?

        2. I get that that will likely happen eventually, but how far down the line? He’s 21 now and knocking at the door. Is it unreasonable to think he’ll be able to maintain his current weight/performance through his mid-20s? Doesn’t seem right to project a guy’s defense based on what he’ll be years down the line when he could be in the majors a year from now or sooner.

  4. Well done Matt. I made a similar assertion about Franco’s rather high GB rate earlier this summer. Part of the reason I see him as a .260ish hitter in the bigs. His batted balls in play will certainly be something I pay attention to in 2014

  5. An assessment worth considering, and thanks for the effort. We should know that there will be only ONE real candidate to man third base, Asche with some relief occasionally from Galvis,etc.

    The great reason to visualize this Franco as a MLB GOOD OFFENSIVE PLAYER who really has only the talent of his right-handed power to fit in a lefty-oriented lineup. Because of his slowness on the bases and his limited range, he MUST use the ’14 season to refine his batting approach to take walks instead of swinging at strikes out of the zone to accomplish his pro bona fides. Otherwise, he will fall way short of the promise he has displayed.

    I remember that problem needing fixing for one of the GREAT hitting/slugging center fielders of all time: Duke Snider. Attempting to fix this issue, the Dodgers set up practice sessions that made him designate whether the pitches thrown to him were strikes or balls. They did have him hold a bat bUt didn’t allow him to swing at any of the pitches. Session after session continued…time and again concentrated over many weeks and months. Finally, they allowed him to swing at pitches BUT only if they were in the strike zone. A “penalty” was assessed if he “swung” at a “ball.” Cured, he became a consistent All-Star.;

    So there ARE means to cure Franco of his horrendous inclinations to swing at everything…which could seriously impede his becoming a MLB player because his offense in THE reason to make him eligible for MLB status.

    Maybe ’14 and ’15 will be needed…but his overcoming this deficit is problematical. We can hope and watch yet it is up to the coaching within that must engage this problem with a definitive, effective plan. It is up to them both to get it done for the sake of the potential we can see.

    1. While I certainly don’t think those kind of drills could hurt (well… they could if they make him swing to the other extreme of TOO selective), it also ignores an important factor in the equation: ability. Franco no doubt has the bat-to-ball skills necessary to succeed when swinging at good pitches. But recognizing a good pitch is another skill entirely. I’m not saying Franco doesn’t have it, but it’s possible he doesn’t.

      I remember the exact same drill you described from when I was a kid in Little League. My coach was always impressed with my ability to pick up on the pitch quickly. But plenty of my teammates struggled in that area. They weren’t swinging at bad pitches because they were overanxious; they were swinging because they thought they were good pitches when they weren’t. It can be very difficult to make that assessment in a fraction of a second. And the problem only gets exponentially worse as you make your way up to the big leagues where pitchers can throw baseballs with absurd amounts of movement and ridiculously late break.

      Unfortunately, if he doesn’t have the innate ability to pick up spin, or speed, or any of the important aspects of a pitch being thrown, it’s not something you can teach. If he does, it can be honed and perhaps augmented through coaching, and the drill you mentioned would help him override his previous quick-twitch reactions to those pitches. But looking at his tremendous skills, it wouldn’t shock me to learn he isn’t able to identify a pitch before it gets too close to stop his swing. He’s got that kind of bat speed and coordination.

      Anyway, all this is merely to say I REALLY hope it’s just a case of him being overeager to swing and not an indication that he’s guessing.

  6. Matt. This is a very, very good piece. After James left the site, there was concern about whether the site would continue to exist and, if so, whether the analysis would still be intriguing. I’m pleased to see that you’re up to the task – I learned a lot from this article, so thank you very much. Very interesting.

  7. BTW…has anyone ever done a study of Latin position players BB rates vs non-Latin players BB rates?
    I may be wrong in thsi assumption, but historically the Latin players took fewer walks. Suffice it to say, it did not hurt some of them at the major league level.

  8. I’d like to see Franco lose some weight and seriously work on his conditioning. It would help keep him at third long-term, and it would show that he’s focused on his career.

  9. Matt, anyway you could show if his spray charts are better than in WPT and Lakewood? If I remember right, he was an absolute dead pull hitter till they had him work on that at Lakewood.

  10. wow i love how were predicting this kids future . to be honest who the hell knows what hes going to do when he gets to the majors lets just sit back and watch i mean nobody knows what prospects will do when they get there so many top 5 prospects get to the majors and never make it so who knows cant judge him yet so will see when he eventually makes it to the majors

  11. Here’s where Franco’s BIP numbers rank among players with at least 200 PAs:

    Eastern league: 112/135 LD%, 40/135 IFB%, 18/135 GB/FB
    Florida State League: 114/135 LD%, 69/135 IFB%, 93/135 GB/FB

    So his LD% was quite low, but his pop-up rate was averge in A+ and above-average in AA. Also, he became a pronounced GB hitter in AA (as documented above).

  12. Thanks for this piece Matt, I agree with all the attaboys.

    I think we really need to keep Franco’s age in mind. He can (and almost certainly will) spend the entire season in the minors next year, and I’m optimistic he’ll continue to develop his batting eye. On defense, on the other hand, the aging process (and his body type) will be working against him.

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