Improvements Against Non-Fastballs Key to Francisco's Career
The Milwaukee Brewers have several decisions to make this winter, and chief among those decisions includes who they plan to start at first base come opening day next season. This decision is crucial for general manager Doug Melvin, who witnessed seven different players combine for a .206/.259/.370 slash line at the position in 2013, two years after Prince Fielder started every game at first base for Milwaukee and posted a .299/.415/.566 line.
One player the organization believes could become its long-term solution is 26-year-old Juan Francisco, who after being dealt to Milwaukee from Atlanta in June batted .221.300/.433 with 13 home runs in 89 games. Those aren't numbers that will (or should) excite anyone, but the Brewers believe the former top 10 Cincinnati Reds prospect's power could develop into a legitimate weapon if the rest of his game improves.
The problem is, Francisco's power was only evident against fastball variations with the team in 2013.
Francisco's Slugging Percentage vs. "Hard" Stuff with Milwaukee, 2013
Against fastballs (i.e. four-seams, sinkers, cutters, splitters) last season, Francisco posted a .266 average and .594 slugging percentage, the latter being well above the league-average mark of .466. His HR/FB rate finished at a whopping 25.0%, which would have been only second to the Pirates' Pedro Alvarez (24.7%) among National League batters had he been eligible at the end of the season. His well-hit average stood at .271 against these offerings, as well, a mark that actually beat Fielder (.270) andGiancarlo Stanton (.265), among others.
His plate discipline against these offerings last season raises some concern, however. He struck out at a 27.2% clip (compared to the 14% league rate) against 'hard' stuff, put only 33.1% of them in play (fourth-worst among batters who played at least 100 games) and swung-and-missed 24.8% of the time, which beat out the 16.5% league mark with ease.
Francisco's Slugging Percentage vs. "Soft" Stuff with Milwaukee, 2013
Yet his plate discipline issues against fastballs seem inconsequential compared to his tendencies against all other offerings. Against 'soft' stuff (i.e. curves, sliders, changeups, knuckleballs) last season with Milwaukee, Francisco yielded a strikeout rate of 48.6% (more than 20% higher than against 'hard' stuff), placed a mere 21.5% of them in play (highest among lefties who played in at least 80 games) and whiffed at a 45.3% clip (second-highest of all lefty bats to Alvarez's 47.0%).
In consequence, Francisco finished with a .155 average and .196 slugging percentage against non-fastballs last season, the latter being nearly .200 points below the .386 league-average mark. His HR/FB rate descended to 0.0% in 105 plate apperances against non-fastballs, and his well-hit average fell to .133, which was well below the .152 league mark.
Once a heralded talent in the Reds' farm system, Francisco window for success is closing with birthday No. 27 approaching this June. The Brewers like his power and have an opening at first base, yet he wasn't particularly impressive during his stay with the team last season, and his obvious struggles against non-fastballs had a big say. To be a serious candidate for the team's long-term plans at first base, he'll have to develop into more than fastball hitter.