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Just How Good is Maikel Franco's Rookie Season?

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Placing Maikel Franco's rookie season in Phillies historical context.

A historically significant season from Maikel Franco.
A historically significant season from Maikel Franco.
Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports

One of the undeniable bright spots of the Phillies 2015 season is Maikel Franco.  Promoted to the big leagues on May 15, Franco has been the Phillies starting third baseman for all but four games since then.  He's thrilled at the plate and shown flashes of style in the field.

But just how good has he been?  Is this a historically significant rookie season that Franco is having?

So far, Franco has played in 75 games amassing 321 plate appearances.  He's hitting at a 274/.336/.476 clip, good for an .812 OPS.  In today's low-offense environment, that equates to a 123 OPS+.  (Compare that number to his 13 OPS+ last year in his September call-up....)  His offensive bWAR is 2.4 so far.  Baseball reference doesn't like his defense, and gives him a -1.1 defensive bWAR, bringing his overall bWAR to 1.2 (rounding).

His counting numbers are hard to fully assess given that he missed the first month and a half and we have another month and a half left in the season.  But, through the beauty of fourth-grade math, we can see what they would look like over the course of a comparable 162 game season:

PA AB H 2B 3B HR RBI R
2015 321 292 80 21 1 12 47 42
2015 (162) 693 631 173 45 2 26 102 91

We all know that counting stats aren't all they're cracked up to be, but nonetheless, a rookie season with 26 home runs, over 100 RBI, and 173 hits is impressive.

How does all this compare to other great Phillies rookie seasons?  Pretty damn good.  For rookies with 300 or more plate appearances, Franco's OPS+ is 13th in Phillies' rookie history (first is Dick Allen at 162; Ryan Howard's rookie season is 5th at 133), better than Richie Ashburn (122), Scott Rolen (121), Pat Burrell (106), and Jimmy Rollins (93).

Franco looks even better when you consider his offensive bWAR (oWAR for short).  So far, his oWAR is 2.4.  That's already good for 20th best rookie oWAR in Phillies history.  However, if you translate Franco's oWAR to 162 games, he would be at 5.0.  That number would be good for the second best offensive rookie season for a Phillie ever (second to Allen's incredible 8.8 oWAR).  Even a more modest 150 game translated oWAR - 4.8 - would still be second overall, as the next best oWAR after Allen's is Ed Bouchee's 1957 season of 4.6.

What if we narrow the scope here?  How does Franco compare to Phillies third base rookies?  Sitting at 2.4 oWAR, he's already the fourth best offensive Phillies rookie third baseman ever.  With a few more games, he'll surpass Willie Jones' 1949 season of 2.5 oWAR.  He'll then have a ways to go to get to Rolen's 4.2 in 1997 to move into second place (though his OPS+ puts him in second for Phillies rookie 3B).  Again, Allen's insane 1964 season is the best offense a rookie third baseman has ever produce for the Phils.  Mike Schmidt?  It's easy to forget that his rookie season wasn't all that strong - a 1.3 oWAR (8th in Phillies 3B history) with a sub-.200 batting average and a .697 OPS.

The one big knock on Franco historically is that with his defense, he falls significantly down the Phillies' all-time rookie charts.  His 1.2 bWAR (offense and defense combined) places him 46th on the Phillies' all-time rookie list; roughly double that for a full season, and he's about 17th.  In other words, his defense hurts him overall.

Looking to the year-end hardware, Franco is going to have an uphill battle.  He'll definitely get votes and will probably rank in the top 6 or 7 for NL rookie of the year, but with Matt Duffy, Jung Ho Kang, Kris Bryant, Joc Pederson, and Randal Grichuk having seasons that are comparable to or better than Franco (not to mention his teammate Odubel Herrera having a fine rookie season), it's going to be hard for Franco to win.

Nonetheless, his rookie year so far has been quite the accomplishment - impressive to watch and historically significant for the franchise.