Make no mistake about it, 2016 has been a rough season for Maikel Franco.
After bursting onto the scene last year with a solid .280/.343/.497 season in which he clubbed 14 HRs, had a .360 wOBA and a wRC+ of 129 in 335 PAs, Franco has taken a step backward this year, batting .250/.301/.422 with 23 dingers, a .306 wOBA and a wRC+ of 89.
His OPS last year was .840, this year it is .723. His OPS+ of 129 last year was much better than this year’s 91. And he only has 23 doubles this season, compared to 22 in more than 240 fewer plate appearances.
So yeah, Franco hasn’t been too good. Heading into last night’s heartbreaking 9-8, 11-inning loss to the Mets, he had not homered since August 18th, a span of 25 games, more than a month on the actual calendar.
But last night, Franco had the type of game Phillies fans were hoping they’d see a lot more often this season, with two hits, four RBIs and this huge homer that, for a moment there, had the Phils in front in the top of the 8th inning.
Note where the ball landed, in right-center field. Franco, a noted pull-hitter, has plenty enough power to hit the ball out to right, but all too often this season has been pulling off the ball, trying to jack everything into the left field seats.
Here’s an example from about a month ago, in Arizona, on a 2-0 count against the Diamondbacks. Look where his shoulder and foot are as he makes contact.
That pitch is right down the middle, and Franco is pulling off like someone has a hook on his hip and is yanking on it from the third-base dugout. Not surprisingly, he popped out to right field.
In his home run to right-center field last night, you can see Franco’s head is in a better place and he doesn’t step in the bucket quite as much, enabling him to barrel a ball away from his body better.
Later in last night’s game, in the 11th, he worked a 3-2 count and took a walk with the bases loaded, forcing in a run, pushing the score to 8-6.
It was a disciplined at bat, one in which he showed excellent plate discipline. He did not hack at the 3-2 fastball in a spot where he could do nothing with it.
But it’s not the only time in recent days in which Franco has shown some positive steps forward. On Wednesday night against the White Sox, Franco hit this rope to third base, getting solid wood on the ball.
You can see Franco’s front foot stays virtually in place and his front shoulder stays in tight. He’s not stepping pulling off and, as a result, rips a line drive to third that is unfortunately turned into a double play.
Finally, there was this opposite field line-drive single to right in that same game.
This is a nice, easy swing. Franco’s helmet is not falling off his head. He’s not trying to hit it to Trenton. He simply takes the pitch the other way, keeping his front foot and shoulder in virtually the same position.
When Franco’s mechanics are solid, this is what he can do. But we haven’t seen it enough this season. Only 17 qualified MLB players have gone the opposite less frequently than Franco (19.8%) this year, and Franco has pulled the ball 46.1% of the time, tied for 23rd-most in baseball.
But maybe this is the start of something. If Franco can keep this going over the last week of the season, he can head into the off-season, and possibly winter ball, on a good note.
Franco has all the power in the world, but when he is pulling off the ball, he generates weak contact. He becomes a feeble hitter.
These last few games serve as an indication of just what Franco can do when he is doing the right things.