Maikel Franco hit a career high 27 doubles in 2017. He fell one shy of his personal record for home runs with 24, stayed just about steady (41) with his 2016 walk total in 2016 (40), and actually had about 20 fewer strikeouts than last season. He hit .438 with seven home runs when he swung at the first pitch in 89 AB.
I say these nice things first, because you know the rest of this story: the slugging was down, the OBP was down, the average was down, and the WAR was negative. It would be so nice if Franco had put it together, locked in that plate discipline, absorbed the science of sluggage over coffee with Matt Stairs, and became another clear building block toward the Phillies’ next post season appearance. But, as we know, Franco never got going; and I mean, never. There was no coming out party in the Bronx this season, there was no hot streak, there was no sustained success. After each of his three-hit games (there were four, none occurred in the same month) and four-hit games (there were two, separated by a month), reporters leaped on the “maybe he’s turning things around” storyline, because waiting to see if he could keep the bat on the ball for a couple of nights in a row was going to rob you of the opportunity to use the narrative.
Franco found .220-.230 BA territory and nestled in for 154 games. It was not what anyone wanted to see this season after 2015, when patches of thunder fueled a .255/.306/.427 year on which Franco was expected to build. He didn’t, and his lack of progress has people dreaming of the third baseman available on free agent markets to come.
This is following only two full years in the majors. There’s a reason the 25-year-old got the “breakout” candidate label this year; because fantasy experts know where his ceiling is, they’ve seen the tapes, and are left wondering how this guy hasn’t smashed baseballs into the shape of his own face on the surface of the moon yet. There’s a hitter in there, and Matt Stairs was trying to use 2017 to find him, having Franco adjust his hands and maybe go up to the plate with an actual plan. The preseason indicated Franco had learned not to swing at a pitch just because it was offered to him, but an absence of patience resurfaced and stuck around for the majority of the year.
Despite his lack of a break-out, the team has begun to form around Franco. Rhys Hoskins appeared late in the year and almost surpassed him in home runs in a fraction of the playing time, and with Nick Williams, Jorge Alfaro, Aaron Altherr, and Odubel Herrera around, potential (or successful) hitters are multiplying in the lineup. Perhaps the addition of young batters with tighter approaches like Hoskins or J.P. Crawford can serve as examples; perhaps seeing how fun it is to hit will fill him with furious, motivational envy. Perhaps, before his departure, Matt Stairs had been spending the off-season venturing into the distant mountains for an amulet containing the power of the ancient slugging gods. But oh no, the amulet has offered Stairs its power and the chance to regain his lost youth! In his struggle to overcome himself, he grows distracted and journeys down the wrong path, forced to seek shelter as the howls of the dire wolves grow closer. But what’s this? The glowing eyes at the back of the cave belong to... Larry Bowa?!?
So you see, baseball is full of twists and turns. Giving up on Franco is understandable, but each player’s developmental path is different. Hoskins came into the picture and sort of blew up the place, but throughout a full season, who knows what kind of struggles he would endure? If the Phillies are looking at their roster at the end of 2018 and see a team that, with a few adjustments and good bounces, could have made the playoffs, and their starting third baseman has, through 150 or so more games, still hit .220, then yeah. Three seasons of that, with the type of talent available and the wads of cash in their hands, is going to lead to some changes. But we just watched Cesar Hernandez go from a AAAA warm body to one of the best leadoff hitters in the sport. Guys figure things out, and Hernandez isn’t even one who had been credited with the ceiling of Maikel Franco.
Not every guy needs to be an MVP, but they need to do their jobs. Franco finished the season strong, hitting .271 with an .825 OPS me September; four home runs in his last five games to secure him the team lead. Give them something in 2018, Maikel; anything I can take to the people and say things are different. Good different, I mean.
You can’t wait on Maikel Franco forever. But forever is still a ways off. Besides, this team’s got bigger problems. You hear about this pitching staff? And apparently [at the time of this writing] there’s no manager? And how about Matt Stairs, having to answer Larry Bowa’s riddles to escape a subterranean labyrinth beneath the Peak of One Hundred Losses?