Over the weekend, one of the brighter stories for the team this year was met with some bad news. Cesar Hernandez went to the 10-day disabled list with an oblique injury that, if history is any indication, will keep him out for an extended period. Hernandez was having one of the better seasons for the team this year, hitting .277/.336/.399 with ten doubles, two triples, and five home runs to go with above average defense, all of which added up to a 1.3 bWAR player. Sure he’s been in a pretty rough slump lately, amassing a .552 OPS in 101 plate appearances since May 14, but he’s still been one of the best players on the team this season, which makes his impending absence that much more of a problem to such a moribund team.
However, this injury presents a more ominous problem for those who watch the team every day. Maikel Franco has been the oft-whispered name when it comes to the Phillies’ struggles this season. He was thought of as a cornerstone player coming into spring, one whose work with new hitting coach Matt Stairs would help to lead to better things and perhaps the long awaited breakout fans have been wishing for. Alas, it has not come to be.
Franco has been a massive disappointment this season, sitting on a .208/.260/.338 line with seven home runs and a (surprising) 30 runs batted in thus far. Among the 25 qualifying third basemen in the game, here are Franco’s ranks in offensive categories (some ranks only had 19 players) :
Franco in 2017
|OPS||0.598||19th (of 19)|
|OPS+||59||19th (of 19)|
|bWAR||-1.3||19th (of 19)|
There is no way around it: Franco has been bad. So bad, in fact, there were internal discussions about whether or not a demotion would be beneficial to Franco, where he could work on some mechanics away from the bright lights of the major leagues. Those in favor of it were mostly hoping to salvage some good from what is increasingly becoming a lost season. People who disagreed would point to the lack of a better alternative at the position, as it would lead to increased playing time for the equally inept Andres Blanco or the out of position Howie Kendrick. Whether or not you agree with this is irrelevant anymore because of this injury.
Kendrick will now see the bulk of his playing time at the keystone, filling in for Hernandez at his natural position. He had been openly vocal about his displeasure playing the outfield in Los Angeles, but seems to have accepted his role here in Philadelphia. Now, he can go back to playing his best position, which also serves the purpose of increasing his versatility as the trade deadline approaches.
The position he’s abandoning will probably be occupied by Aaron Altherr full time, while Michael Saunders sees his playing time go up in right. Daniel Nava will see an increase in playing time, which depletes a bench that Pete Mackanin has used liberally this year. It also means that Franco will continue to get the lion’s share of the at bats designated for the third base position.
So, as you can see, the injury to Hernandez hurts the team in more ways than one. It certainly doesn’t help the case of those that wish to see Franco in the minors. Think about all of the other possible scenarios at roster construction.
While Kendrick was completing his rehab assignment, the team was having him take some infield practice at third. This was probably due to Altherr’s ascendance and needs for regular playing time, but also as a possible solution to Franco’s struggles. Mackanin could use Kendrick to spell Franco more often, putting a better offensive product on the field. Now that Kendrick will have to go to second, the only option to spell Franco is Blanco and that isn’t a better fit. Were someone in the minors pushing Franco, there might be a case for demotion, but even the alternative of bringing up J.P. Crawford in order to shift Freddy Galvis to third isn’t wise because Crawford is struggling himself.
Simply put, there is no other option right now for the team other than to continue to let Franco work out his struggles in the majors. We’re well aware that he’s still young and has time to figure it out, but he’s also had 1,258 plate appearances in the majors. Sure his exit velocities and launch angles portend better times ahead, but it’s June 12. He’s had to time to get it right, but we just haven’t seen improvement. Where fans will be upset is the continued off balance swings, poor pitch selection and empty at bats. It’s tough, but there really is no other way right now. We just have to sit back and hope that better luck (seriously, a .216 BABIP?!?!?!) will lead to better results.