This is perhaps no more frustrating a player on the Phillies than Maikel Franco.
After his outstanding 2015 season in which he hit 14 homers and tallied 50 RBIs in 80 games with a wOBA of .360, Franco has regressed each of the last two years, with wOBAs of .311 in 2016 and .292 last season.
The struggles are well known. When hitting ahead in the count last year, Franco hit .200 with an OPS of .727. That’s ahead in the count. The league batting average while ahead in the count was .299, a full 99 points higher.
Many of the issues can be traced to Franco’s stance, which hitting coach John Mallee has been tinkering with since spring training began. It’s been a work in progress, but perhaps we’re finally starting to see a real change.
Last week, this is what we saw from Maikel Franco.
In this at-bat, Franco’s stance is still very much open, with his front foot pointed towards third base. He got behind in the count 0-2 and went chasing a breaking ball that never had a chance to be in the zone.
Later in that game, Franco came up with the bases loaded and nobody out, got ahead 3-0 in the count, took a strike, and then swung wildly at a 3-1 pitcher’s pitch on the outer half of the plate, rolling it over for a 5-2-3 double play.
It was a microcosm of everything that has gone wrong for Franco since his rookie season in 2015. Open stance, no plate coverage, getting behind in the count and/or failing to take advantage when ahead in the count.
Over the last two games, however, Franco has looked much, much different.
First, notice his stance. He is now completely closed off, no longer with a foot toward third base.
Against Tampa ace Chris Archer, Franco worked ahead in the count 3-0. Unlike his plate appearance last week, when he jumped ahead 3-0 and hit that weak grounder to third ahead 3-1, Franco crushed an offering from Archer over the left field wall.
It was a thing of beauty, and a stark contrast to his plate appearance the week before.
Then, later in the same game against Tampa, Franco came up to the plate with no one on and two out and laced a nice fastball on the outside half of the plate into right field for a single on an 0-2 count.
As he rounded first base, Franco clapped his hands together, clearly showing excitement over his base knock the opposite way.
If his stance had been open, he probably would have grounded that ball weakly to the left side. Or he would’ve popped it up.
This is a big deal and these are the kinds of things that make you feel excited about Maikel Franco. The talent is there. The power is there. He doesn’t strike out. He makes lots of contact. The trouble is, so much of that contact is bad contact. Franco hit into 21 double plays last season, tied for 9th-most in baseball. His ground ball rate of 45.4% was 46th-highest in baseball out of 144 qualified hitters. The league average was 44.2%.
Of course, the key to Franco is his ability to be consistent with these changes. It’s just a two-game sample size, which is obviously not enough to draw any conclusions about anything. Franco needs to maintain this new batting stance throughout the spring and bring it up north with him to Atlanta for Opening Day.
The jury is still out, but hope remains that Maikel Franco is onto something.