One frequently encounters, while consuming works of narrative fiction — novels, films, political campaigns — one encounters something called “character development.” This is the process by which a character in a work is introduced to the audience.
While it’s not unusual to find a character ascribed certain traits overtly (i.e. “Ted is an asshole”), it’s more often the case that a character is ascribed those traits implicitly (i.e. “Ted spoke, at some length, about the differences between a souffle and fondant”). The audience is left to draw their own conclusions in this case — although the dots are there to be connected.
Unless descriptions of characters are particularly well crafted, however, it’s not uncommon to “feel” the presence of the writer behind the narrative. Encountering a young female character, for example — a thin one with pale skin and dark hair, say — it’s difficult not to imagine the author thinking to him- or herself, “This character will be the brooding, mysterious sort.”
The advantage of sport-as-narrative is that, apart from the existence of the rules of this or that game, is that there is no author with which to contend. In the case of baseball, for example, we have 18-plus characters expressly not in search of an author, but entirely content to work within merely the confines of the game.
Owing to the absence of an author, the character traits of baseball players — besides the degree to which they’re cultivated (poorly, in most cases) by the media — are revealed organically. Which, this is what makes the recent achievement of now-Braves third baseman Juan Francisco remarkable.
Over the course of just two plate appearances during yesterday’s victory over the Mets (box), Francisco behaved exactly like Juan Francisco would be expected to act, displaying both his reckless power and also limited pitch recognition/control of the strike zone.
The Reckless Power Aspect
Juan Francisco has excellent raw power. Last September, he hit a home run out of Great American Ballpark (video). ZiPS projects him to post an ISO of .200.
Beyond the power itself is the particular way in which Francisco finishes his swing. After passing the bat through the hitting zone, Francisco releases his left hand and lets the bat continue around his right shoulder, as if he were handling a hatchet, almost.
The footage at the top of this post — of Francisco’s second-inning home run against R.A. Dickey — reveals both Francisco’s power and his peculiar swing.
The Strike Zone Aspect
If there’s one thing that will prevent Francisco from being an above-average major-league hitter, it’s his inability to control the strike zone. As a minor leaguer, he’s posted a 99:591 BB:K in 2554 career plate appearances. ZiPS projects him to post rates of 3.8% (walk) and 25.7% (strikeout), respectively — and a .293 on-base percentage.
It would be difficult to characterize Francisco’s trouble with zone and pitch recognition any more succinctly than via his fifth-inning plate appearance against Miguel Batista. After watching the first pitch for a ball, Francisco proceeded to swing at three roughly identical pitches (91-92 mph running fastballs off the plate), fouling off the first before swinging and missing at the next two.
Of course, the following footage will be less amusing for Braves fans, or anyone with a vested interest in Francisco’s success as a hitter. For others of us, however, there’s some pleasure to be mined from a player who is so egregiously and disgustingly himself at all moments. (Click on individual GIFs for Maximum Viewing Pleasure.)
Carson Cistulli has published a book of aphorisms called Spirited Ejaculations of a New Enthusiast.