It is springtime, and stories abound on professional athletes who have suddenly discovered that they need to watch what they eat, work out, and whatnot. Coincidentally, this often occurs following a bad year. Not too surprisingly, guess who came to Arizona in the Best Shape Of His Life in 2013?
That’s right. Jeff Francoeur realizes that he had a really bad year in 2012, and he needs to make some changes. One might think that it is not really that exceptional for a player coming off a season during which he hit .235/.287/.378 while playing right field as if he was pulling an invisible trailer full of anvils to understand something to be amiss. But let’s face it, players are rarely as frank regarding their own performance as Francoeur is in this article, which I like to think of as Greatest BSOHL Story Ever Told.
We should not let Jeff Francoeur’s rare bad season obscure the fact that, with Jason Kendall no longer playing, Frenchy is probably the best leader in the majors. With charisma like his, there is no way this comeback season is not for real. Is there any doubt that 2012 was just a blip? An anomaly? A raisin in the sun? We’re talking about a guy who hit .285/.329/.476 in 2011, which is surely closer to his true talent than his 2012 season or the .256/.301/.389 line he put up over 1788 plate appearances from 2008-2010. The Royals know this, which is why the felt confident enough to trade Wil Myers.
But seriously, Francoeur does deserve credit for accepting that he was awful last year rather than lashing out at stats or “haters” or whatever. He gets where he stands with fans after the Myers trade:
“The criticism this offseason,” he said, “when we traded Wil — why the heck did we do that? — I sit there and say, ‘As a fan, looking from the outside, I’d lead that criticism.’ For fans, looking from the outside, I don’t blame them.
“I had a terrible year. Last year was so disappointing for me in so many different ways. First, obviously, the team and the way we performed after having expectations. Then myself. I just never did it. Never.”
Before we give Francoeur too much credit for knowing his place, it is worthing remembering how he has reacted to benchings caused by his poor play in the past. We might also wonder whether a Solemn Vow of Awesomeness is enough:
Francoeur is vowing a big comeback year after sabermetricians — and fans — dubbed him the worst everyday player in baseball.
“The thing that keeps me positive,” he said, “is I know I’ve had good years. I’ve hit 30 home runs. I’ve driven in 100 runs. I’ve hit .290. I know I can do it. It’s a matter, for me, of being able to be consistent.
[NB: Gotta love the distinction between “fans” and “sabermetricians.” Et tu, Dutton? I should make clear that I am not going after Bob Dutton, an excellent baseball reporter for the Kansas City Star, for this article. In fact, he is quite blunt with the facts of Francoeur’s performance last year. And really, what is he supposed to write in his team’s hometown paper? It is not as if he expresses particular confidence in Francoeur, he is just reporting what Francoeur and others in the organization are saying.]
Buy Jeff does go beyond making the SVoA. He knows what the problems are. What makes this such a great story is that it goes beyond the simplistic “lost weight” or “changed diet” BSOHL story. It sounds like Francoeur knows what the problems are, but the problem is, the problems are pretty much everything.
It does start with conditioning, as most BSOHL stories do. Let’s leave aside questions of why a professional athlete, one who is supposed to be a great example for “the young guys,” needed to be told by someone else that he was out of shape, slow, and needed to work out in the off-season. Dutton’s article quotes the team’s strength and conditioning coach as telling the Great Leader late last season: “You need to get to work and stop feeling sorry for yourself.” So Jeff Francoeur is turning to one of the “young guys” he mentored into awesomeness back in 2011, Alex Gordon. Gordon is dubbed “Gordo,” and will be playing Jeff Francoeur’s “wingman” this off-season, replacing Brian McCann as Frenchy’s “best friend in the game.” That’s right: Alex “Gordo” Gordon and Brian McCann: Jeff Francoeur’s Wingmen. Tremendous. Maybe Francoeur will start buying rice cakes for right field fans at away games instead of pizzas.
This goes beyond just having Alex Gordon text him about weight training and diet (note: I’m one of Alex Gordon’s biggest fans, but he sounds like one of the Least Fun People to Choose a Restaurant With). As written earlier, what makes this the Greatest BSOHL Story Ever is that is isn’t just about getting into shape. Francoeur has not only discovered that he might need to work out in the off-season and change his diet, but he has also realized that he might need to do something with the beautiful swing recorded in the .gif at the top of this article. He cites teammates Billy Butler and Alex Gordon as models, but Jeff is a stats guy, too:
Here’s the deal: I heard Lance Berkman say that his best year was a year when he hit .400 in spring and carried it over into the season.
Not only is the comparison with Lance Berkman amazing, but: Spring Training stats, folks, that’s where it is at. Outstanding.
So Jeff Francoeur is not only in great shape, which will also help him in the field, but he is also in possession of a new swing (partly because of his new workout routine), he is relying on having one good season in the last half-decade. His body is not just in the BSOHL, but his mind, as well. Royals General Manager Dayton Moore knows (although, and you won’t believe this, it is not all about the numbers for Moore):
Many critics question whether general manager Dayton Moore will ever be willing to quit on Francoeur whatever the evidence.
Moore helped sign Francoeur as a first-round pick while working in Atlanta in 2002. He then signed Francoeur as a free agent after the 2010 season and made the decision to deal Myers for much-needed pitching.
It is telling, perhaps, that while Moore also expresses the expectation Francoeur will have a bounce-back year, he suggested any evaluation wouldn’t simply be made on the numbers.
“He can’t have a year like last year,” Moore said, “but I’m confident he is going to have a very good year. I know he’s going to show up every day to play. He’s going to bring a presence and a winning attitude to our team.
“He doesn’t have to be the guy. He just has to do something every single day that helps us win games. That’s what I expect Jeff Francoeur to do with his attitude, with his defense, getting the big hit, going first to third and picking players up.”
And he had better. After all, he knows that the Royals have plenty of outfield depth in the minors ready to take his place if he fails over 300 plate appearances. David Lough, come on down!
Don’t bet on it, though, Mr. Lough. Sure, you are a 27-year-old who just put up .275/.317/.420 in your third trip through the PCL, but Jeff Francoeur has decided to be awesome. He has worked out. He has changed his diet. He has changed his swing. Do we even need to note that his attitude has stayed great?
This can’t be the Greatest Best Shape Of His Life Story Ever Told if the Heart and Hustle Hero does not triumph. Make it so.
Matt Klaassen reads and writes obituaries in the Greater Toronto Area. If you can't get enough of him, follow him on Twitter.