France looks to replicate 2022's first-half success

February 22nd, 2023

PEORIA, Ariz. -- In essence, there were two Ty Frances during the 2022 season.

The France of the first half was named an American League All-Star for the first time; the other was a scuffling hitter who attempted to overcompensate for injury during the second half in an effort to help propel his team toward a much sought after playoff spot.

While Seattle got over the finish line and claimed a Wild Card spot, France was unable to contribute in the manner he wanted or knew he could.

France’s season took a direct hit June 23 when A’s infielder Sheldon Neuse clipped his extended left arm on a close play at first base, leading France to undergo an MRI on his elbow, which came back negative. But while everything was structurally sound, the pain refused to subside, lingering long enough to eventually affect his wrist.

Prior to the injury, France had delivered an .867 OPS, primarily on the back of a stellar two-month stint to begin the year; after a two-week absence due to the ailment, he posted a .687 OPS over his final 70 games.

“We did what we could to maintain and push through the rest of the season, but I feel good now,” France said. “What the doctor told me when it happened was that there was nothing structurally wrong, it was just going to take time. Nothing to clean up, the offseason was good for it.”

On June 5, France’s average exit velocity for the year sat at 94.3 mph, which would have ranked him fourth in the Majors at the end of the season had he sustained that rate. Instead, he finished at an average of 87.6 mph, a below league-average mark.

That France’s production was torpedoed by the injury isn’t terribly surprising, given that the first baseman explained, “I started to manipulate my swing to try to avoid any pain,” which is a surefire way to hit the ball squarely less frequently.

“He was so hot early on, he really carried us in the first half,” manager Scott Servais said. “We needed all the help we could get early on with our offense.

“This guy’s got a great track record. He can hit the breaking ball, he drives in runs, he uses the whole field to hit, plenty of power.”

Traditionally adept at hitting the heater, France added the element of breaking pitch destruction in 2022, even with the caveat of his suppressed second-half numbers. Eleven of his 20 homers came against sliders/curveballs, as he delivered a .510 slugging percentage – a jump of nearly 100 points vs. breaking balls from the previous year.

France did sizable damage specifically against sliders, ranking tied for 12th in the Majors with nine run value added. The names directly ahead of him on the list -- Mike Trout, Paul Goldschmidt, Kyle Tucker -- represent not just an upper echelon of hitters from across the league, but also fellow All-Stars.

France’s upward trajectory against breaking pitches can best be seen when comparing 2022 to 2021: in his first full year as a Mariner, he delivered a plus-1.1 wSL (total change in run expectancy over the season against the slider) and 0.7 wCB (against the curveball); last year, those same metrics sat at 7.6 wSL and 4.9 wCB, ranking him in the upper echelon of hitters big league wide.

“If you get on time for the fastball, you’re going to hit the hanging offspeed pitches,” France explained.

Things spiraling offensively in the haze of injury isn’t lost on France. Even when Carlos Santana was acquired to help supplement first-base duties, the 34th-round pick kept the pressure on to produce.

“I wasn’t getting the results that I wanted, so I was chasing hits, swinging at bad pitches,” France said. “It was just an accumulation of things.”

But the dawn of a new spring means that France can begin to rectify a trying end to last summer and fall. The early work gets done on the back fields and batting cages of the Peoria Sports Complex, where the reigning All-Star attempts to reconfigure his timing to live pitching. But much of the sweat was put in long before arriving in Arizona.

“I worked a lot this offseason at the feel of trying to get my old swing back, the first-half swing, getting away from trying to manipulate the barrel,” France said.

Having turned the corner physically, taken a 17-day trip to Europe and corrected his swing since he was last on the diamond, a refreshed and revamped France hitting in the top third of the order would give the Mariners a much-needed dynamic element as they embark on their quest for back-to-back playoff berths.