France finds refreshing success with 'cleaner' swing

April 23rd, 2024

This story was excerpted from Daniel Kramer’s Mariners Beat newsletter. To read the full newsletter, click here. And subscribe to get it regularly in your inbox.

ARLINGTON -- is no longer overthinking in the batter’s box, and he says that's about as refreshing as the results he’s seen with his overhauled swing. There’s a correlation between these components, too, which blend the mental and physical adjustments that he and the Mariners hope will define his 2024 season.

“Everything just feels cleaner,” France said. “Yeah, I do notice more solid contact more frequently. I can't tell the difference between 100 [mph] and 105 [mph]. So, to me, that's all the same. But seeing the consistency and the repetitive barrels over and over, it's very refreshing, because it had been a while since I'd had that.”

France’s .328 slugging percentage and .661 OPS don’t jump off the page, and some of his production was marred by two costly double plays he hit into on Seattle’s last homestand. But the way he’s hitting the ball -- and the fact that he’s a new father operating with dad strength -- suggests that more power could be coming.

France has seen a 3.6 mph increase in his average exit velocity, now posting a 91.1 mph mark, which ranks in Statcast’s 79th percentile among 194 qualified hitters. The jump is MLB’s ninth largest this season among that group. Moreover, his hard-hit rate (anything hit at 95 mph or higher) has climbed from 38.6% to 50.9%, which ranks in the 89th percentile and is tied for the 11th-largest spike.

The most telling illustration, though, might be how often France is connecting at the “sweet spot” of his barrel, a healthy 47.2% of the time, the ninth highest in the Majors. For a contact specialist who’s never struggled with strikeouts but who regularly got himself out by rolling over pitches last year, France's newfound ability to do damage with the most optimum contact is encouraging.

“In general, my mechanics, I feel like I'm in a good place to fire from,” France said. “And the swing itself is a lot shorter and compact, and I'm able to get the barrel to the ball. Whereas last year, it wasn't like that, and these balls, I'd be hitting off my fists.”

France’s offseason work at Driveline has been well-chronicled. Yet, it’s fascinating to see his parallel results to those of his best friend on the team, J.P. Crawford, who significantly increased his bat speed en route to a career year, crediting Driveline to much of it.

That said, these are two completely different swings.

Crawford’s focus was to better leverage his lower body, while France’s has centered on getting away from being “too handsy.” His setup in the box shows as much, with his wrists much closer to his right shoulder, allowing him to combat pitchers that to exploit France's weakest area -- the inner third of the plate.

“It just keeps me a little tighter and allows me to work closer to my body,” France said. “Teams are still attacking me inside, and so, in order for me to get there, I had to make an adjustment and felt like that was the best one. I feel like I don't have to cheat to do it. I feel like I can see the ball now and react to it rather than feel like I have to manipulate my swing to get there. Now, I don't even think about it. I just take my ‘A’ swing.”

France doesn’t consider himself a finished product. He’s “still doing a ton of work pregame” and regularly consulting Driveline, which offers feedback and drills. He's also working with Mariners hitting coaches Jarret DeHart and Brant Brown.

“But during the game, I feel like I'm able to just get in the box and compete,” France said. “Which over the last year and a half, I feel like I've been worried about my swing, swing mechanics and feeling like I had to get a hit, whereas now I'm able to just relax and go play baseball games.”

Sustainability to these results is vital, but France has mostly been back on track -- and he’s having fun doing it.