If you didn't notice Maikel Franco last year, don't worry: You were hardly alone. Franco spent the first six weeks of the year in the Minors, then missed 45 of the final 48 games of the season due to a broken wrist. As the Phillies were in the midst of
If you didn't notice Maikel Franco last year, don't worry: You were hardly alone. Franco spent the first six weeks of the year in the Minors, then missed 45 of the final 48 games of the season due to a broken wrist. As the Phillies were in the midst of losing 99 games and names like Kris Bryant, Noah Syndergaard, Joc Pederson, Kyle Schwarber and Jung Ho Kang were dominating a historic National League Rookie of the Year Award class, Franco was somewhat lost in the shuffle.
It's safe to say that's not going to happen again, and that was even before Franco smashed his Major League leading seventh homer of the spring on Friday afternoon in a wild 15-12 win over Pittsburgh in Clearwater, Fla.
While we know not to put too much emphasis on spring blasts off Minor Leaguers like Guido Knudson, what Franco is doing isn't to be ignored, either. First and foremost, it's a pretty terrific sign that the wrist injury has healed, and that's important, because there were plenty of pre-injury signs last year that Franco had this in him -- even if few really saw it.
For example, we can run Statcast™ data queries to identify the hitters who managed to barrel up the largest percentage of extremely likely hits. To define that, we set the parameters as being "batted balls over 100 mph, with a launch angle of between 10 and 25 degrees," (where zero is defined as being right back at the pitcher). The Major League batting average on those types of balls is .595, which is to say, you really, really want to be hitting balls like that.
With a minimum of 20 tracked batted balls, the list of players who barreled their balls in that way last year is impressive:
Percentage of batted balls 100-mph-plus at 10-25 degrees launch angle, 2015
1. Miguel Sano, 16.7 percent
- Paul Goldschmidt, 14.9 percent
- Randal Grichuk, 14.5 percent
- Lucas Duda, 14.4 percent
- Chris Carter, 14.3 percent
- Justin Smoak, 14.2 percent
- Mike Trout, 14.0 percent
- Ryan Howard, 13.9 percent
- Yoenis Cespedes, 12.5 percent
- Giancarlo Stanton, 12.3 percent
- Pedro Alvarez, 12.3 percent
12. Franco, 12.2 percent
That's an interesting combination of the game's biggest stars and guys who have trouble making contact but crush the ball when they can find it. But contact wasn't really Franco's issue; in a sport where the average strikeout percentage was 20.4 and several topped 30 percent, Franco's was just 15.4 percent. Of the 33 hitters with at least 300 plate appearances and a .490 slugging percentage, only three struck out less often than Franco: A.J. Pollock, Anthony Rizzo, David Ortiz.
To take that to a somewhat unexpected extreme, what if we compared the 2015 stats of Franco and another 23-year-old Mid-Atlantic third baseman with a much higher profile, Manny Machado?
Franco: .280/.343/.497 -- 7.8 K percent -- 15.5 BB percent -- 128 wRC+
Machado: .286/.359/.502 -- 9.8 K percent -- 15.6 BB percent -- 134 wRC+
(wRC+, or Weighted Runs Created Plus, is an all-inclusive offensive stat that is park-adjusted and sets 100 as league average, meaning it can be read as "Franco was 28 percent above average in 2015.")
It's shockingly similar. Machado hit 35 homers to Franco's 14, but he also had more than twice as many plate appearances. Given a full season of playing time, could Franco match Machado's offensive output, even if he's not likely to bring the same elite defense? It's not out of the question.
When Franco hit two homers off of Yovani Gallardo earlier in the week, he told MLB.com's Todd Zolecki that because he knows he'll be in the lineup this season, he feels "more patient, more relaxed," than he had in previous springs. That might help explain the power we're seeing in Florida right now. But it's not like this was completely unexpected. After all, just because you didn't watch Franco excel last year, it's not like it didn't happen.
Mike Petriello is an analyst for MLB.com and host of the Statcast podcast. He has previously written for ESPN Insider and FanGraphs.