The Suddenly Interesting Juan Francisco

Mitchell Leff

When the Blue Jays signed Juan Francisco, it was thought to be a trivial roster depth move, but when pressed into action Francisco has turned heads.

On April 1st 2014 the Toronto Blue Jays signed 1B/3B Juan Francisco to a minor league contract that seemed barely noteworthy at the time.

In the general scheme of things there is a very good chance this signing will go down as an insignificant move to this franchise's trajectory, but two things have taken place since April 1st that make it more interesting than one could have anticipated.

1) Adam Lind got hurt.

When Adam Lind went on the DL with a back injury Juan Francisco got a chance to get some playing time at the major league level. Francisco provides very little defensive value so he needed the Jays to lose their primary first baseman or DH to get the call. The fact that the 26-year-old is a left-handed bat also made it easy for him to slip into Lind's role.

2) Francisco started raking.

If Francisco had come up to the Jays and performed around his career averages there would be nothing noteworthy about his presence. After all, if the Dominican slugger continued the "low average, low OBP, occasional dinger" pattern that has characterized his career Jays fans would be groaning and praying for the return of Lind.

Instead, the Blue Jays moved Brett Lawrie to second base during interleague play in order to keep Francisco's bat in the lineup. He even got the start against Cole Hamels last night despite a career 7 wRC+ vs lefties. The reason for these things-only one of which was remotely sane- is the line he has produced so far:

BB%

K%

ISO

BABIP

AVG

OBP

SLG

wRC+

12.5%

31.3%

.222

.375

.278

.375

.500

142

The only thing that prevents those numbers from being astounding is the sample size. Francisco has only stepped up to the plate 64 times, so it is much too early to be making bold proclamations. His BABIP is clearly inflated, although not as much as one might expect from a lead-footed masher given that he has a career .336 BABIP in 830 career plate appearances.

While it would be foolish to proclaim Francisco's breakout as something more than a hot streak just yet, that doesn't mean his performance so far isn't worth monitoring. It is always promising when players demonstrate skills they have not demonstrated before, and Francisco is doing that by showing a willingness to take pitches, and as a result, walks.

Juan Francisco's 7.4% career walk rate is not abysmal, but it also is far from special for a guy with his kind of power. He has never shown a great eye at the dish and the 12.5% walk rate in 2014 could be indicative of a change in approach.

In order to try to get a bigger, albeit still fairly small, sample for this season that could indicate a change in Francisco's approach I looked at his spring training and Triple-A stats to see if he has been more selective all year:

Level

Plate Appearances

Walks

BB%

Spring Training

34

8

23.5%

AAA

50

6

12.0%

MLB

64

8

12.5%

2014 Total

148

22

14.9%

The sample remains insufficient to suggest anything meaningful with a great deal of confidence, but it is at least intriguing that the big left-handed hitter has walked at a high rate from the beginning of spring training on.

Francisco's plate discipline stats also reinforce the idea that he has been far more selective in 2014:

Year

O-Zone Swing Percentage

Total Swing Percentage

2009

39.7%

55.8%

2010

35.8%

46.6%

2011

45.0%

55.6%

2012

42.3%

54.7%

2013

36.6%

49.1%

2014

26.2%

44.1%

The number of plate appearances Francisco had is different year-to-year so these numbers vary in their reliability, but he has never shown the kind of discipline he is showing this season in any other sample, big or small.

The following Brooks Baseball zone profile show's Francisco's swing rate by location in 2014 and his relatively solid strike zone judgment is apparent...

...especially when compared to the kind of strike zone judgment he's displayed in his career as a whole:

Has Francisco discovered the secret of solid plate discipline at the age of 26?

It's possible, but it's too early to say it's probable. Far, far, too early.

However, Alex Anthopoulos indicated in a conference call with reporters Tuesday that he'd like to keep Francisco, even in a bench role, so perhaps the answer will become clear as the season wears on.

Juan Francisco has done very well filling in for Adam Lind so far in 2014. He hasn't done well enough to unseat Lind, or prove himself as more than a inconsistent slugger, but he has done enough to be an interesting player to watch going forward.

That's a victory for the Jays front office considering the words "Juan Francisco" and "interesting" haven't been used in the same sentence in some time.

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