Deep Dive: Maikel Franco – Primed to Breakout?

Deep Dive: Maikel Franco – Primed to Breakout?

Written by: Matt Pepin
Follow him on Twitter: @MatthewPepin_
Follow Prospects Worldwide on Twitter: @ProspectsWorldW

If you consider yourself a casual fan you probably look at Maikel Franco and see a guy who hit .234 with 17 homers, an advanced statistics fan might see a .281 wOBA and 70 wRC+ en route to a -0.5 WAR.  If you take a look at his statcast page you’ll certainly a lot of concerning blue dots including his 10th percentile xwOBA.  That in itself is probably enough to drive away the average baseball ‘nerd’, but as you peel back the layers you find a potential offensive threat being held back by inconsistency stemming from poor mechanics.  Franco has the chance to have a breakout season similar to the likes of Gio Urshela in 2019.  

In 2015 Franco had his rookie season where he broke onto the scene with a .280/.343/.497 slash line, good for a 129 wRC+, and 1.9 WAR in 335 PA.  He was never the same after that, as pitchers began to figure him out and expose his weaknesses his stats plummeted to below average for the next 2 seasons, in 2018 he performed at a solid level with a 105 wRC+ showing good signs but in 2019 he had his worst season to date.  The Phillies decided not to tender Franco a contract for the 2020 season leaving him a FA, where the Royals signed him to a 1 year $2.95 million contract with up to $1.05 million in incentive-based bonus’.

The below chart represents wOBA (weighted on base average) connected to launch angle and exit velocity.  The figure on the left represents the actual results, for example a weakly hit ball at a launch angle of 52 has a .024 wOBA and a hard hit ball at the same launch angle has a .019 wOBA.  The chart on the left tells us that the most ideal launch angle is between 20 and 28 overall.  The figure on the right showcases how predictive each hit is, what types of hits teach us about the batters future outcomes?  We learn that the higher the launch angle for a hard hit ball, the higher the predictiveness of sed hit.  The creator of this chart, MLB’s senior data architect Tom Tango had this to say about the chart …

“If you hit a ball at 100 mph, 50+ degrees, that takes a TREMENDOUS amount of power. It also requires the batter to mishit. Which of the two is more likely to repeat itself?”

Using these methodologies baseball community data architect, Connor Kurcon (@ckurcon) has created a few stats designed to predict future outcomes.  Truehit and TruwOBA are both extremely predictive metrics on the scale of wOBAcon and wOBA. (Essentially all-encompassing offensive metrics with great predictive qualities).  This metric has predicted many offensive breakouts in the past, most recently Gio Urshela, DJ Lemahieu, Mike Tauchman, Cameron Maybin among many more…. As you can tell the list includes a handful of players the Yankees acquired for little to nothing, they’re currently the gold standard of bringing out the value in players using both analytics and traditional scouting methods.

Franco’s hidden batted ball data is excellent, in 2019 his TruwOBA was .383, with his actual wOBA being just .286 making it a difference of .097.  His tru .383 was 17% above average while his actual .286 was 11% below average, quite the gap.  Franco’s sheer natural power is allowing him to scorch balls but at launch angles that aren’t ideal at all.  Franco’s max exit velocity was a great 114.1 mph, ranking in the top 50 of max exit velocities.  It’s no question that Franco has the raw power to have success but what else does he have? Throughout his whole career he’s posted elite K%, in the 87th percentile in 2019 which was no different from the rest of his career.  He also walked a career-best 8.4%, a bit below average.

*Truehit is TruwOBA not including BB’s and K’s, essentially just the batted ball output, on the same scale as wOBAcon. DHH% is dynamic hard-hit rate.

There’s just one catch with the metrics, generally, the player needs to have a fairly strong standard deviation of launch angle, meaning the batter should be hitting balls with as little variation as possible, showing consistency and has a strong correlation to BABIP (batting average on balls in play).  While a strong standard deviation of launch angle isn’t needed for success, it certainly helps, especially with a player struggling with consistency.  

2019 Leaders: min. 100 BBE

  1. Jake Cave 18.8
  2. Domingo Santana 21.9
  3. JD Martinez 22.1
  4. Harold Castro 22.2
  5. Tim Anderson  22.8
  6. Aaron Judge 22.9
  7. Shohei Ohtani 22.9
  8. Joey Votto 23.0
  9. Mike Tauchman 23
  10. David Bote 23.2

490. Maikel Franco

There you go, here’s our problem, consistency.  Franco is all over the place with his launch angles leading to awful consistency from pitch to pitch.  To make matters worse he’s led the league in pop up % in 3 of the last 4 seasons, remember a pop up is just slightly better than a strikeout, just about never leading to hits.  It’s clear that if Franco can control his launch angles, his offensive success will skyrocket considering his exit velocity profile with his great ability to make contact.

Franco’s LA Inconsistency and Mechanics
Here’s a Look at the Swings of the Sx of LA Leaders

As you can probably tell after watching the standard deviation of launch angle leaders mechanics, they all have short and compact swings with only efficient movements. We see straight bat to ball guys and as a result most of them have a lot of success, the ones who don’t put up numbers lack the necessary power or hit tool. Luckily for Franco he has great strength and bat to ball skills.

To get a bit more specific, I think Franco should try and ditch all the excess movement by starting his hands further back and higher, I would suggest low hands but I think Franco would end up raising them before launch anyway, the goal is to cut out as much unnecessary motion as possible. He should also try and ditch the hitch with his hands right before he explodes toward the ball, it’s a key factor to his ‘loopy’ swings. Obviously making a big swing change is very difficult especially to eliminate movements that are likely second nature to him, but in order to cut down on variation and tap into his potential, he’ll need to have a much shorter swing similar to the guys above in the video.  

Maikel Franco has the chance to put up big offensive numbers considering his power potential, bat to ball skills, and solid plate discipline.  If he can manage to shorten up his swing leading to a lower variation in launch angle his rise is inevitable.  I leave you with this final quote from Maikel himself “I know my game. I know what I have to do to get better”, we’ll see about that.

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