Had the Phillies traded the package of Lou Marson, Jason Donald, Jason Knapp, and Carlos Carrasco for Cliff Lee alone, the deal would have been lopsided. But the incomprehensible addition of Ben Francisco by Indians GM Mark Shapiro made the trade an absolute fleecing.
Francisco had put together several productive seasons in Cleveland, playing nearly everyday and hitting third. In 2008, Francisco hit 15 homers and 32 doubles in 447 at-bats for the Indians, compiling a league-average .332 on-base percentage in his first full season as a major leaguer.
The next year, a June slump skewed Francisco’s numbers – he hit .141/.221/.176 in 95 plate appearances during the month. But once June turned into July, Francisco started hacking. He hit .321 with a 1.043 OPS in July, slugging five homers and nine doubles in 94 plate appearances.
And then Mark Shapiro traded him to the Phillies, a team that killed two birds with one stone by acquiring an ace in Lee and a much-needed righty bench bat in Francisco. It defied logic. Had Francisco’s June slump carried over into July, maybe it makes a smidget of sense. But Shapiro essentially gave away a young, productive, cheap outfielder for nothing.
Francisco will make $470,000 this year. He has such little big-league service time that he has not even entered his arbitration years. From 2011-2013, it would be a shock to see Francisco make in excess of $1M. He won’t be eligible to test the free agent market until 2014. Francisco is the ideal fourth outfielder; a cheap, high-upside player.
Even if Shapiro believed that Francisco did not fit into the Indians immediate future, there was such a small cost in keeping him that Francisco could have easily stuck around and been a fourth outfielder in Cleveland. It’s like if I traded you a roll of paper towels for $20…and then you also threw in a roll of paper towels.
Francisco made his Phillies debut last year in time for a road series in San Francisco. He started three of the four games (two in centerfield) and went 4-for-12 with two doubles. In his second start – which also happened to be Cliff Lee’s first – Francisco hit a double that just missed leaving the massive AT&T Park, and twice crushed fly balls that fell just short of the left field wall. It was quite the first impression.
All told, Francisco hit .278/.317/.526 with the Phils in the final months of 2009, with 14 extra-base hits in 97 at-bats. If you were to extrapolate Francisco’s numbers with the Phillies to a season of 600 plate appearances, he would have projected to hit 29 homers and 50 doubles. This is not to say that he definitively would have produced those figures, just that he was very productive in limited time.
This year, Francisco has struggled a bit, mostly due to the fact that he has only seen 32 at-bats in 47 games. He has started only five times despite the fact that Raul Ibanez has gotten off to a slow start, especially against same-handed pitching.
In his career, Ibanez has not been one of those lefties that struggles against southpaws, but this year has been a different story. Ibby is hitting a mere .214/.283/.357 against lefties with only three extra base hits. May has been kinder to Ibanez than April was, but it still is not as if he represents a massive upgrade over Francisco, especially against lefthanded pitching.
So, why hasn’t Francisco gotten any tick? Well, first off, the Phillies have only faced lefthanded starting pitchers in 13 of 47 games. Of those 13 games, Ibanez has started nine and Francisco has started four. Francisco has not exactly made the most of his limited opportunities, going 3-for-16 in those four starts with two doubles.
But Francisco has an OPS 10% better against lefthanded starters than his career mark, so that 16 at-bat sample size is the definition of useless. The man needs at-bats to be effective as a pinch-hitter and provide value, so giving him more opportunities against lefthanded starters seems to be the best way to accomplish this. A former pinch-hitter himself, Charlie Manuel has stated often that keeping a non-starter fresh and able to produce in such situations requires somewhat frequent at-bats.
It doesn’t need to be a strict platoon, but a more favorable ratio must exist for Francisco than one start every three or four times the Phils face a lefty.