Royals' Francoeur making changes to swing
JAN 29, 2013 1:18a ET
Alas, Frenchy does not have a magic wand (or so he claims); what he has is a bat that hit .235 last year, and a screaming desire not to get stuck diving into that particular dumpster ever again.
"Last year just flat-out sucked," The Kansas City Royals' right fielder says, chuckling ruefully. "You hear the chatter and the fans (going), 'Why did we trade (Wil) Myers?' You know, I'd probably say the same damn thing if I was on the outside looking in."
He's got a new house, a baby on the way (due date: the All-Star Break, roughly), and a mission to settle old scores with the stat gods who'd played him for a fool. While you were gnashing your teeth after the December 9 trade of Myers, the Royals' top hitting prospect, and beating your head against the wall over the notion of another summer of Francoeur patrolling right field, Frenchy was busy busting his tail. A little soul-searching and a lot of grind.
"To be honest with you, I've been working my ass off," Francoeur tells FOX Sports Kansas City. "Not that I didn't last year. I was embarrassed by my year last year."
But to get it out of his system, the Georgia native first had to relive the nightmare, frame by frame. The Royals' film crew sent him footage of each of his at-bats from 2012, a .235, 16 home-run, 49-RBI campaign that couldn't be salvaged (or spun) by any reasonable metric. According to the web site Baseball-Reference.com, Francoeur's Wins Above Replacement (WAR) value of minus-2.7 victories last season was the lowest among any regular in an American League lineup. Fangraphs.com rated Frenchy's WAR of minus-1.2 as the 49th worst season by an everyday position player since 1969.
"When you hit .235," he says, "you've got to go back to the drawing board, man."
That meant taking hacks off a neighbor's pitching machine -- once the property of Jason Varitek, a beaut that throws curves and sliders -- at least three days a week. That meant hitting off a tee six days a week. That meant switching to a heavier bat. That meant taking cuts at full-speed on Nov. 10, the earliest Frenchy's ever pulled the bat out during a major-league offseason.
"I feel I've got my mechanics back to where I want them," he notes. "My body's in great shape. That's the one thing I do feel, is confident. When you feel good and like where you're at, the majority of the time, you'll hit."
Early film study proved fruitful, too. Francoeur noticed that he had a tendency to start "wrapping" the bat before his downswing, causing a longer, looping stroke that led to jam shots and soft fly balls. With a little tinkering and some pointers from pal Brad McCann, brother of Atlanta catcher Brian McCann, he figures he'll be better able to better hit the ball where it's pitched.
"I was long," says Francoeur, a career .266 hitter who raked at a .229 clip with runners in scoring position a year ago. "I wrapped my bat some, and just was taking a bad path to the (strike) zone. Looking back, too, I didn't hit my first home run until Mother's Day in Chicago, and it was like I was just playing catch-up the whole year. Eventually, you're trying to make one home run count as five, and then we went through that 12-game losing streak (in April and May), and I say, flat-out, last year was a (expletive) year for me and for the team.
"I tried to catch up and tried to do too much instead of just letting it kind of come to me. The year before that, in 2011, I was so happy, I was so consistent that whole year ... I never went through that (down) period, I went .280, .270, .290. And last year, it was just a roller-coaster ride for me and for the team, and it wasn't a lot of fun."
You own it. You burn it. You move on. In an effort to preserve his sanity, Francoeur does not Google the words "Jeff Francoeur." However, his wife does have an app on her phone that buzzes whenever the Royals make news -- so he's not exactly immune to outside opinions, however scathing.
Every Royal has a 'Where were you when Myers was traded?' story. The news broke at 11-ish east-coast time on a Sunday night; Francoeur was in bed, next to his wife, when her phone got all buzzy.
"I remember hearing that and going to get my phone, right beside the bed," recalls Frenchy, who missed the Royals' FanFest on January 19 because it conflicted with a friend's wedding. "And I saw (the trade). I said, 'DANG,' and said it real loud, and I woke her up. She thought something was wrong. So (when I told her), she was like, 'Great, I'll talk to you in the morning.' I know, for me, I was excited ...
"I know you're giving up a guy like Wil Myers, and he could be a superstar. But you don't know. One of the things that (general manager) Dayton (Moore) said is, 'We've got to win at the major-league level.' I mean, we joked at spring training (at) how many ring ceremonies we had at the Double-A and Triple-A level. I think it's a great trade for both franchises. It gives them some players (with upside) and it gives us a couple of pitchers."
It also underscores the need for a bounce-back season from the 29-year-old outfielder, who's got one season remaining on a two-year extension signed in August 2011. The Myers trade wasn't just about Moore trying to shore up his starting rotation -- it was about him doubling down on a Frenchy rebound, a Frenchy more like the one who hit .285 with 20 homers and 47 doubles in 2011.
"Being the guy that did what we did two years ago, and then (to) do what I did last year, not hit my first home run until May 11? That's embarrassing," he says. "I believe I'm a guy (that when) my back's against the wall I'm going to come out swinging.
"My goal is to go out there and prove (the fans) wrong this year. I want to prove to Kansas City fans that what they saw two years ago is what they're getting this year. And if you do that, hopefully, you'll make them forget the Wil Myers trade. I ain't deaf. I ain't blind."
Alas, he ain't a magician, either.
You can follow Sean Keeler on Twitter @seankeeler or email him at firstname.lastname@example.org
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