By In Stuff

Jeff Francoeur and ANT

“I know you care about him. I’ve never seen you like this about anyone … so please don’t take it wrong when I tell you that I believe that Tom, while a very nice guy, is the Devil.”

— Albert Brooks character, Broadcast News

* * *

The other day, I was watching the visiting announcing crew call a Kansas City Royals game, when Jeff Francoeur came to the plate. Before it even began, I knew what was coming. The announcers started to praise Francoeur. You know, it was all the usual stuff — great leader, plays terrific defense, bat coming around, wonderful guy. And, suddenly, a question came to mind.

What player in baseball do you think has the most ANT — Announcer Nonsense Talk — spoken about them?

By ANT, I’m not just referring to stuff announcers say. I’m referring to a sort of universal praise that does not tie to logic or anything tangible but instead to a sort of whimsical hope and powerful narratives. I remember in a playoff game against the Cleveland Browns, John Elway once dropped back, almost fell down, ran into his own offensive lineman, almost fell down again, flipped a short little pass to Mark Jackson who broke and avoided like 49 tackles on his way to a long and ridiculous touchdown catch. As soon as it ended, the announcer shouted: “John Elway did it again!”

That’s ANT.

You know ANT when you hear or read it — it is when people start speaking in broad generalities about a player (“This guy just wants it more”) or when they start over-crediting a player for dubious achievements (pitcher wins and RBIs tend to be the sweet nectar of Announcer Nonsense Talk) or when they start to turn sports achievement into life achievement (“That was just a courageous pitch!”). And like I say, it’s not only announcers who do this — far from it. You see it everywhere. I’ve spent plenty of time writing ANT.

Derek Jeter has been the recipient of a lot of ANT through the years — I coined the word Jeterate based entirely on this — but Jeter is a legitimately great player, one of the best shortstops ever, and he is a consummate professional worthy of respect and admiration. So you can understand why people would want to tack on some nonsense talk to make the record even more sterling. For a while, David Eckstein seemed to be the worldwide leader of ANT, but, heck, the guy is 5-foot-6, can’t really run, can barely throw the ball across the infield, and yet he was a shockingly good baseball player for a handful of years. In 2002, he finished 11th in the MVP voting and deserved it, maybe deserved even a little more. So, yeah, you could see why he got so much ANT. When a player defies logic or sparks intense emotion, nonsense talk often seems the only way to capture the awesomeness of it.

Tim Tebow has probably had more ANT spoken about him than anyone, ever.

But back to baseball … and Jeff Francoeur. At this moment, Jeff Francoeur is hitting .209 with five walks and one home run. We are about a quarter of the way through the season, so you can multiply those numbers by four to get a sense of where he would finish the year at this pace. He has an OPS+ of 48. The Pitch FX numbers show he can’t catch up to the fastball, can’t recognize the slider and cannot stay back on the change-up. He’s O-swing percentage — that is, his percentage of pitches he swings at outside the strike zone — is at a staggering 44.6%, a career high in a career of hacking. It is the third-highest percentage in baseball, behind only legendary free swingers Pablo Sandoval and Alfonso Soriano.

Those guys, however, tend to be bad-ball HITTERS. Francoeur, no, not so much on the hitting part.

Jeff Francoeur is also a great guy — one of the greatest guys, really, impossible not to like him — and he has a strong arm, and he once won a Gold Glove (six years ago) and he once hit 29 home runs (seven years ago) and he’s a great guy. One of the greatest guys. Really. Impossible not to like him.

And it is this trait — Francoeur’s striking niceness — that leads to an astonishing barrage of ANT. Anytime you watch the Royals play you will hear announcers find all sorts of ways to praise Jeff Francoeur. They will talk about how many runs his defense saves*. They will talk about how he’s a winner.** They will talk about how much he helps the Royals young players.*** They will talk about how he’s a good hitter have an uncharacteristic slump.****

*Last year, the Fielding Bible people studied every single play Francoeur and every other player made, and determined he COST the Royals 12 runs against an average defender (largely because he’s pretty immobile out there), making him the 34th best right fielder in a sport that only fields 30 teams.

**Jeff Francoeur’s first full year with Atlanta, 2006, was also the first time in 15 years the Braves did not reach the postseason. They also did not reach the postseason in 2007, 2008 or 2009 — the three years Francoeur played with Atlanta. They did make it in 2010, the year after he was traded to the Mets, who were not good at all the two years he played for them. The Mets traded him to Texas with 15 games left in the season and the Rangers did go to the World Series, though I don’t think Francoeur deserved too much of the credit (he went three-for-24 in the playoffs with one RBI and one run scored). He then signed with the Royals, who have gone a combined 163-201 in his time. I should quickly add here I’m not BLAMING Francoeur for any of this — that would be ridiculous, no one player wins and loses games. But I am saying calling Francoeur a “winner” is even more ridiculous.

***The Royals young players — particularly Eric Hosmer and Mike Moustakas — have been pretty big disappointments so far.

****He’s not. He’s a perpetual slump who has uncharacteristic hot streaks. That sounds meaner than I mean it … but Francoeur has been a pretty consistent player. His on-base percentages for full seasons are: .287, .293, .294, .300, .309, .329, .338. Those last two seem like the outliers to me. His OPS+ for full seasons (and remember 100 is average) are: 72, 81, 85, 87, 93, 102, 119. The last of those was the one that inspired the Royals to sign Francoeur to a multi-year contract.

It is tempting, based on all the ANT, to overcorrect and blame Jeff Francoeur too much for the Royals failures. They lost again Sunday — gave away the game, really — and dropped to .500 for the first time since the first week of the year. Their offense looks lost, really. The Royals have no power at all — as a team, they only have 12 more home runs than Justin Upton — and so must rely on a parade of good at-bats to score runs. Unfortunately, they are probably dead last in baseball in good at-bats. They swing at a higher percentage of pitches than any team in the American League and they put the ball in play more than any team in baseball — which might sound like a good thing, but it isn’t when you have no power whatsoever. They have the fewest walks in baseball.

Francoeur represents the Royals troubles perfectly. Sunday, he came up with runners on second and third, two outs, and Kansas City leading by two. He had a chance to blow the game open with a single. And the frustrating fact wasn’t that he failed to come through, that happens to the best players all the time. It was that he had a miserable at-bat, swinging at the first pitch, an 88-mph fastball in a not-especially good location, and chopping a routine ground ball to short. That’s his season in a nutshell. That’s a lot of his career in a nutshell.

Let’s face it: He’s killing the Royals. Just killing them. No, he’s certainly not the only one killing the Royals, not by a long shot. If anything, the early struggles of Eric Hosmer and Mike Moustakas are hurting the Royals more because they had reason to expect a lot more. Hosmer is slugging .326 and at the moment does not resemble the can’t-miss prospect who pummeled baseballs as a 21-year-old rookie. And Mike Moustakas, whew, he’s another big-time prospect who looks completely overmatched — he’s hitting .178/.252/.311. The Royals were counting on those two, perhaps more than anyone else, to take a step forward. So far it isn’t happening, and that’s as big a reason as any why the Royals can’t score runs.

But there’s little-to-no ANT spoken about Hosmer and Moustakas. Meanwhile, tune in and you will still hear people praising Jeff Francoeur relentlessly. Here’s something for you — Jeff Francoeur has a career 93 OPS+ and before the end of the year he will have 5,000 big league plate appearances. Do you know how many other slow* corner outfielders with an OPS+ of 95 or less got 5,000 big league plate appearances? Just one. Bob Kennedy.

*Quite a few speedy corner outfielders who stole bases but couldn’t really hit — Shano Collins, Vince Coleman, Stan Javier, Dave Collins — got a lot of big league at bats as well. But they represent a little bit different category. Francoeur is a big guy who can’t run.

There are a lot of similarities between Bob Kennedy and Jeff Francoeur. They were both likable and strong-armed outfielders who started as phenoms (Kennedy played every day as a 19-year-old; Francoeur was on the cover of Sports Illustrated as The Natural) and kept finding teams that wanted to give them a chance even after they had made it crystal clear they couldn’t hit enough. They were just guys you rooted for. Hey, don’t take it wrong. I root for Francoeur too. You can’t help but root for him. He’s a very nice guy.

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45 Responses to Jeff Francoeur and ANT

  1. tarhoosier says:

    So you are saying that Francoeur is the Devil?

  2. The Francoeur Reality Distortion Field is truly powerful, it’s just really too bad it can’t keep him from nearly always swinging at the first pitch. It’s still mind-boggling that otherwise intelligent (we think?) people continue to commit the gambler’s fallacy with this guy. At what point is he no longer a prospect?

  3. Josh says:

    I watch Nationals games on MASN, and that crew Jeterates everyone on the team. Then again, so does most of the Washington Post sports staff.

  4. Pogue009 says:

    You know the Rockies are paying 2.2 million to Tyler Colvin (.290/.327/.531 113 OPS+ in 2012, .150/.204/.306INJ in 2011, .254/.316/.500 113OPS+ in 2010) to be their 6th OF in AAA (Cargo, Fowler, Cuddyer, Eric Young JR, Blackmon) with Corey Dickerson hitting .372/.406/.634 on the same AAA team it seems like Colvin could be had for very little. As Colving is a LHB he seems like a natural complement. Of course the Royals could just let Dyson play 4 win defense and combine it with a Vince Coleman triple slash

  5. Dewey says:

    The ANT that sticks with me is Dan Shulman doing the whole nbody believed in Dustin Pedroia thing. “Everybody said he was too small, too short had no arm, would never make it, blah, blah, blah.” The whole time he’s going on I’m thinking, didn’t Pedroia go to Arizona State? He went to Arizona State, where Barry Bonds and Reggie Jackson played. If you play for Arizona State, you can pretty much play for anybody in the country. He was drafted in the second round by the Red Sox. For the two years he was in the minors, he was rated a top five prospect in a loaded system. From the time he was 17, EVERYBODY thought Pedroia could play. It was complete announcer nonsense. And then, after a pause, Orel Hershisers chimes in with “They didn’t measure his heart.”

  6. jim louis says:

    Joe, love your mini-rant about Announcer Nonsense Talk. So true. The game after long-time Royals announcer Fred White died, the current announcing crew paid tribute by not talking for the first half-inning. It was GLORIOUS! All that could be heard was the ball hitting gloves or bats and crowd chatter. I could get used to that. And maybe not just for baseball.

    The Chiefs don’t often get a top-notch announcing crew. To combat that, TV volume goes down, stereo’s volume goes up. Whether it’s the Replacements, Phosphorescent or Gram Parsons…or heck, even my Bread greatest hits, it beats the alternative.

  7. Jason says:

    The entire Twins’ offense for the better part of the last decade.

    They “play the game right.” They “move runners over.” They “hustle.” Ozzie Guillen famously referred to them as “piranhas.”

    All this to cover the fact that they don’t hit home runs or score many runs in general. In 11 full seasons under Gardenhire (2002-2012), here’s their AL rankings in runs scored (14 teams):

    9, 6, 10, 14, 8, 12, 3, 4, 5, 13, 10

    But they “do all the little things right”!

  8. rpmcsweeney says:

    It truly would be shocking if David Eckstein had been a good baseball player for a handful of years.

    • ARon23 says:

      Note sure what a “handful of years” constitutes, but from 2001-2006 Eckstein had a combined WAR of 17.6 and was the starting ss on two WS champs. He got on base, scored runs and played an above average shortstop. I would say that is a pretty good baseball player.

    • rpmcsweeney says:

      Yeah, I’m kinda being snarky, I’ll admit. But still, more than 50% of that WAR total came from his two best (and quite good) years; beyond that, he was at best league average (league average WAR fluctuates, but FangGraphs pegs it at roughly 2 WAR.) Which I think demonstrates Joe’s point about Frenchy. After all, he, like Eckstein, accumulated a not-too-shabby amount of WAR in his first years (For Frenchy, 7 over 2.5 years; Eckstein, 9+ over two). After that, they weren’t good. Eckstein was at least a useful role player for a few years, while Frenchy ceased being useful immediately. But in both cases, the promise of those early years led to unreasonable expectations and willful ignorance to their true talent for the rest of their careers.

    • Rob Smith says:

      Eckstein did what all of us want to do to get a raise and a good reputation. When you’re on the biggest stage and all eyes are on you…. deliver in a big way. That’s what got Flacco that ridiculous contract. Remember Gene Tenace?

  9. Joba Chamberlain is the pitching version of Jeff Francoer, only he plays in NYC. I am astonished at how many people think Joba is a good pitcher because of a few late-season accomplishments in 2007.

    the difference is that Joba isn’t even a nice guy.

    • I don’t know what broadcasts you are watching, but I rarely hear any Joba, at all. Joba has gotten to the point of being underrated if he is healthy. Dude was back to hitting high 90’s after a few rough appearances at the start of the year. Then another injury. Joba can’t stay healthy enough to get much ANT.

      The dude who gets the most ANT on this Yankee team is Jason Nix. It’s sickening. From old man Sterling and his lovable sidekick to the YES crew, it’s laughable. I’ve never seen such fellating of an average to below average utility player.

  10. Super Slim says:

    Mariano Rivera is the all time leader in ANT and it’s not even close.

    2nd inning, scoreless game, Yankees with runners in scoring position:

    Announcer 1: And the (other team) is really shaking in their boots now, because they know that if they allow any of these runs to score, that that man…

    (cut to shot of Rivera in the bullpen)

    Announcer 1: is lurking.

    Announcer 2: Mariano Rivera, the greatest closer of all time.

    Announcer 1: A man of God.

    • Ross says:

      The thing about Rivera is he’s earned the ANT directed his way, as opposed to Joba or somebody who broadcasters just hyped up from day one. It was several years into Mo’s career before anyone paid him too much mind as a great closer.

    • NRJyzr says:

      Earned it by helping the Yankees to approximately the same winning percentage in games with a lead going into the ninth inning that they experienced in the 1950s, without an amazing closer?

    • Rob Smith says:

      I’m not knocking Rivera, but he had some very costly blown saves. 7th game of the World Series vs. DBacks…. and I believe twice in 2004 against the Red Sox in that killer 0-3 comeback. A lot of Yankees got blame for that collapse, but Rivera led the way & did not take the brunt of criticism. Heck, I almost forgot about it until I saw it replayed on a 30 for 30 recently. Great player, lots of good moments…. but more than one rotten egg at crucial times.

  11. Dan Tower says:

    This comment has been removed by the author.

  12. Ross says:

    Michael Young – the king of “class” and “professional hitting,” despite hard evidence to the contrary
    Placido Polanco – never a game goes by without broadcasters waxing poetic about “the ideal 2-hole hitter”
    Yadier Molina – obviously has become a top-notch catcher, but even his skills can’t keep up with the hyperbole used to describe them
    Jamie Moyer – he was truly a marvel so I didn’t mind the ANT, but it was constant
    Howie Kendrick – how many times has this guy been called “future batting champ” and yet really never been even above-average at his position?

  13. NSS says:

    Is Francoeur really that likable? He seems like a malcontent, from complaining about the Braves sending him to the minors in 2008 (during a 239/294/359 season) to the Mets not playing him every day in 2010 (he hit 237/293/369). And who can ever forget his classic quote “If on-base percentage is so important, then why don’t they put it up on the scoreboard?”

    • JenL says:

      He is an extremely likeable guy. I am not a Braves fan, but spent many spring trainings down there while he was there and he is just a solid nice guy. As Joe says, it is hard not to root for him. He spent time with the fans on a daily basis while. One of the times on the way out, they must have all just gotten a bunch of new cleats or shoes and he had three boxes he was carrying out. A few people asked for an autograph, he put down all that he was carrying and signed for everyone standing there. He does this routinely, and does it with a smile and with class while talking to people and being pleasant. The same cannot be said for oh so many others, who are certainly, not amazing ball players either.

    • Rob Smith says:

      As an aside, the Braves do have OBP on the scoreboard now. I’m not sure when they started, though, but most everyone is on the SABRE bandwagon these days… or is at least well aware of it. But I agree though, on his way out the door, Francoeur was a bit of a whiner as he started to get hammered by the media and fans. I think he is a pretty nice guy, but he was getting clubbed pretty hard for a young player. He didn’t handle it well at all.

  14. Frank says:

    Ok – So it’s one thing to rag on the players, but isn’t this really an announcer issue? Shouldn’t we be rating announcers – rather than players – on ANT?

    Another announcer issue – and this is more true with football which has fewer games than baseball – is that they (especially national broadcasters, not local) have a tendency to talk about the same set of information about players. As Virginia Tech fans, we call it Hokie Bingo. For example, it’s only a matter of time during the broadcast that Michael Vick will be mentioned, even though he has been gone for 12 years. When Jarrett Boykin was on the team, it was inevitable to get a mention of his extra-large hands. Then there’s “Beamer Ball.” I think these announcers just have some cliff notes that they pull out because they are not acquainted – and too lazy to get acquainted – with the teams beyond the surface.

    I can even remember as a kid that every time the Giants played on NBC game of the week, Curt Gowdy inevitably would pipe up with a comment about Al Gallagher, “His real name is Alan Mitchell Edward George Patrick Henry Gallagher, but his friends call him Al.”

    • Wilbur says:

      From ’72 to ’74, Gowdy worked three consecutive seven game World Series with the A’s. He said the same thing every game about every player. Joe Rudi: underrated. Catfish Hunter: Finley gave him his nickname. Sal Bando: fiery leader. It was like he had yellowed index cards on each player and pulled them out each game.
      My favorite announcer gaffe from that era was whenever they were doing a game on artificial surface (there were a lot of them then) Tony Kubek would remind the listeners on a ball in the gap how “the ball picked up speed” when hitting the Astroturf, blithely ignoring the laws of physics.

    • Rob Smith says:

      Gowdy was a great announcer at one point, but when he got older he got lazy & didn’t prepare. He was famously fired for not being able to pronounce a, I believe Polish Missouri player’s name, despite the network trying to prep him to make sure he didn’t screw it up. His attitude was basically, “I’m Curt freaking Gowdy! You should be pleased that I’m here to grace you with my presence. Don’t bother me with preparation. I can wing it and still be the best in the universe”. That was his undoing. The fans turned on him and the network gave up on him in frustration. I don’t think Gowdy ever understood what happened. “Curt Gowdy Disease” became the label for an announcer who kept screwing up names and facts.

  15. J says:

    A person can’t help but think of it in terms of the famous line from “Harvey”: In this life, you have to be oh-so-smart, or oh-so-pleasant. Maybe rework it to be “oh-so-Barry Bonds, or oh-so-Sean Casey.”

  16. Jacob Harmon says:

    The ANT that bothers me most is about Bryce Harper. Yeah, he is an impressive talent, but he is kind of a jerk. As a Braves fan, I hate to see our pitchers face him, but after the Nats last trip to Atlanta, I can’t stand hearing about him. He hit an early home-run and as he crossed the plate, he mocked Chipper Jones’ home run celebration. It’s not the first time with him either. Can’t he be gracious as well as talented?

    • Unknown says:

      He’s an open admirer of Chipper and respects the game. I think this was done as an homage rather than to piss you off.

    • I’m a Braves fan living in the DC area. Harper is not a jerk. He plays baseball hard and respects the game far more than most. For some reason, many Braves fan dislike Harper-apparently because he does not play for the Braves. I would love to have him on the Braves. People seem to go out of their way to find things not to like about Harper and I think it’s ridiculous.

    • Rob Smith says:

      I think Harper gets the opposite of ANT. He had some incidents in the minors, that really have not been repeated in the majors. I think of him as the modern day Pete Rose, but faster, stronger and probably better…. but truly, reputation aside, there is no way that Bryce Harper is anywhere near the jerk that Pete Rose is. There is nobody as polarizing as Pete Rose, and I think Harper will also be polarizing. As a Braves fan, Harper is a guy you love to hate, just like Rose. My favorite Harper moment was when he hit a ball into the corner against the Braves. When he hit it, as a 19 year old rookie, he knew it was a triple. All of his life from the time he was a pee-wee player, that ball was at least a triple. He breaks strong out of the box, cuts all the bases right, steams into 3rd base with a head first slide and he’s out! Why? A major leaguer named Jason Heyward grabbed the ball out of the corner with his bare hand, threw a rope to Martin Prado who wheeled and threw a strike to Chipper Jones. Bang-bang play and he’s out. Harper bolts upright and looks out into rightfield with his hands on his hips, as if to say “what in the f’ing hell just happened”. Welcome to the big leagues kid. Like I said, it’s great to root against the guy. It doesn’t mean he’s a bad guy though.

  17. Chris says:

    I can answer Francouer’s question why they don’t put OBP on the scoreboard:

    So people won’t make fun of you, Jeff. ….

  18. Chris says:

    I can answer Francouer’s question why they don’t put OBP on the scoreboard:

    So people won’t make fun of you, Jeff. ….

  19. I wonder if there are certain stats that correlate well with ANT. I’m thinking there’s a negative correlation with ISO- just lumbering around and hitting home runs is not playing the game the right way. Fielding percentage would be positively correlated, as would be stolen base attempts (not sure if success rate would matter). Bunts for sure. Might range be negatively correlated, provided that lack of range means the player dives a lot? Before long, you would have to go things like how often the player joins conferences at the mound and how hard he tries at pop fouls in the stands. The stat could be called TIANT for Talent Independent Announcer Nonsense Talk.

  20. JenL says:

    Great post, an extremely nice guy who just doesn’t have it, and everyone is hoping he will, myself included. I think the praise makes the announcers feel better about thinking is really not that great of a ballplayer.

  21. KHAZAD says:

    I feel certain that Jeter is still at least top 5 in ANT even on the DL. Every time I hear someone referencing the Yankee’s start it is always followed by “and they’re doing it without their captain!”

    I don’t know where Francouer rates nationally in ANT, but there is no doubt he is #1 in KC. When the local media criticizes the Royal’s poor offense, they often single out several players, (Including Billy Butler, who has a 118 OPS+) but somehow Frenchy gets left out. Just the other day I was doing some stuff around the house, and had the radio on loud, and the TV on in one room in case I was in there when something happened. With a runner on third, there was a fly ball to Frenchy. He geared up and made a throw home that was way offline and was cut off. (A caveat: The one thing Frenchy usually excels at is his throwing) The runner started to tag and head home and changed his mind. I was thankful he did, as he would have easily scored, then I heard the radio announcer say “It’s a good thing he changed his mind, because he would’ve been gunned down by Francouer.

    My all time favorite with Frenchy is this one: At the end of the 2011 season, when Frenchy had his decent year, he was being interviewed in the dugout by Ryan Lefebvre. Now, though Frenchy was surprisingly good that year, he was probably the third best outfielder on the team. Melky Cabrera had a little bit better year, and Alex Gordon (Alex is the anti ANT. Over the last two full seasons, Alex is 4th in the majors in BR WAR, and 3rd at Fangraphs. The two people ahead of him in both lists (Ryan Braun, Miguel Cabrera) have both won MVPs. Gordon has not even made an all star team, even though last years was hosted by KC) had maybe the best all around season by a hitter for KC since George Brett. Despite this, Lefebvre gushed that Frenchy was his choice for team MVP, and there was no one else close.

    • Believe me, the Francouer love seems to be universal. For some reason, the meme that Francouer is (1) young; and (2) a good player, seems to have infested the entire baseball universe. I do think it’s because he’s a nice guy.

      When Frenchy was with the Braves and had a year where he hit a lot of home runs and had some RBIs, there were comments to the effect that he really wasn’t that good considering his low OBP and so on. The Braves’ announcers went nuts. It just baffles me why announcers keep saying this guy is a good player when he demonstrably isn’t.

    • Rob Smith says:

      Although the Braves announcers are careful to NEVER be overly critical of ANY Braves player….. the fans and the media definitely turned on Francoeur. He did not leave on good terms. He bounced from the Mets to the Rangers and I figured he’d have about a two year statute of limitation in any one place before the fans and media turned on him. In fact, I figured he’d be out of baseball by now. The fact that the Royals signed him to a multi year contract was mind blowing.

  22. invitro says:

    I would not be surprised if Frenchy got big contracts solely because of the SI cover.

  23. Marco says:

    I saw this about Pujols the other day….

    ” Few players in baseball history have worked as hard as Albert Pujols to achieve greatness. He was doubted every step of his life. “

  24. Rick Sutcliffe is an ANT Fountain. I would say he is an ANT geyser, but geysers take a break once in a while.

  25. This comment has been removed by the author.

  26. Two Words.

    Michael Young

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