Friday, August 16, 2013

Remembering Fat Juan

As Juan Francisco hit two homers off Matt Garza Wednesday, a few Braves fans asked both what the hell the Braves got for the power hitter and why did they give up on a guy with such strength?  Surely, the Braves could find a way to utilize Fat Juan in some way, right?

Well, the Braves did give up on him.  That much is without a doubt.  In need of a bullpen arm, the Braves designated Francisco for assignment on May 30th to allow them to call up Alex Wood.  There was little chance Francisco would go unclaimed and less of a chance of him accepting a demotion to the minors so the Braves found a taker in the Milwaukee Brewers, getting 25 year-old lefty Thomas Keeling in return.

Keeling has been pitching at Mississippi since the trade and in 21.1 innings, he has walked 22.  Ugly.  He's never been this bad control-wise and has shown a strikeout arm from time-to-time, though not since the trade.  It's a little odd how bad he's pitched since the trade.  He was never a great arm, but he's been just awful now.

But Atlanta wasn't likely to get much for Francisco.  In 128 games with the Braves, Francisco had struck out 113 times in 320 PA while slashing .237/.281/.420.  Clearly, the dude could hit the ball a long way.  Most of his highlights with Atlanta occurred in 2012.  Like many young players, Francisco showed more ability as a starter than as a backup.  In 42 starts last season, Francisco slashed .262/.293/.497 with 8 of his 9 homeruns.  As is typical with most left-handed sluggers from the minors that can't settle into a regular spot, Francisco was worthless against lefties.  Last year, he OPS'd .468, exactly 300 points less than his OPS against righties.

The one thing that can't be said is that Francisco didn't have a shot in 2013.  Chris Johnson had been acquired, but it seemed like he was going to be a platoon partner for Francisco, not the guy who would start over Francisco.  However, Francisco failed to distance himself from Johnson during the spring.  He had a decent April, but anyone would have a decent April when your BABIP is .417.  He continued to get fairly regular playing time in May, likely to showcase him, and Fat Juan failed miserably, OPSing .479.  Needing bullpen help and with a glut of capable infielders available, Atlanta had to send Francisco packing.

Now, fans look at his 12 homeruns since the trade (and 17 overall), plus an .865 OPS and wonder why the Braves gave up or didn't get enough in a trade.  He's still the same guy.  Sometimes, his power numbers explode, as they have over the last 20 or so games, and other times, he looks fairly miserable, especially when given at-bats against lefties.  Thursday night, he went 0-for-3 against Tony Cingrani and Manny Parra.  He struck out each time.

He continues to be a horrendous defender, something Braves fans saw a lot of last year.  Brewers fans get to endure Francisco learning-on-the-job at first.  -8.0 UZR with a -3 DRS.  Awful.

But really, that's all numbers.  Francisco might hit a good deal of homers and be a platoon option for a team,  but that team wasn't going to be in Atlanta.  He also showed, to this point, an inability to come off the bench and produce.  That in itself is not worrisome because young players often struggle as bench help and that's why guys like Reed Johnson and Ramiro Pena are so valuable.  If Francisco wasn't going to start and also not produce high numbers to improve his trade value, how in the world were the Braves going to get much in a trade for him?

Francisco's future in Atlanta had a wall that he couldn't throw his fat ass over.  Once Johnson started his amazing run this season, Francisco had to go.  If he continues to produce in Milwaukee, all the better for him.  Regardless, the Braves were still winners if only because it brought Wood to the majors.

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