If, back in December, I’d have told you that newly-signed Jeff Francoeur would hit 20 homers as a Royal in 2011, that wouldn’t be too far-fetched.
At least, as a young Brave superstar in 2006, he hit 29.
But if I’d have told you he would also steal 20 bases (22 to be exact – so far), I think you’d be correct in calling me crazy and questioning my judgment. And yet, on September 23, 2011, Jeff Francoeur joined Amos Otis, Bo Jackson and Carlos Beltran as the only Royals to hit 20 home runs and steal 20 bases in the same year.
The most surprising aspect of the feat is that his 22 steals bring Francoeur’s career stolen base count to 45.
In other words, he’s doubled his stolen base numbers in one season.
I see a few factors that have allowed Francoeur to find himself reaching this achievement. First, he’s been on base about as well as he ever has. His career high OBP was .338 in 2007 and 2009. Not really great, but for Francoeur, who has been notable for impatience at the plate, his .331 entering Friday’s game puts him nearly in range to surpass that before the end of the year.
Getting on base, obviously, allows him the opportunity to steal a base. A second contributing factor is Ned Yost‘s aggressive approach on the basepaths this year. The Royals have stolen the second most bases in the majors this year and have attempted the third most. Yost is not shy about giving the green light and Francoeur has taken it.
Frenchie has a reputation as a leader. I’m sure, at one point or another, someone’s referred to him as a “gamer” and if you watch him sometimes you can see why. He’s a clubhouse guy. He wants to play every day, and he hustles. He leads the majors in doubles, and at least a handful of those would be singles for 95% of the league. Francoeur kept the engine going and into second.
Of course, he’s been thrown out a few times trying to leg a single into a double. In the process of stealing 22 bases, Francoeur has also been thrown out ten times.
That’s the fun of counting stats. Francoeur has 22 steals, but he’s been unsuccessful 31.75% of the time. That’s not a very good rate, so his career high is more a matter of opportunity than great skill. To be fair, he’s put himself on base to get the opportunity and there must be an element of scouting, instinct and timing that he’s worked on to feel comfortable taking off more often than he has in any other year. Aaron Stilley at Royal Heritage has a better argument about the value of a stolen base versus getting caught, and Frenchie’s barely in the positive column in stolen base value.
He’s not getting thrown out that much more often than Scott Podsednik did, after all (28.6%).
So congratulations to Jeff Francoeur, who should receive votes for Comeback Player of the Year. He’s sitting on career highs for stolen bases, extra base hits, and is on pace for his second highest OPS and slugging percentage in his career, while reaching 20 homers for the second time in his life.