Someone needs to get through to Maikel Franco. The sooner the better. Maybe Pete Mackanin can, although I’m sure the Phils manager has tried. Maybe Mike Schmidt, if Franco cares to listen to the top third baseman of all time. Maybe upper management needs to send a message.
But it’s clear the 23-year-old needs a stern lecture — if not more. Because amidst this dreadful June swoon of the Phils, the most worrisome aspect is the performance and approach of the player projected to be a centerpiece of their future.
As the Phils have gone 3-16 since May 28, Franco batted .164 with a paltry OPS of .525. His season-long production (.690) ranks 30th among Major League third basemen.
Consider the WAR metric, which weighs all of a player’s contributions and measures them against a so-called replacement level player, as in a warm body you could call up from the minors. Franco’s season-long WAR is minus-0.7. That means the Phils could summon any schmo taking infield at Lehigh Valley and he’d theoretically contribute more than Franco has so far.
More worrisome is what you observe watching Franco day after day. On defense, he appears lackadaisical. At bat, his approach seems to be to get up, swing from his heels and go sit down. Saturday night, he got ahead in the count three times, and ended up with two pop-ups and a strikeout. Several times he swung hard enough to lodge off his batting helmet.
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On Sunday, with the Phils down 3-1 in the seventh, Franco flailed at six straight pitches by Arizona’s Tyler Clippard — several of which were out of the strike zone — before popping out. He looked like a guy determined to get things over with so he could get to the postgame buffet.
Soon after that plate appearance, broadcaster Matt Stairs told a story of how the 2015 Marlins busted third-year outfielder Marcel Ozuna to the minors for loafing. This year Ozuna is back and hitting .312. While Stairs never tied Franco to the story or called for his demotion, he would not be the first person around Citizens Bank Park to think Franco might benefit from a cold reality check. Clearly, moving him up and down in the batting order doesn’t seem to do the trick.
Hey, maybe Franco’s feeling effects from that sprained knee, although his woes precede that. And Franco showed last season that he’s a late starter. He was hitting just .194 with three homers last June 1, and finished at .280 with 14 homers. Players go through slumps.
But watching Franco, this seems more than just stats or a cold spell. The Phils have 10,000 problems right now, but a potentially great third baseman playing without an apparent clue is as worrisome as any. We all believe Franco is capable of snapping out of it. Here’s hoping Mackanin, General Manager Matt Klentak and Franco himself figure out how to get him to do that soon.