Wednesday, January 19, 2011

2011 Sleeper: Jeff Francis SP Kansas City Royals

posted by Jon Williams

At first glance, it doesn't appear that Jeff Francis has ever been a desired fantasy starter. Before you look at his stats you know that he's spent his entire major league career pitching at Coor Field. Coors Field, the longtime bane of fantasy owners everywhere when it comes to pitching, has made many decent pitchers look abominable. Francis is included in that class but he can't blame it all on the thin air.

Francis, at least in the majors, has posted mediocre strikeout and walk rates. Not terrible rates, but nothing to make an ambitious fantasy owner take notice. His HR9 has been all over the place from awesome to abysmal. However he does induce a decent number of groundballs. With skills like these it is pretty easy to understand why with so many teams looking for starters (teams with cash to spend like the Yankees, Mets, Rangers and Cubs) Francis landed on the Kansas City Royals.

But as most of us understand these days, a pitcher's skills are not the entire story. There are park factors, team defense, and luck that factor into things.

Park Factors

Even in the era of the humidor, Coors Field is not exactly a friendly place for pitchers. According to StatCorner.com's Park Factors, Coors Field had the following influence in 2010:

PARK FACTORS (LHB/RHB)
K: 87 / 90
GB:102 / 103
BB:103 / 89
OF: 91 / 93
1B:103 / 104
LD:129 / 128
2B:104 / 120
IF: 95 / 90
3B:121 / 188
HBP: 72 / 99
HR:116 / 117
wOBA:108 / 112

If you were wondering why the Rockies have had such bad luck signing free agent pitchers, here is your first clue. Unless a guy is desperate to line with pockets with greenbacks, free agent pitchers will go elsewhere. Here are the numbers for the new place - Kauffman Stadium:

PARK FACTORS (LHB/RHB)
K: 88 / 92
GB:106 / 101
BB:104 / 91
OF:100 / 108
1B:104 / 102
LD:105 / 106
2B:117 / 106
IF: 85 / 93
3B:122 / 126
HBP:115 / 82
HR: 73 / 85
wOBA:104 / 100

What you really want to look at is that homerun factor. At Coors Field 116/117 and in KC, 73/85. The rest is a lot closer than you might think, but a 30 percent swing in homerun rate could do wonders for any pitcher. A plus for Jeff Francis and his potential fantasy value.

Team Defense

Both the Royals and Rockies were bad defensive teams last year. In fact, the Rockies and Royals rate as the worst and second worst defensive team by UZR/150 the last three seasons. The Rockies at -5.8 and the Royals at -5.7 were basically just as bad. Fortunately, the Royals have reason to believe they have significantly improved their overall defense. Jeff Francoeur, Lorenzo Cain, and Alcides Escobar should all be significant improvements defensively. Very unscientifically, I'm going to say that the Royals should be a good defensive team in 2011. Another plus for Francis and his fantasy value.

Luck

I hate the very idea of luck. Probably because I have a severe lack of it, at least the good kind. It is also almost impossible to measure in any accurate way. francis has a career BABIP of .314 but he's been over that mark four out of six seasons (he missed the 2009 season due to injury). That sounds like bad luck, the horrid defense factors into that as well. His LOB percentage is all over the place but it has mostly been below 70 percent, which looks like bad luck. Inconsistent bullpens and lousy managers don't help, but it was at 64.5 percent in 2010 which looks like real bad luck. With so much bad luck in Jeff's history we can only hope the change of scenery brings brings better luck to Francis and his fantasy owners.
Conclusion

Jeff Francis is not a great pitcher but he is a decent one. Before his injury he proved to be fairly durable. He pitched at near a league average level (that may be a bit generous) in one of the worst pitching environments the world has ever known. In an improved pitching environment he should has a pretty good chance at a career best season. One that fantasy owners in AL-only leagues should like seeing on their stat sheets, and mixed leaguers may want to gamble on in the late rounds or dollar days.

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