Out of respect for the fans, MLB and the integrity of the game, the Milwaukee Brewers need to keep Juan Francisco off the diamond in 2014. Ideally they convince an American League club to take him for a middling prospect, but at worst he should be relegated to pinch-hitting and emergency situations.
No matter how you slice it Francisco would be the worst choice to man first base for any length of time. His bat is terribly inconsistent thanks to a huge hole in his swing, a lack of discipline and a propensity to whiff at an alarming rate. Defensively he’s the ultimate liability as he often turns routine plays into big innings for the opposition, destroying the pitcher’s confidence, wearing out the hurler’s arm and frustrating the other 24 guys on the roster.
Admittedly, Francisco would be a decent option as a left-handed power bat off the bench, something the Brewers have struggled to have as a consistent weapon. However, he’d be the least valuable player in the league if he started at first base as well as a detriment to the Brewers’ slim competitive hopes.
Let’s start on the offensive side of the issue with Francisco. Though he did manage a .719 OPS between Milwaukee and the Atlanta Braves last season, that came with a .296 OBP. His slugging percentage of .422 was only good for 24th among among first basemen with at least 300 plate appearances; his OBP ranked an ugly 38th out of 42 players in that group. In fairness, he wasn’t the worst on the team as that honor went to Yuniesky Betancourt with a .240 OBP as a first baseman.
Aside from Francisco’s lackluster status offensively, the real killer for the Brewers is his complete lack of defensive competence. Comparing Francisco’s range, footwork, fielding ability and awareness to a blindfolded panda with two left feet and a skillet for a glove might be a little harsh, but only slightly. I’ve never seen a baseball player at the high school or college level look that bad at first, and the Brewers are trying to pass him off as a professional.
It was reiterated on numerous occasions that he was learning to play the position. The problem is that he was completely lost most of the time, even missing the bag with his foot and outright dropping throws that hit him in the glove. Aside from the “eye test,” defensive statistics aren’t kind to him either. Pick a defensive stat in 2013 and Francisco’s value continues to diminish.
Ultimate zone rating (UZR) measures a player’s contribution defensively by using theoretical runs above or below the average for that position. He was last out of 34 first basemen with 500 innings played (-8.7), nearly nine runs worse than an average first baseman.
Defensive runs saved (DRS) is another metric with a similar function as UZR. Francisco finished at -3 as the 25th-ranked player; however, he only played 532 innings at first (about 60 games). Play him there for a full season and that number would most likely spike near -10 at the bottom of the barrel.
Finally, fielding percentage is the basic measurement of a player’s ability to cleanly field a baseball. He was dead last once again, sporting a.983 mark with an error every six games. Being the worst at anything in baseball doesn’t bode well.
If Francisco becomes the starting first baseman for the Brewers in 2014, the Milwaukee faithful had better get used to turning their TVs off in disgust on a regular basis and enjoying an early offseason.