Maikel Franco Is Having a Better Start Than You'd Think

Looking at the peripherals of Philadelphia's young third baseman shows a player outperforming his stats.

For fans of the Philadelphia Phillies, there is little doubt that third baseman Maikel Franco is one of the more maddening players in baseball to watch.

There are times when he seems lost at the plate, simply up there flailing, swinging so hard at everything that his batting helmet falls off. And then there are times when he's patient, takes the ball the other way and is blasting prodigious dingers all over the ballpark.

The 2017 season has been a microcosm of that thus far. Franco has seemingly struggled for much of the season, and especially with runners in scoring position. Through Wednesday's action, he is hitting .203/.268/.392 with 6 extra-base hits (4 homers and 2 doubles) in 82 plate appearances.

If you think that doesn't sound too good, you're not wrong. He's also hitting .192/.241/.462 with 5 hits, 2 of them homers, and 17 RBI in 26 at-bats with runners in scoring position, which is the sixth-most at-bats in baseball when considering the situation. So, he's getting a ton of opportunities, but hasn't done as much with them as he could have.

Those 26 ABs with RISP are tied for 6th-most in baseball, which means he's getting a ton of opportunities, but hasn't done as much with them as he could have.

In Wednesday's win over the Miami Marlins, Franco came to the plate with the bases loaded and his team trailing by two runs before unloading on a Wei-Yin Chen fastball that got entirely too much of the plate.

That blast was his second grand slam of the season, and he's the only player in baseball with two bases loaded jacks. He's the first Phillies player in franchise history to hit two slams in April, and the first Philly player to have two in a calendar month since Ryan Howard in May of 2009. He also now has 20 RBI this season, the most since Howard had 27 in April of 2011. Only three players have more RBIs than Franco this season: Charlie Blackmon, Bryce Harper and Marcell Ozuna (21).

Of course, many of those RBI can be attributed to a top of the lineup that is getting on base a ton, with Cesar Hernandez, Aaron Altherr, Howie Kendrick and Odubel Herrera providing him with all those opportunities to drive in runs.

Despite that rough triple slash, his peripherals show he's actually having a better start than the numbers say.

Franco has struggled with plate discipline throughout his career, but it's been a different story this year.

Season BB% K% O-Swing% Z-Swing% Swing% Contact%
2017 9.0% 12.8% 24.3% 75.0% 44.9% 81.8%
2016 6.3% 16.8% 33.7% 74.0% 52.0% 77.3%
Career 6.7% 16.4% 32.3% 72.4% 50.1% 77.3%

He's walking more and striking out less in 2017, and is chasing fewer pitches outside the zone while making more contact overall. He's swinging much less frequently than he was last year, yet is making more contact than in any other season. That itself is a good trend, but the kind of contact he's making is good, too.

Second, he's hitting the ball really, really hard. According to StatCast, Franco is 29th in average exit velocity (92.0 mph), and Wednesday night's game was just more of the same.

Franco has simply hit into some bad luck when he has put the ball on the ground, with a batting average on balls in play (BABIP) of .155 coming into Wednesday's action. His career BABIP is .268 and the league average so far this year is .286.

Of course, there are some areas of concern -- Franco has struggled on the road this year (.108/.175/.216 in 40 plate appearances), and coming into Wednesday, didn't have a single hit against a slider, curveball or cutter, according to Brooks Baseball.

The young third baseman has performed better overall than his raw statistics would indicate. He's been hitting the ball hard and has shown better plate discipline than ever before. That should yield better results as the 2017 season rolls along.