Phillies should demote Maikel Franco | Marcus Hayes

PHILS29
Maikel Franco walks back to the dugout after hitting a pop-up against the Reds on May 28 in Philadelphia.

The Phillies are being unfair to Maikel Franco. They won’t send him down to Triple A. It is cruel.

Franco is 24 and still can’t recognize pitches. This is a skill developed in Triple A, the first level where pitchers have to nibble the corners because every hitter can sit on a good fastball. Usually, after about 600 at-bats in Triple A, hitters figure out what a slider looks like coming out of a pitcher’s hand.

Or they don’t. Then they become construction workers.

There’s no shame in wearing a different sort of hardhat, but if Franco doesn’t stop swinging at pitches he couldn’t hit with a 9-foot bat, he’s going to be answering to a foreman instead of a manager.

The Phillies say they’re keeping Franco on the major-league club because they want to show confidence in him, but, really, that makes no sense. Anyone who has spent 10 minutes with Franco knows he’s confident enough to handle a minor-league vacation. He doesn’t need the artificial support of a team whose lineup he sabotages with his .213 batting average and .265 on-base percentage.

Franco’s batting average has been higher than .231 just twice since the second day of the season, and both times he broke .230 for just one day. He hasn’t spent a minute above .250, his current career average. He hit .250 by going 2 for 8 in the first two games of the season. It’s gotten only worse.

The most alarming stat among Franco’s raft of bad numbers is that he has walked just 14 times. That’s a pace for 40 walks this season, his third in the majors. It’s as if he doesn’t open his eyes until the ball is halfway to the plate. Pat Burrell hit .209 in 2003, when he was 26 and in his fourth full season, but Burrell still walked 72 times.

Franco’s best stretch was the 11 games from April 22 to May 4 when he hit .326 with two homers and 12 RBI. He walked four times, which approached a respectable rate. His second-best stretch was an eight-game run from May 13-21, in which he hit .300 with a homer, three doubles, three RBI and no strikeouts. He walked only once.

That was one of his two walks in the past month.

This is not an aberration. Franco, a natural power hitter whom pitchers fear, has never walked more than 40 times in any professional season. This is astounding for a middle-of-the-lineup power plant like him.

Why won’t he take the pass?

Because he cannot recognize what offspeed pitches are going to do. He acknowledges this. He hit .320 with 31 homers in Double A, but Double A is usually a fastball fest so there’s a good chance Franco was never able to recognize offspeed pitches. He has always been susceptible to offspeed stuff on the outer half of the plate, and, frankly, beyond the outer half of the plate. Triple A is where hitters learn to recognize those pitches and to lay off them; or, if they linger in the strike zone, they learn to crush them.

This has to change, and it has to change now. The Phillies aren’t capable of winning much this season. They don’t need to keep Franco’s bat in the lineup in the hope that it might come alive and carry them for a week or two. Six weeks at Lehigh Valley might save his career.

Franco is so talented and so strong that he often manages to make contact with awful pitches. He has the eye-hand coordination of a hibachi chef. That’s why his strikeout totals have never been ghastly – last season’s 106 were a career high and the first time he broke 100 as a pro – but his ability to avoid strikeouts is a red herring.

Franco is 0 for 9 in the first two games of the Braves series, both Phillies wins. He is completely irrelevant. He has been benched, coached and counseled.

He needs to be demoted.

It’s the humane thing to do.