Maikel Franco has been unbelievably bad in fastball counts | David Murphy

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Maikel Franco bats against the New York Mets on Sunday, August 13, 2017 in Philadelphia. YONG KIM / Staff Photographer.

There had been some trepidation inside the Phillies organization about J.P. Crawford’s rough year. Perhaps not full-blown panic, but enough unease that the top prospect’s ongoing midsummer surge has been met with a breath of relief.

“All the things in our system that could have happened after the All-Star break, getting J.P. Crawford on track is one of the more important things that could have happened,” general manager Matt Klentak said last week. “He’s done it. That’s incredibly impressive for him to do that, but it’s also important for us as an organization.”

Now, if only Maikel Franco could follow suit.

Since his OPS reached .696 on July 21, Maikel Franco is hitting just .193/.230/.349 with 21 strikeouts, four walks and six extra-base hits in 87 plate appearances. In his last six games going into Monday night’s game in San Diego, he is 4-for-25 with one extra-base hit, one strikeout and no walks.

Look a little deeper into the numbers and they confirm what you’ve seen nightly: Franco is getting himself out, failing to make good contact on pitches even when he is up in the count. As below-average as he has been this season, he’s been even worse in situations in which he should have the advantage over the pitcher.

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Franco is hitting just .181/.330/.313 when ahead in the count, and that is nearly 71 percent worse than the league average.

The vast amount of his damage has come on the first pitch, including a third of his extra-base hits and more than a quarter of his total hits.

Take a look at the following table to see how out of whack Franco’s production has been compared to that of the rest of his teammates:

2017 Phillies, plate appearances that ended with the batter up in the count

PA XBH BA SLG OPS
Tommy Joseph 144 9 .315 .631 1.096
Cesar Hernandez 142 12 .295 .514 .986
Odubel Herrera 135 15 .295 .524 .968
Aaron Altherr 120 14 .348 .652 1.152
Cameron Rupp 88 10 .339 .610 1.167
Andrew Knapp 75 5 .304 .435 .995
Nick Williams 33 6 .458 .917 1.523
Maikel Franco 176 9 .181 .313 .642

Case in point, Look specifically at Franco’s at-bats that started with two straight balls. He has faced 56 2-0 counts this season, but those at-bats have yielded only seven hits, three for extra bases. Ten times, he’s put a ball into play while up 2-0. Nine times, it has resulted in an out.

Even when you factor in the 16 walks he’s drawn after going up 2-0, his production in those 56 plate appearances is about half the major-league average.

Franco is only 24. The scouts who saw him coming up through the minor leagues knew he was a free swinger. Nobody is suggesting that the Phillies could be, or should be, on the verge of giving up on him. He plays solid enough defense to buy some time to find himself at the plate.

If the Phillies were a contender, though, he’d be an eight-hole hitter, and they’d be nearing a point where they’d have to start considering other options. Getting Franco on track would be one of the best things that could happen for the organization over the next year.