I don’t want to nitpick too much, since the Mariners have been playing so well over the last couple months, but I have real concerns about Ty France that just aren’t going away.
We traded for France at the 2020 deadline in the infamous COVID-shortened season. He was a part of that blockbuster Austin Nola deal that also brought back Andres Munoz, Luis Torrens (back with the M’s this week as some insurance, reporting to Tacoma), and Quad-A outfielder Taylor Trammell. He got regular playing time with us in 2020 and showed a high-average, high-OBP toolset with a little bit of pop and versatility. Really, my favorite kind of player.
He assumed our starting first baseman job in 2021 thanks to injury and ineffectiveness from Evan White, and he’s run with it. In 2021 and 2022, his power numbers surged: 32 doubles & 18 homers in 2021, 27 doubles & 20 homers in 2022. With that, though, the average has gone down each year. .291 in 2021, .276 in 2022, and .254 this year. His OBP has gone down too, ever-so-slightly, in the .370’s in 2020, to .368 in 2021, to .340 the last two years. It should also be pointed out that he’s either at or near the top of the league in getting hit by pitches. And, due to that and some other flukey circumstances, he’s had his share of time on the IL, which has also worsened as time has gone on (152 games played in 2021, 140 in 2022, and so far 130 this year; here’s hoping he doesn’t get hit with too many more errant baseballs and can move the needle in the right direction in this final month).
What has me concerned is the power outage from his bat. With one month left in the season, he has 30 doubles, but only 10 homers. His career slugging percentage through 2022 was .438; this year it’s .379. And I don’t know how to explain it! His BABIP is down compared to career averages, but slightly up from last year. His strikeout rate is at his career norm. His hard hit rate is also at his career norm. He’s hitting fewer ground balls than normal, and therefore his fly balls are up a tick. He’s up in pull and center percentages, hitting fewer balls the other way (which, again, would indicate he should have more homers, not drastically less).
Where France is extremely down compared to career norms is in his Win Probability numbers. He’s very much in the negative, when he was firmly a net-add the last two years. That goes to explain his reduction in WAR (4.2 in 2021, 3.0 in 2022, 0.8 so far this year), and a mediocre RBI line (73 in 2021, 84 in 2022, only 51 so far this year), but Win Probability numbers also have a clutch feel to them, and France has been decidedly NOT-clutch in 2023. I mean, look no further than the fact that his ground ball percentage is drastically down (46.7% in 2021, 47.8% in 2022, only 42.5% this year), but he’s somehow grounded into MORE double plays (13 in 2021, 18 in 2022, a whopping 24 this year with a month to go).
I mean, I don’t have the specifics on all MLB first basemen, but I have to think France ranks among the worst. He has a defensive WAR of -1.0 for crying out loud! Between that and his dwindling performance at the plate – on top of his reputation as a player frequently playing in pain, with suffering results – I don’t think it’s any surprise that he’s seen his spot in the lineup fall in recent weeks. You can’t just lock him into the three- or four-hole anymore. And, with two years of arbitration left, you have to wonder how much longer he’s destined to be in this organization.
There was cause for optimism back in July when it was reported he had some chiropractic work done that supposedly fixed his neck, allowing him to see the ball more easily, fixing some funky mechanics that had crept into his at-bats. But, in the second half (starting July 14th), I don’t know if we’ve seen a ton of improvement:
- First Half: 86 games, .261/.332/.389, 22 doubles, 7 homers, 19 walks, 66 strikeouts
- Second Half: 44 games, .238/.358/.351, 8 doubles, 3 homers, 17 walks, 30 strikeouts
I mean, it looks like the chiro did improve his vision at the plate; he’s not flailing quite as often at those pitches out of the zone. But, his power and batting average are still slipping.
I don’t know what to tell you. How do you explain it? Is it just baseball? Is he breaking down with age and a skyrocketing HBP count? Is his bat speed dwindling? Probably the bat speed thing, right?
Regardless, it sucks. Ty France is so much fun to root for. And when he’s on a heater, there isn’t a tougher out, or someone I’d rather see at the plate in an important situation. The problem is: he hasn’t been that guy very often this year. And he REALLY wasn’t that guy late last year when we were in our playoff run.
Julio isn’t going to continue being a supernova forever. Teoscar’s hot streak is bound to cool off at some point. The more Cal Raleigh is forced to play – in the absence of a competent backup, until Tom Murphy returns – the less effective he’s bound to be at the plate. With Suarez kind of an enigma this season, we could REALLY use a scorching month of September out of France if we want to achieve our goal of winning the West and securing a wild card bye.
I fear, if he continues on this disappointing trend, we’ll be in for a similarly disappointing exit from this season.