With only a few days left in spring training, we still did not know who would be the everyday third baseman for the Phillies. Incumbent Maikel Franco was locked in a heated battle for playing time with second-year-pro Scott Kingery; the problem was…nobody was playing well enough to seize control of the job.
When Franco eventually won the job, he remained positive about the thought that he would be dropping from the middle of the order down to the 8-hole, protecting the pitcher.
“I wasn’t frustrated. Not at all, man,” Franco said. “I didn’t even think about it. I just knew I was in the lineup and I had an opportunity to do something for me and for my team. That’s pretty much all that I wanted.”
After a blistering start in the season’s first few days, Gabe Kapler began to take notice. “He’s done a really good job,” Kapler said. “There’s some strategy to this. It’s caused him to be patient. He’s smiling a lot. He’s especially confident. He’s getting a couple pitches to hit per game, and he’s doing damage on them. I don’t think we have to make any changes to the lineup right now.”
It is now May and Franco continues to have a career best season and potentially the greatest season for an 8-hole hitter in the history of baseball.
According to Baseball Reference, if Franco hits 23 homers with 90+ RBI and scores north of 77 runs, he will statistically have the greatest offensive season for an 8-hole hitter in Major League Baseball history, short of batting average. In fact, the records for most homers, RBI and runs in a single season for an 8-hole hitter were set by four different players (Del Crandall, Babe Dahlgren and Wally Schang/Billy Myers, respectively). Franco has a chance to beat all of those records by himself!
He is currently second on the team in homers (7) and RBI (25), both behind slugger Rhys Hoskins. However, Franco has not played all of his games in the 8-hole. Due to a bunch of injuries, Franco has hit in a different spot in the order in seven of his 32 starts. The Phillies are slowly getting healthy, and Franco’s spot in the 8-hole is beginning to solidify again.
The underlying numbers tell the story of how Franco is not only having a historical season for an 8-hole hitter, but possibly the best overall year of his career. He leads the club in intentional walks (9) which is already a career high, albeit three of them came in one game against the Washington Nationals. However, those walks have contributed to a career walk rate (11.2 percent) that is almost double his six year average of 6.8 percent.
Not only is he walking more, but he is striking out far less. His strikeout rate of 11.2 percent is significantly lower than his career average (15.3 percent) even with the pitcher behind him. He has only struck out 15 times all season. Hitters in front of him have done such a good job getting on base that it forces pitchers to throw to him instead of not giving him pitches to hit. Franco has made the most of those opportunities.
This season, Franco has hit a home run every 16.9 at-bats (22.5 career average) and has driven in a run every 4.7 at-bats (career average of 6.6) and all of this is with him hitting lower in the order. He is not forced to be the best hitter in the lineup anymore. With that pressure lifted, he can simply go out and hit.
And hit he has.