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Phillies’ Franco eyeing breakout season

Mike Murphy, Staff Writer

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Phillies third baseman Maikel Franco tried to play it cool when he was asked by Dan Plesac of MLB Network if he would rather hit a game-winning home run or make a game-winning play at third base.

“I mean, I like them both,” Franco said. “I’m going to say I’d like to hit a home run better.”

Shocker.

Plesac caught up with the Phillies’ third baseman during MLB Network’s annual 30 Clubs in 30 Days special, which highlights all 30 major league teams in 30 days.

It is not groundbreaking that Franco likes to swing the bat. When asked about his expectations for this season, Franco thinks he can be a 40-home run guy.

“Yes, definitely, definitely,” Franco said. “In the offseason I pushed myself, I worked hard. And like I say, I just got to go do my job. Don’t try to force the situation, don’t try to do too much. You have to go out there and play hard and do everything you can do for your team.”

If Franco wants to become the perennial MVP Mike Schmidt thinks he can be, then he will need to improve his discipline at the plate.

In 2016, Franco had success early in at-bats when he was well ahead in the count. On first pitches, he had a .361 average, which was 15 points above the league average. When up 3-0 in an at-bat, he hit .412, 102 points above the league average.

It is expected that a player has success up in the count. There are no pats on the back given to a guy when all he has to do is sit on an inevitable fastball. As for first pitches, many times pitchers throw that first pitch fastball to establish the count. So, it’s no wonder Franco has success against those pitches, along with the rest of the league.

What you should look at is when Franco is down in the count. Get ahead of Franco and you will be just fine. After he gets down 0-2, Franco batted .129, 38 points lower than the league average of .168. Even after getting in a 0-1 count, Franco bats .192. Again, he is below the league average by 31 points.

This is something hitting coach Matt Stairs has focused on this spring, improving at-bats and plate discipline. The ‘Franco experiment’ will be fun to watch if Stairs is successful.

The third baseman has also been accused of losing focus at the plate during ball games; his average shows it.

The first three innings of games in the 2016 season, Franco hit .281. But when the game got into the middle innings, his average dropped significantly to .244 and wouldn’t get much better in innings seven through nine (.251).

What you can’t knock is Franco’s ability to hit in the clutch. Last season with two outs and runners in scoring position, Franco hit .304, 72 points above the league average. During late and close games, Franco hit .274. Once again the league was well behind him, batting just .238.

It is easy to love Franco when he comes up clutch, but the plate discipline and lack of focus cannot be overlooked. We have already seen manager Pete Mackanin fine Franco and his teammates for his miscue at third a week ago.

Franco seemed optimistic that this season would be a successful one.

“This year should be more hype for me,” Franco said. “So I expect this year to come in every single day, try to get prepared, try to be ready and put up better numbers than last year.”

Mike Murphy is a fourth-year student majoring in communication studies. He can be reached at [email protected]

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