Nick Franklin And The Hardest Thing

Jeff Sullivan · July 3, 2013 at 3:34 pm · Filed Under Mariners 

People weren’t prepared for Dustin Ackley to struggle. Even the realists who noted his odds of busting acknowledged that Ackley was probably going to hit, and he was going to hit soon. There’s no such thing as a sure-thing prospect, but there are prospects with higher and lower chances, and Ackley was thought to be low-risk. He hit, then he stopped, then he got worse, then he went to the minors. But around the same time, Kyle Seager emerged, and that made for welcome consolation. Ackley was supposed to be the good one, and Seager was supposed to be the uninteresting one. As Ackley struggled, Seager took steps forward, and now out of the pair the Mariners have a quality regular and a question mark. Does it really matter which is which? Yeah, it’d be great if both of them were good. It’d be terrible if both of them sucked.

Now the latest infielder to maybe pass up Dustin Ackley is Nick Franklin. We still don’t know what the Mariners have in Ackley, but Franklin has basically forced him to the outfield with his strong higher-level play. However disappointed you might be in Ackley, he doesn’t actually need to be part of the core. The Mariners have options, and if Ackley doesn’t turn out, they may well survive. And if Ackley does turn out, hey, that’s peaches, go Mariners. The situation’s not completely desperate.

Which isn’t to say that Franklin is a sure thing now, since of course Ackley was amazing out of the gate. But Franklin’s improved, and his numbers so far in the majors are legitimate. His defense has been perfectly fine, and in Franklin the Mariners might now see a long-term solution. This was a guy who spent at least a year as trade bait, and who came to spring training out of shape and in the organizational dog house. Now Franklin and his big stupid helmet might be here for the better part of a decade.

And it’s interesting to examine Franklin’s statistical record. He’s always had skills and he’s pretty much always hit. Baseball America has been a fan for years. But Franklin has really gotten going in 2013, and this graph seems significant:


Franklin’s walks are way up, and his strikeouts are way down. His strikeout rate was this low in 2009, but that was 65 plate appearances in the super-low minors. This season, Franklin has 40 strikeouts and 40 unintentional walks, and he’s spent the whole time between Triple-A and the major leagues. His numbers, understandably, are worse with Seattle than they were with Tacoma, but they’re still good and Franklin’s still adjusting.

Used to be Franklin would run a contact rate in the mid-70s. This year it’s shot up to the mid-80s. Also, in the majors, 347 players have batted at least 100 times. Franklin’s rate of swings at balls is 20th-lowest, near names like Ben Zobrist and Kevin Youkilis. Franklin does swing at bad pitches, but everybody swings at bad pitches, and Franklin does it relatively infrequently. Franklin’s approach has been big-league caliber.

It’s not uncommon for prospects to improve in the minor leagues. That’s kind of the whole point. But it’s hard for a prospect to really improve his discipline, so it’s only seldom seen. Especially in the upper levels, when a prospect has already been pushed through and promoted a few times. How often have we daydreamed about Carlos Peguero in the impossible universe in which he figures out what balls look like? Discipline, usually, is the hardest thing to improve. Improvements tend to be incremental. I don’t know where Nick Franklin is going to settle in the bigger picture, but for now he sure doesn’t swing at many balls, and he sure does make a lot of contact. His ratios look different.

Sure, Franklin hasn’t walked much lately. But, lately, he’s seen more pitches in the zone than any other Mariner, so it’s not like the opportunities have been there. You can’t force a walk directly. You can only hit strikes and lay off the balls that pitchers might throw you because they’re worried about throwing you strikes. Franklin has an O-Swing% of 20.5%. The last 14 days, it’s 20.5%. Franklin’s all right.

You don’t want to get too far ahead of yourself, because Dustin Ackley is still too fresh in our minds. We don’t know what Nick Franklin is going to be. But he’s improved this season, at a time when the organization really needed it, and now it’s the beginning of July and the Mariners might have a new long-term second baseman. What could Franklin do? It’s not hard to notice a number of similarities between him and Jason Kipnis, if you want a hastily-identified comp. Obviously they’re different players, but they have somewhat similar skills and last year Kipnis was an above-average regular. This year he’s been a star for three months. If Franklin walks enough, makes contact enough, and defends enough, well, that’s a fine player right there. Not a fantastic player, not an All-Star, but good’s good and the Mariners haven’t had enough good. The Nick Franklin piece might fit in this puzzle.

And, boy, what if Ackley hits? It sure can be easy to not hate this team.


12 Responses to “Nick Franklin And The Hardest Thing”

  1. _David_ on July 3rd, 2013 4:01 pm

    Sure he can walk enough, make enough contact and defend enough to be good yet not a star, but it’s fun to point out that, in a 129 PA sample, he’s put up hall of fame numbers.

  2. _David_ on July 3rd, 2013 4:08 pm

    I wonder if, when it comes to learning the strike zone and adjusting, some players can do it really fast -Votto comes to mind, although it still took a few years. Dave’s article about Scutaro got me thinking, it took Scutaro until his mid thirties to master strike and pitch recognition, what if someone could do it much faster? I like how a prospect having immediate success can lend to this kind of endless optimism -it’s quite fun.

  3. Ron on July 3rd, 2013 4:11 pm

    I don’t see why he can’t be an All-Star. Jose Lopez was an All-Star, the bar is pretty low for that. I also think we may be selling his defense short, the problems with his defense were just that he would not stick at short, as a second baseman all bets are off. Finally, his stolen base percentages have been pretty good with a decent number of steals. He seems like he is a good baserunner. If he adds value there we could be talking about a really good player. Possibly on the level of Brian Roberts in his prime, maybe more power and less steals but similar.

  4. Jeff Sullivan on July 3rd, 2013 4:21 pm

    When I say All-Star, I don’t mean All-Star once. Anyone can be an All-Star once.

  5. californiamariner on July 3rd, 2013 4:39 pm

    I’m really liking Franklin. I actually looked up Ackley 2011 to Franklin 2013 and Franklin is mostly superior everywhere. I don’t necessarily Franklin to forever perform at this level but he has a good chance to be a solid major leaguer. Miller also seems pretty solid so far. And I think Zunino will turn into a good player. Obviously Seager has been a great piece. Funny we have a few young players to be happy about and none of them are named Montero, Smoak, or Ackley.

  6. Liam on July 3rd, 2013 4:43 pm

    Even Jose Lopez was an All-Star.

  7. Sportszilla on July 3rd, 2013 4:44 pm

    It certainly doesn’t seem unreasonable to think that Seager, Franklin, Miller, and Zunino could settle in as 2-4 win players. While that isn’t all that sexy, that’s a pretty good foundation to build a winning team on, and given that they’re all relatively young and relatively inexpensive, it might make signing a premier free agent (if one ever hits the market) a more palatable option.

  8. Don Money on July 3rd, 2013 9:26 pm

    Why so down on Smoak? I believe I saw that since July 1 of last year, he is hitting .276 or something very close to that. And because Safeco isn’t a bandbox like TX, NY, Boston, Tampa, etc., I don’t expect many M’s to lead in slugging stats. The M’s can win with Smoak manning first.

  9. Don Money on July 3rd, 2013 9:29 pm

    What were the sabermetric predictors for Chris Davis before this year?

  10. JG on July 3rd, 2013 9:44 pm

    His development is so encouraging. And I love that helmet. He looks like Marvin the Martian.

  11. eponymous coward on July 4th, 2013 6:54 am

    I believe I saw that since July 1 of last year, he is hitting .276 or something very close to that.

    Try .246/.341/.399. So a batting average 30 points lower (and batting average isn’t a great stat for determining offensive value).

    And because Safeco isn’t a bandbox like TX, NY, Boston, Tampa, etc., I don’t expect many M’s to lead in slugging stats.

    There’s “leading in slugging stats” and “hitting as well as an average 1B”.

    An average 1B in MLB would hit .263/.335/.442 (that’s the stats for ALL 1B in MLB).

    Smoak is not a particularly good 1B. He’s a version of this guy except slower and a worse glove. Sure, you “can win” with players like this, because many good teams have one or two positions where they have a below-average player (if you have average-to-great players EVERYWHERE, you’re probably winning 100+ games). But you can’t win building your team around below-average players, and nobody should be planning a 2014 M’s team around Justin Smoak- if there’s a way to improve that doesn’t involve him, by all means, let him walk.

  12. Ed on July 4th, 2013 10:57 am

    Smoak’s walking 14% of the time this year. That is well above the league or his own previous averages (2011: 11.2%, 2012: 9.2%). It’s good enough that, even with below-average power for a 1B, his current performance would be good for 1.6 WAR over 600 PA.

    That’s a genuine improvement. If he keeps it up, he’s awfully close to an average 1B. I’m glad we’ve got the rest of the year to see how he does.

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