One thing I learned a long time ago was not to make sweeping statements that I cannot back up with facts. Doing so is one reason that Tim McCarver was so often skewered by the Twitter crowd. Facts are much harder to argue about. I have been curious about Nick Franklin ever since Robinson Cano signed his mega-deal and made Franklin moot for the Mariners. That team has been taking trade offers and his market appears to be a strong one. If a team is successful in obtaining him, that team has about a 50/50 chance Franklin will improve on his rookie season.
I have a blessing and a curse in that I am very, very curious. That is a good thing in this day of number analysis in baseball. The curse is that I was very good at math when I was young, did not do anything with it and now do not have the chops today’s market requires to boldly state number observations. But I dug in with Franklin anyway.
I saw that he was a first round draft pick for the Mariners back in 2009. I noted his more than respectable .819 OPS in the minors. I also noted that much of his minor league career was playing for teams in Arizona and California and includes two years in the PCL, a noted offensive league. So the two facts sort of equaled themselves out.
But I did note him making several top 80 prospects lists from 2011 to 2013. So people have been high on him. His team, which took him in the first round, now has no regular spot for him because it signed Cano and likes Brad Miller better as a hitter.
I dug a little deeper into his rookie season. I, naturally, figured that his home ballpark would have put some dent on his offensive numbers. I found just the opposite. Nick Franklin hit much better in Seattle than he did on the road. That was weird. Those away games do feature a lot of games against the Angels and A’s, two teams that play in tough hitting parks.
I also noted that he slid hard in the second half of last season and had a major slump in August. I mused a little bit on Twitter about my confusion about Franklin and a very good follow that I follow piped in to my musings. Here is the brief discussion:
@FlagrantFan His struggles were from being 22 & his first callup. Count him among the thousands who you can say that about.
— Howard Cole (@Howard_Cole) December 20, 2013
I like Howard Cole a lot and I respect him even more. But even respected people make those sweeping statements I was talking about. The “count him among thousands…” caught my attention the most.
So I did a search using Baseball-reference.com’s Play Index. I searched for players since 1961 (53 years) who played their first year at the age of 22 and in their first year had more than 350 plate appearances (both true of Franklin). Doing so led to only 44 players since 1961. Nick Franklin’s OPS finished 32nd among those 44 players. Using OPS+ would have been better, but I used OPS.
Of those 44, Franklin was joined in 2013 by fellow rookies, Arenado, Puig and Myers as new members of the start-at-22-and-get-350-plate-appearances club. So that leaves us 40 other players we can look at.
Of those 40, only thirteen players had a career OPS significantly higher than their rookie OPS. By significantly higher, I meant at least 20 points higher. They included guys like Pete Rose, Ellis Burks, Omar Vizquel and Will Clark. Just as many (13) finished with a career OPS that was lower than their rookie season OPS.
That leaves 14 players whose career OPS was very close to what they did in their rookie seasons. So maybe the 50/50 was generous.
That is not to say that Nick Franklin cannot be a useful player. He can. The Oliver projections for him show an OPS that does not move significantly at all over the next five years, but shows solid defense making him a two and a half to three WAR per season player for the next five seasons. Many teams would take that.
But those projections are based on his fielding holding up well and his batting being about as mundane as it was in 2013. That is hardly a clarion call for teams wanting to take a look at him. But, he is young and controllable (read: cheap) for a while and that is attractive in itself.
I would certainly like someone to check my data as, again, it is not my strength. But from what I am seeing, the player some Mariners fans and other teams pine for has just as good a chance at panning out as he does of crapping out as a baseball player. As always, time will tell.