In 2009, Fernando Martinez logged 14 games in RF for the Bisons and it appears that the Mets may be trying him out at all outfield positions. With left field locked down by Jason Bay until at least 2013, and Carlos Beltran locked in at center field through 2011, right field seems the likely destination for the Mets prized outfield prospect. It’s no secret that Francoeur is historically terrible at the plate, but it is a common misconception that he is a strong defender. He does have a strong arm, but his RngR (range runs above average) has been on a sharp decline (3.7, -0.8, -7.7, -11.6) since his first full season in 2006. The spacious confines of Citi Field may decrease his defensive value even further. According to Fangraphs, CHONE predicts a 1.0 WAR season for Francoeur in 2010, good for about $4.4 mil in value. The past 2 seasons, he posted a -1.2 and 0.1 WAR, respectively, so CHONE’s prediction seems a bit generous.
Omar Minaya has made it clear that Martinez will begin the season in AAA. It would be prudent for management to get him a significant amount of work in right field. After a couple hundred plate appearances in AAA, his bat should have him knocking on the door of the big leagues. In AAA last year at the age of 20, he posted a triple slash of .290/.337/.540 with a .250 ISO and a .382 wOBA in 190 plate appearances. If Beltran is back to full health by June, and Bay doesn’t catch the injury bug, then it is likely that a Martinez promotion will be dependent upon Francoeur’s health and/or performance.
By now, we would hope everyone is on the same page about Francoeur’s hitting. A career triple slash of .271/.311/.432 is laughable at best for a proclaimed “RBI guy”, and a .317 wOBA reinforces the fact that he’ll be one of the worst starting RFs in the majors. Comparing the above-mentioned stats with Pagan, you’ll see that Pagan has a career triple slash of .281/.331/.443 and a career .335 wOBA. Add in a 7.1 speed rating and you have a better starting right fielder already on your roster; and that’s before you throw in Pagan’s career corner outfield UZR/150s: 14.9 in LF and 19.8 in RF.
Pagan likely will start in center until Beltran’s return, and then will be relegated to fourth OF duty, though the Mets may be better off using Pagan as a platoon mate for Francoeur. Consider Pagan’s career splits versus RHP as a LHB (triple slash of .299/.350/.452; .153 ISO, .345 wOBA) vs Francoeur’s career marks against RHP (triple slash of .260/.300/.410; .150 ISO; .307 wOBA). Francoeur fares much better against lefties for his career (triple slash of .298/.340/.487; .188 ISO; .347 wOBA). It seems like an ideal platoon situation, even if it prevents Martinez from seeing significant at bats in 2010.
Do I dare try to think positively about Francoeur? In 2009, Francoeur managed to put more balls into play by both walking and striking out less. Unfortunately, his line drive rate was only 1% higher than his career rate and he seems to be locked in around a 20% line drive rate. He did decrease his ground ball rate 4.5% from his career mark while he increased his fly ball rate 3.5% from his career mark, which is a positive for the RBI potential coming from his spot in the order. His HR/FB% could be very low again thanks to Citi Field, though many of those would-be-homeruns should land for extra base hits, not necessarily fly outs. He also improved his contact rates on pitches both in and outside the zone, which is related to the decreased strikeout rate. Admittedly, none of these “improvements” are free from regression and it’s been well documented that most of his success as a Met was BABIP driven, as his Met BABIP of .343 was about 40 points higher than his career mark.
I’ve been a bigger proponent than most of wanting to see Martinez promoted sooner than later. He needs to accumulate as many at bats as possible, though I’ve questioned the negative impact it would have on him if he were in a strict platoon situation with Francoeur. After reviewing Pagan’s splits, my desire to see Martinez before September is dwindling. We are all too familiar with the injury bug, so fate may have Martinez up before we know it anyways. A promotion could also be expedited if the Mets find themselves battling for a divisional lead during the summer months. Following the logic that Omar and Jerry are fighting for their jobs, then the long-term impact of aggressive promoting wouldn’t be a priority; see Jenrry Mejia. The breadth of said impact is probably up for debate, especially for a positional prospect of Martinez’s caliber, which, according to prospect rankings, seems to be a whole other debate in itself. Adam Foster & co. of http://www.projectprospect.com, listed him as #10 on their top 100. Settled, right?