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The Burden Of Being Franchy

The question we’ll never stop asking: has he finally put it all together?

Sox Photo By Nancy Lane/MediaNews Group/Boston Herald via Getty Images

Nobody consulted Franchy Cordero before providing him with 226 pounds of muscle, before making him resemble a bullet train as he makes the turn around third base, before chiseling his upper body to look like he’s an extra in 300.

You might assume that, had he been consulted, he wouldn’t have said no, and that’s an easy assumption for the rest of us to make. Who wouldn’t want to be an athletic machine? Who wouldn’t want to be the biggest, strongest, fastest person on every field they ever stepped on? Who wouldn’t want to be born with such prodigious gifts that sports stardom seems so easy to grasp, like it’s just a few tweaks in the batting cage or a couple more hours in the film room away?

But that’s one of the problems that comes with being an athlete who looks like Franchy Cordero: the rest of us shlubs who keep our shirts on at the beach and are always trying to cut back on dairy are all so sure we know exactly what we’d do with his body if we were given the chance.

Tampa Bay Rays v Boston Red Sox Photo by Billie Weiss/Boston Red Sox/Getty Images

Has Franchy Cordero finally put everything together? That question has been asked so much of him that it pretty much defines his career: he’s Franchy Cordero, guy who can’t quite figure out this baseball thing.

As we ask this question one more time, let’s start with this: has he ever been this good before?

Over the last seven games, Franchy has been the most productive hitter in the Red Sox lineup. He’s hit 4 homeruns over this stretch, slashed an absurd .400/.471/1.200, and cut his strikeout-to-walk ratio to 2-1, which is certainly not great, but which is a major improvement over a career mark that’s hovered around 4-1.

Seven games isn’t a lot. But still, you have to go pretty far back to find a time when Franchy’s been this good. The 10-game stretch in May that had us all so excited was pedestrian in comparison: .294/.324/.529, with just a single homerun (that slugging percentage was driven by three doubles and a triple). He had a four-game hit streak in May 2021, hitting .333 with a homer, but come on, that’s four games. If trying to draw conclusions from a seven-game sample size is slightly irresponsible, then trying to do it from four games is criminally negligent. And he had another four-homer stretch way back in April 2018, but it took him 11 games to hit those homers, and his OBP sat below .300.

Looking over Franchy’s career, you have to go all the way back to a 17-game stretch between May and June 2017 before you find anything comparable to what he’s doing right now. He went 19-56 during those 17 games, stuffing the box scores with 3 doubles, 2 triples, and 3 home runs. He walked four times, stole a base, and scored 12 runs as he slashed .339/.383/.625. Those were 17 games when he looked like a future star.

But there’s something else that’s even more interesting about those 17 games: they were the first 17 games of Franchy Cordero’s career.

Baseball is a game of failure, but as fans, we don’t treat all failure equally. This, of course, usually comes down to our expectations. When you look like Franchy Cordero does – and then when you start your career the way he did – you’re expected to become a star. And when these toolsy, power-speed guys fail, we often react to this failure with a certain amount of bitterness – even anger – that we don’t give to other, less-Greek-godlike prospects who bust. Will Middlebrooks can begin his career with a 121 OPS+ before falling apart and falling out of baseball altogether before the age of 30, and then still be happily welcomed back to the NESN desk a few year later; in a couple of seasons, he’ll just be our old friend Will, kicking it with Tom and OB on the pre-game show. But Wily Mo Pena, on the other hand, despite being a far more productive player over his career, is and always will be seen as a bust; he’ll forever be defined by his inability to turn his athleticism into success on the field.

What’s unfair about this, is that we all know that the circumference of your bicep has little to do with your ability to hit a baseball. Success at the plate comes down to hand-eye coordination, speed in the wrists, full-body synchronicity, and the ability to make a hundred, subconscious decisions in less than second. These are all things that, as fans, we can’t even really see, let alone judge.

A look at the numbers under the hood shows that there’s reason to believe that Franchy’s improvement is real; he has indeed made several adjustments to his approach that have improved his plate discipline. After swinging at the first pitch in nearly half of his plate appearances last year, he’s drastically cut that down to 33%. He’s swinging and missing less, making less weak contact, chasing less, and making much more contact on pitches in the zone (82% this year, up from 72.9 in 2021).

But even with all of these improvements, he still sandwiched two of the more productive stretches of his career around an absolutely dreadful July in which he slashed .162/.240/.279 and struck out in over half his at-bats.

If he could minimize these slumps, he could be a productive major leaguer. In the 47 games he played in May and June this year, he hit .259/.340/.425 with 3 homers and 3 steals. That’s about the same level of production JD Martinez has provided this year, with the added bonus that Franchy Cordero can at least play a corner outfield position and provide speed on the bases.

At this point in his career, Franchy Cordero is who he is: someone who may make marginal improvements over time, but who will never fully control his swing; someone who can be good, but almost certainly never great.

But unfortunately for him, that will likely never be enough for us. With every hit streak, with every hot month, with every 470-foot homer, we’ll be asking whether he’s finally put it all together. This is the burden of being Franchy Cordero, whether he asked for it or not.