This morning at ESR, Danny Majerowicz wrote a terrific breakdown of the potential downside for the Orioles when it comes to signing Maikel Franco. The thoughtful and researched conclusion that a defensive downgrade at third base could have potential negative effects on the development of Baltimore’s young pitching staff is one I agree with. I only hope to offer a quick alternative perspective, if for nothing but the sake of optimism.
While Danny recognizes the potential offensive upgrades Franco holds over Rio Ruiz, I believe he dismisses them too easily. He cites Ruiz’s higher exit velocity (87.9 to Franco’s 86.7) and barrel rate (8.5% to Franco’s 5.8%) as signals that the two may not be all that dissimilar offensively this upcoming season. This is where I start to disagree.
If we’re going to weight the fact that Ruiz makes better contact over a smaller sample size (using barrel rate) then we have to equally weight the fact that he strikes out more over a smaller sample size as well. Ruiz’s K% (22.5) in 2020 is almost a full seven percent higher than is Franco’s (15.6). We then have to consider the fact that in 2020 Franco also bested Ruiz in wOBA (.329 to .303) and in wRC+ (106 to 90).
These numbers are not insignificant. Weighted On Base Average (wOBA) and Weighted Runs Created Plus (wRC+) are two of the most effective metrics we have in measuring offensive value. Even while conceding that Ruiz makes better contact (not accounting for hard hit rate) he still gets on base significantly less than Franco, strikes out more, and created fewer potential runs than the average MLB player by 10 points, where Franco was above the average player by six.
As Danny noted, the potential downside of this signing is in fact a defensive liability that eats into precious development of a young pitching staff. But another pitfall to consider is a lack of offensive production. Run support can be equally critical to the overall well being of a young staff’s development.
Hopefully both Rio Ruiz and Maikel Franco each seize their opportunities to contribute effectively to every facet of the game. Mike Elias’ reasoning behind this signing may not be as obvious on the surface as others, but I have to believe that it flows along the same underlying current.