Jerry Crasnick reports that the Yankees are one of five teams with some interest in former-Rockies lefthander Jeff Francis. Francis, a soon-to-be 30 soft-tossing lefty, missed the entire 2009 due to injury, was not that good in 2008 when he was reportedly pitching through shoulder trouble, and turned in some poor results in 2010. So what do the Yankees see in him?
There are a few things that suggest Francis might be a good “buy low” candidate:
1) The last 2 seasons in which we know he was healthy were 2006 and 2007, and he was fairly solid in both campaigns. He was worth 3.6 wins in 2006, with a 4.16 ERA and a 4.38 FIP. He was better in 2007, giving the Rockies 4.1 wins (fWAR) while putting up a 4.22 ERA and a 4.19 FIP. He also began to strike batters out in 2007 at a higher rate than he ever had before, with a 6.9 K/9.
2) He is throwing harder now than he has since 2005, which suggests that he may finally be healthy. His fastball is now at 87.2, which is important as it provides a greater amount of spread between the heater and his primary off-speed pitch, the changeup. While Francis used to throw a slider and curveball as well, he has scrapped the slider in favor of throwing the change more frequently, which was a key to his success in 2006 and 2007.
3) He is a lefty who is much better against left-handed hitters. Righties hit him for an .812 OPS, while lefties come in at .716. Being that Yankee Stadium plays much larger for righties, this gives pitchers such as Francis a natural advantage.
4) His 2010 ERA of 5.00 is quite misleading. he had a FIP of 3.88 and xFIP of 3.94, and walked fewer batters (1.98 per 9) than he ever had before. He also upped his groundball-flyball ratio (1.46) and dropped his homer (.95 per 9) rate to the point where he can be considered a “ground ball guy,” another positive for someone being considered for a rotation slot in Yankees Stadium.
Francis is far from perfect, and ideally we would be figuring out how awesome Cliff Lee would be in pinstripes rather than trying to identify bounce-back candidates like Francis. But the situation being what it is, Francis seems like a decent bet to be a 3 win pitcher next season, and his pitching profile suggests that he would be a good fit in the Stadium and for the back of the Yankees rotation. I would take a shot on him.