Inbox: Will Franco be manning 3rd long term?

Inbox: Will Franco be manning 3rd long term?

Will Maikel Franco be the Phillies' Opening Day third baseman in April 2019?
-- Joe O., Cold Spring, N.Y.

Now why would you be asking this question? Is it because Franco has struggled early and Manny Machado is a free agent following the 2018 season? I get it. I absolutely get it. But nothing is a stone-cold lock, particularly when it comes to a 24-year-old's performance in May and how it might impact him in two years. Franco is hitting .209 with five home runs, 25 RBIs and a .634 OPS, which ranks near the bottom among big league third basemen. Obviously, Franco needs to be much better than that. If he does not improve, the Phillies should be in a bidding war for Machado, assuming he hits the open market.

But there are some signs that Franco has been better than his numbers indicate. His .212 BABIP is 178th out of 187 qualified hitters. BABIP partially measures luck, although not entirely. Franco has been consistently hitting the ball hard, too. Out of 109 batted balls, 46 (42.2 percent) have left his bat at 95 mph or better. That percentage ranks 16th out of 99 players with 100 or more batted balls, according to Statcast™. Among third basemen, Franco is 15th in average exit velocity (87.4 mph) and 20th in barrel percentage (6.3 percent). He has barreled nine balls this season. Last season, barreled balls had a batting average of .822 and a 2.386 slugging percentage. Franco is hitting .555 with a 2.000 slugging percentage, which indicates he has been a bit unlucky there.

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Basically, this is my way of saying that it's May 15. We've seen players get off to a hot start only to fade hard down the stretch, just like we've seen players struggle early only to finish strong. Can we just let it play out? The year 2019 is a long way away. Plenty can happen before then.

Why are defined roles important to a bullpen? If I were a pitcher, my job would be to come in and get three outs. It doesn't matter what inning it is, I am in there to get outs.
-- Bob C., Reading, Pa.

Agreed, but the only thing I can say is plenty of relief pitchers have told me over the years that they want to know their role. They say it helps them prepare, knowing how and when they will be used. I get that, but it also is important to read the situation. It would be easier to pitch in roles if the Phils' starters consistently pitched six or more innings. But Philadelphia's starters ranked 27th in the Major Leagues with just 13 quality starts. It starts there.

What's the early report card for new hitting coach Matt Stairs?
-- Ed G., Greensboro, N.C.

The numbers speak for themselves. The Phillies rank 12th in the Majors in runs per game (4.71), ninth in on-base percentage (.330), eighth in slugging percentage (.432), ninth in OPS (.762) and first in pitches per plate appearance (4.03). Last season, they ranked 30th, 29th, 29th, 30th and 27th in those categories, respectively.

I am not saying Stairs has a magic wand, because even he said in the offseason that he expected his hitters to improve in 2017 simply because they have more experience. But Stairs seems to be an excellent communicator and energetic about his job, which are two critical qualities for a hitting coach.

Todd Zolecki has covered the Phillies since 2003, and for MLB.com since 2009. Follow him on Twitter and Facebook and listen to his podcast. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.