Jeff Francoeur, OF, Braves: Francoeur wasn't going to make this week's column, mostly because I have no interest in having to spell his name repeatedly. (Seriously, it's appeared twice so far and I've had to double-check it both times.)
But his stock seems to have sunk as low as ever, thanks to his long weekend in beautiful Mississippi. Here's what's going to happen next: Francoeur's line drives are going to stop finding gloves and start picking up grass stains. Then Atlanta will pat themselves on the back for either motivating, or giving that much-needed mental break to their 24-year-old star with a three-day demotion to Double-A.
Of course, the whole thing is a farce because Francoeur's performance has been pretty much in line with his first few seasons. He doesn't walk and isn't about to start showing more plate discipline, so those ever-so-rare on-base percentage leaguers can forget about it. But he's striking out less than usual (16.7 percent of the time, as opposed to 18.5 last year, and 19.2 over his first three seasons). According to Hardball Times, his line-drive rate is at a career high (20.5 percent, better than last year's 19.4). His groundball rate is steady, and his infield fly per fly ball rate is down, meaning he's not popping the ball up.
So what's going on? A lot of bad luck. While his profile suggests that his batting average on balls in play should be up, the complete opposite has happened. Francoeur's BABIP is .261, down from .337 last year and .315 for his career.
The once legitimate concern with Francoeur is that his power is dropping slightly for a second straight season. His isolated power was .249 his rookie year in 2005, but it has dropped to .189, then .151, and now .141 this season. It means you're probably, at least for now, looking at 20-home run power rather than 30. But if you're interested in adding a guy who profiles as a .300 hitter with 8-10 more homers in his bat this season, with the runs and RBIs that come from hitting in the middle of a decent Atlanta lineup, it's a pretty good time to scoop Francoeur up on the cheap.
Justin Duchscherer, SP, A's: A sub-2.00 ERA 16 starts into the season will buy a man a lot of things this day and age. For example, Duchscherer's 1.82 ERA now entitles him to one Class E felony of his choice in Northern California. And more important, it will bring back some top notch talent for his fantasy owners. And they best take advantage, because Duchscherer isn't likely to keep this up much longer.
There's no doubt his run has been impressive, allowing no more than two runs in each of his past 10 starts. And Oakland is definitely a nice place to be for a pitcher. But the biggest problem is that Duchscherer's .210 opponents batting average on balls in play is completely unsustainable. Not only is it currently the lowest in baseball, it's the lowest for a qualified pitcher since Dave McNally posted a .205 opponents BABIP in 1968. The lowest mark in the post-'94 strike era was Chris Young's .232 in '06. Duchscherer career mark (primarily out of the bullpen) was .285 coming into this season.
So yes, plenty more hits will be finding their way against Duchscherer. And the other thing hanging over Duchscherer's second half is his workload. We're only at the All-Star break, and he is two pitches short of tying his career high (since entering the bigs). He should be fine for the next few starts, but August and September will be uncharted territory for Duchscherer's arm. And it's not a territory his owners should be eager to watch him tread.