Is Brett Phillips the new Jeff Francoeur?

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Roaming the spacious Kauffman Stadium outfield nowadays is Brett Phillips, who was acquired along with Jorge Lopez in exchange for Mike Moustakas in a trade with the Milwaukee Brewers. Phillips was the centerpiece of the deal, as in his two cups of coffee with Milwaukee, he put up a respectable .257/.331/.413 slash line with a 94 OPS+. Additionally, he excelled with the glove and with his arm, collecting seven outfield assists in just 52 games. He continued his great fielding as a Royal, with five assists in 66 games, and even robbed a home run in his first game in a Royals uniform.

However, what he does with his glove is almost overwhelmingly overshadowed by what he does – or doesn’t – do on the offensive side of the ball. Quite simply put, Phillips has been atrocious on offense since coming to Kansas City. In his first year in blue, he put up an underwhelming .188 batting average with a .565 OPS, which is admittedly better than what he did earlier in the season with the Brewers. 2019 was an even more major step back, as he hit a paltry .138 with a .262 slugging percentage. Chris Owings, one of the most universally hated Royals in recent memory, even finished 2019 with a higher batting average.

Yet people love him. Across Kansas City, you will find Royals fans who all seemingly adore Phillips and his personality. They say that he’s a likable guy, with a solid potential and already-great defense. This leads to a reasonable comparison to a former Royals outfielder that teams just seem to adore despite sub-optimal play on the field. That player is none other than Jeff Francoeur, who spent two and a half years as a Royal from 2011-2013.

Francoeur, just like Phillips, was renowned for his arm, collecting 38 outfield assists as a Royal. He played in 360 games as a Royal, which means that Francoeur had about .105 assists per game. Phillips, comparatively, has .087 assists per game. Francoeur’s fielding was never as lauded as Phillips’ is, as he was worth -2.4 dWAR as a Royal, easily one of the worst defensive fielders in the game in that time period. Phillips also has an advantage in the age department, as he was 24 when he made his Royals debut. Francoeur was 27, and was almost to his age 30 season when his Royals career came to a close.

His offensive drop-off is also very similar to Phillips’. During his first season as a Royal in 2011, Francoeur had a career year, slashing .285/.329/.476 with a career-high 47 doubles, teaming with Alex Gordon and Melky Cabrera to become the first trio of outfielder teammates to hit 40 or more doubles in the same season. Francoeur had an OPS+ of 120, which is only 13 points higher than Phillips’ 107 from his rookie year. The year after, his batting average dropped 50 points and became one of the least valuable outfielders in baseball. The trend continued in 2013, as his OPS fell below the .600 mark and he was released on July 5.

Both seemingly are allergic to taking walks as well. Though neither are quite on the level of Alcides Escobar, Francoeur averaged only 31 walks per 162 games over the course of his career and never accumulated more than 42 in a single season. Phillips is slightly more proficient in walking, as though he only has 30 walks in his entire career, that equates to 41 over the span of a full 162 game season. Neither hit for much power either, as Francoeur had a .160 isolated power during his three seasons here, while Phillips had a meager .125 through his first two.

The fans continued to shower Francoeur with love. Who’s to blame them, with a personality like Francoeur has? Everyone was caught up in “Frenchy mania,” which was at its peak in April 2012 when he developed a special relationship with the outfield fans in Oakland that saw him order 20 pizzas for all the A’s faithful in section 149. Having never played for the A’s, he showcased a side of him that fans always adore.

Phillips is the same way; though he never bought food for fans or attached money to a baseball and tossed it to fans as Francoeur did (at least, not yet), his laugh became an instant internet sensation when his infectious laugh was posted by the Milwaukee Brewers in a Spring Training interview with former Royal Will Smith. He’s known as the life of the Royals clubhouse and will almost surely make the Opening Day roster based on that fact and his never-wavering defense.

Is this comparison a stretch? It’s more than likely. But both players had immense talent and promise at the beginning of their Royals careers, and an end like Francoeur’s Royals career could very well be in the works for Phillips if he can’t hit more consistently. Perhaps his final plate appearance of the season will play as some sort of foreshadowing, as in the Royals’ last game of the year, and manager Ned Yost’s final career game, Phillips lined a walk-off sacrifice fly that gave the team a 4-3 victory.

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Author: Alex Burbidge

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