What Happened to Nick Franklin?

Following a two homer performance on July 28, Nick Franklin was being lauded as the potential American League Rookie of the Year. Despite a fairly subpar July, Franklin had impressive overall numbers with a .277 batting average and a league leading (for rookies) ten homers and 32 RBI. Since that date, Franklin has been abysmal in going 6-for-53 with 20 strikeouts. Even with the power-laden July (six homers), Franklin still only hit .234 that month with a ridiculously bad 37 strikeouts in 94 at-bats. So for the seemingly solid, second baseman of the future who hit .296 his first month in the big leagues….what happened?

Most likely, the league “caught up” to Nick Franklin. While I sort of hate that phrase, it fits nicely in this case. In the month of June, Nick Franklin saw fastballs more often to the tune of 60.9% of pitches thrown to him. That dropped to 58.2% in July and 52.6% in August. And not surprisingly, this has led to struggles for the rookie. Franklin was above average in June hitting the fastball, slider and changeup. This changed in July where Franklin still abused fastballs, but couldn’t hit anything else. It gets even worse in August, as it seems Franklin can’t hit anything at all. But why would Franklin all of a sudden not be able to hit?

August Hates Nick

August Hates Nick

Ask Dave Hansen.

Seriously, how would I know? I just know that he looks lost and he isn’t making the same contact. One of the attributes that made Nick Franklin so valuable as a prospect – and why many predicted he could hit at the Major League level – was that he didn’t strike out much and he walked a lot. He had 30 walks and 20 strikeouts in AAA in 2013 before being called up at the end of May. That is awesome. And it seems to be gone as of now.

Swing less, hit more

Swing less, hit more

Even with the improved pitching at the Major League level, Franklin continued this trend his first month with the Mariners. He posted a 8.4% walk rate and a 15.9% K rate. If he continued along those lines, Franklin would certainly be the starting 2B for years to come. Yet in July, his numbers went down the toilet like Dustin Ackley’s career. A 6.9% BB rate and a 36.3% K rate made Franklin look pretty average. The six homers simply blinded people to his struggles. Now everyone has seen the light. Yet, Franklin actually has improved these numbers in August (10.6% BB/29.8% K). Now when Franklin hits the ball, he is putting on the ground rather than spraying line drives. In August, Franklin’s line drive rate is 10.7% (compared to 28.4% in June and 24.1% in July) and groundball rate is 53.6% (compared to 33.3% in June and 36.2% in July). So when Franklin makes contact, it is going no where.

So what is causing this regression? Clearly pitchers are throwing less fastballs and affording Franklin more respect. And clearly Franklin is struggling with this change. In June, Franklin swung at 41.8% of pitches and made contact 84% of the time. In August, he swings more at 44.8% and makes less contact at 71%. He seems to be guessing and hacking. Of course, I’m guessing and hacking at this point. Whatever the cause may be, Franklin isn’t making contact much and when he does it isn’t solid. He needs work and needs to improve. Don’t be surprised to see Franklin back down in Tacoma if this continues. It certainly bares keeping an eye out for improvement in the next couple weeks. And you thought there was no reason to watch the M’s for the rest of the year.

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