Tommy Joseph is Maikel Franco: when perceptions don't meet reality
by Scott Butler 8/28/16

Tommy Joseph and Maikel Franco

Tommy Joseph is hitting .252 this season with 17 homers and 34 RBI since joining the Phils.

Maikel Franco is hitting .251 with 22 homers and 72 RBI.

Run that over a full 162-game schedule and you get this:

Tommy Joseph: 36 homers, 71 RBI, 31 walks, 124 strikeouts

Maikel Franco: 29 homers, 95 RBI, 45 walks, 114 strikeouts

If you can forget about the names for a second, those are pretty darn good numbers - not great, but good. Just about any team would love to add that kind of pop to their lineup. But looking at the names and the perceptions attached to them is what makes this comparison so interesting.

On the one hand you have Joseph, who was left unprotected on the Phillies roster for all the world to take, but nobody wanted him.

On the other hand is Franco, with perhaps the highest ceiling of any Phillie in the organization.

In 2016, Joseph is far exceeding expectations while Franco has to make you question just how high that ceiling reaches.

Let's take a look at both individually.

Here are Joseph's 162-game averages as compared to Ryan Howard's career 162-game marks:

Joseph: .252 average, 36 homers, 71 RBI, 31 walks, 124 strikeouts, .298 OBP, .508 SLG, .806 OPS

Howard .259 average, 39 homers, 123 RBI, 73 walks, 190 strikeouts, .344 OBP, .515 SLG, .859 OPS

Joseph's power is impressive and he compares favorably to Ryan Howard. That is very good news for Phillies fans. Your eyes will tell you that Joseph is not going to win batting titles or lead the league in steals and that is just fine. Joseph is here to mash and that is exactly what he has done.

But the walks are hard to overlook. He is on pace for 42 less walks than Howard over an entire season and his on-base percentage is 46 points lower. On the positive side, he will strikeout 66 less times, but does that offset the significantly fewer times he will reach base?

Don't forget that this guy came from nowhere and was left for dead in Spring Training. This time last year, he was a catcher and a broken human being with serious concussion issues. In less than a year, Joseph recovered from the concussion problems, literally learned how to see again, and changed positions, yet still dominated in triple-A and made his mark in the majors.

If Joseph maintains his power, is able keep his strikeouts at the current manageable rate, and develops more patience, he could be the first baseman for the next decade in Philadelphia.

Who woulda thunk it at this time time last year?

That was the feel good portion of the story. Now, the chapter that might shake the very foundation of this rebuild.

Maikel Franco's potential to hit for average and power is undeniable. He has a balanced stance, little movement, his hands are in a comfortable position, and when he gets a hold of one, you probably won't have to ask the person next to you what happened.

Maikel Franco doesn't have the potential to be Ryan Howard. He has the potential to be better.

Howard was the prototypical pure slugger who hits tons of home runs, doesn't reach base often, and strikes out a lot.

Franco doesn't have that type of raw power, but he projects as a more well-rounded hitter similar to Mike Trout, who has a .305 career average and 34 homers per season. Or you can look at Franco as hopefully being somewhere in between Howard and Utley.

That hasn't happened.

Here are Franco's 162-game averages this season compared to Howard and Utley's career 162-game averages:

Franco: .251 average, 29 homers, 95 RBI, 45 walks, 114 strikeouts, .312 OBP, .443 SLG, .754 OPS.

Howard .259 average, 39 homers, 123 RBI, 73 walks, 190 strikeouts, .344 OBP, .515 SLG, .859 OPS

Utley .279 average, 24 homers, 92 RBI, 64 walks, 103 strikeouts, .362 OBP, .473 SLG, .835 OPS

Forget about the Howard comparison with Franco this season because he has not demonstrated anywhere near that type of power, losing to Howard by 10 homers, 72 points in slugging, and 105 points in OPS, while still giving up 8 points in batting average.

Unfortunately, he doesn't compare with Utley, either. He beats Utley in homers and barely in RBI, but he is nowhere close in average, on-base percentage, slugging, OPS, walks, and strikeouts.

That makes Franco a decent player and nothing more. He is not the cornerstone piece the Phillies were counting on and certainly is not worthy of a huge contract.

And this is where perceptions come to play.

This was supposed to be the season where Franco put all the pieces together and told the baseball world, "Yeah, I am as good as they said I was."

He was supposed to become Philadelphia's version of Andrew McCutchen, signing an early long-term deal and becoming the face of the organization. With their perennial all-star slugger in place, the Phillies would just need a few more pieces from the minors before making a real splash in free agency and legitimately competing for a title, perhaps as soon as next year.

Instead, the Phillies have just as many questions, if not more, than they had on August 28 last season.

But it is not time to give up on Franco because the natural talent is still there. He isn't Domonic Brown with serious flaws in his swing and questionable talent. If he fails, it will be more like a John Mayberry situation (you remember Maybuggles?) in which he just can't put it all together.

The problem with Franco is clear. He swings for the fences every single time, exposing himself to all sorts of issues. His approach and mind set is so flawed at the moment, the fact that his numbers aren't altogether egregious is a testament to how much talent this kid really has.

Why he continues to hit this way, despite clear visual evidence his approach needs to change is alarming. But he is young, and hopefully he will choose to figure it out soon.

So, as the saying goes, it's like two different sides to the same coin with Joseph and Franco. The stats on the back of their baseball cards are similar, but the perceptions couldn't be more different. Joseph is a pleasant and completely unexpected surprise and Franco has been a fairly major disappointment.

It will be interesting to see when the perceptions of both finally meet reality.

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