Beyond the Valley of the Smiles

In performing some crack “research” for my “job” at which I “write” about “baseball”, I found myself comparing and contrasting the respective stats of Blue Jays shortstop Yunel Escobar and the man he was traded for, Alex Gonzalez. The merits of that trade are well known and were oft-discussed when the two teams met in interleague play this summer.

Scab picker than I am, I pointed out Escobar’s 100 point advantage in on base as well as Escobar’s edge in power, which actually surprised me. Like anyone who constantly seeks the approval of others, I took to the Twitters. The subsequent replies sent me down a frightening rabbit hole, a place without reason. A true window in the madness of some Braves fans and the intoxicating musk of Jeff Francoeur.

While baiting some Braves fans, long indoctrinated by the Braves Hustle Culture, is easy (and fun); it was not my intention this day. Yet, unprovoked, came a random and unsettling tweet in response to my Escobar/Gonzalez barb:

Wait, what? Is this young man advocating Jeff Francoeur over Jason Heyward? And he’s not alone? Sure, Heyward’s in the middle of a miserable sophomore season but come on! It’s Jeff Francoeur who, after a great start, is back to being Jeff Francoeur?

The resulting conversations revolved around the belief that Heyward is “overhyped” and “not as good as they say he is” and hits into too many double plays (3 to Frenchy’s 11, if you’re counting at home.) I was aghast.

Jason Heyward has a bright future in Atlanta and even his present isn’t so bad. He isn’t nearly as good this year but players with his offensive profile tend to smooth out the slumps pretty well. I struggle to imagine how playing Jeff Francoeur helps a baseball team win more games than playing Jason Heyward, even during his current swoon.

My point isn’t to embarrass some well-meaning if slightly misinformed Braves fans, it’s more about something our friends at The Platoon Advantage touched on this week: blind spots. Many Braves fan look past Francoeur’s flaws because of what he meant to them during his exciting debut at age 21, though just as many cannot get past his acrimonious exit to see how he could help their club.

Players with high walk totals have long fought for fans affections while Frenchy skates on a higher batting average and the luxury of RBI. It is easy to take Heyward for granted when you consider his age, as well.

The baseball corner of the Internet blew up when Mike Trout made his big league debut earlier this month. Variation on the “he’s so young” theme were everywhere. Consider when Heyward was Trout’s age, he made the big league club out of Spring Training and went on to post a .393 OBP over 623 plate appearances. Which is insane.

Almost as insane as pining for Francoeur over Heyward, now or in the future. Almost.