The Rockies may have a better pitcher in Jeff Francis than you think.
Spring Training stats can't be taken seriously, at least they shouldn't be for anyone who can't watch the games. There's no way to tell if what you are looking at is legitimate or a product of preseason variables that won't be present once April rolls around. So when I look at Jeff Francis and see his 1.96 ERA over 18.1 innings pitched while striking out five batters for every one he walked, I want to get excited, but I just can't.
However, there is another group of statistics that has me cautiously optimistic about Francis this season. Last week when I was cruising around the baseball reference and fangraphs pages something caught my eye. There were a lot of statistics to support the idea that Jeff Francis did not pitch nearly as poorly as his results showed in 2012. This was kinda / sorta common knowledge, but this time I wanted to dig a little more. So I took Jeff Francis's career stats pre shoulder injury (late 2004 through 2008) and post shoulder injury (2010 through 2012) and lined them up next to each other. The results were shocking! - And in a good way if you want the Rockies to do well in 2013.
(You can click on the chart to have a larger version of it open in a new window. Also, if you're not familiar with FIP, Andrew Martin wrote about it many moons ago here.)
The only major statistics here where Francis looks like a worse pitcher than he was pre shoulder surgery are ERA and ERA+. (He did drop a little in K/9 as well but he more than makes up for it by dropping his BB/9. His K/BB ratio which is not listed in the chart actually took a large step forward from 2.03 to 2.79) In other words, many of the peripheral stats here are saying that Francis has just been an extremely unlucky pitcher the last few seasons, and some of the stats here like FIP, xFIP, and a combination of OPS against and BABIP against are actually suggesting the Jeff Francis is a BETTER pitcher now than he was pre shoulder surgery.
In 2007, the year Francis was the ace of a Rockies team that went to the World Series, Francis's FIP and xFIP were 4.19 and 4.13; just a tick worse than what they have been post 2009. Now the question is do we buy FIP and xFIP at face value? For me, the answer to that question is no. There's evidence here that while Francis is actually better now at controlling his pitches than he's been at any point in his career, he's also just a more "hitable" arm now that his fastball only averages 85 MPH.
However, I don't completely throw out these stats either. They carry some significant weight. While Francis is prone to getting knocked around a little now, it would be foolish to expect a .330 BABIP against him to continue. Last year's extra offensive friendly version of Coors Field coupled with atrocious defense likely went a long way into ballooning Francis's ERA to that 5.58 number. In reality, the Rockies probably have a guy closer to the 2007 version of Jeff Francis than most fans realize.
Patrick Saunders tells us why Dexter Fowler can't wait to get this season started.
Jhoulys Chacin talks about getting more aggressive early in counts this season in a piece by Thomas Harding. (It serves as a nice background to a larger question surrounding Chacin this year which is "can he control the number of walks he issues?") This piece also has some other notes as well including one about the Rockies possibly carrying 13 during long home stands this season so definitively check it out.
Jeff Sullivan shows us yet another reason why Troy Tulowitzki is awesome! For just a few past examples, click here, here, and here.