POTD Luke French

Q.  What's the scoop?

A.  You tell me, Brainiacs. :- )

Usually the MC/DOV think tank is in the same league with anything around cyber-Seattle.  In this case, you MC/DOVites were miles ahead of the curve.

Thanks for the outstanding posts!, mostly in the Washburn thread.  Spec for the links and vids, G-Money for instantly sniffing out the trail to wisdom Olympus, and for the other fine posts.

Slap me silly, good stuff today.


Q.  Before you start, do you like the trade?

A.  Oh yeah.  And I cannot BELIEVE how fast Capt Jack is morphing this team.  It's like watching Herzog or Gillick.  He has just thrown on the surgical gown, rolled up both sleeves, and started throwing gooey stuff over his shoulder all over the floor.

One intriguing, undervalued regular after another shouldering out one ossified, old-era Entitled Vet after another.

It's amazing to watch.  :standing O:

But, French isn't the key to the deal.  Robles is.  You MC/DOV guys saw that right off.


Q.  What's best about the trade?

A.  Stars & Scrubs.

A week ago, we had 1 really hot young SP behind Felix and Bedard, that being Brandon Morrow.   Now, suddenly, we've got 3 (with Snell and RRS).

Stars & Scrubs has you offloading pricey talent WHENEVER you think you have TALENTED Scrubs who can compete with that vet's level of performance.  This is now clearly the case for 2010.


Q.  French is a younger Washburn?

A.  We did check around the 'net and saw this initial comp.

No disrespect, not at all -- the amigos going this route are thinking (I s'pose) general overall value for a non-K pitcher.

Allow me to respectfully demur.  The low-K, holds-his-own idea is clear, but you couldn't find two different LHP's than Wash and French. 

And we advise caution about comparing every 4k / 2bb lefty to Jarrod Washburn, for precisely the same reason that we advise folks not to compare rookie soft-tossers to Jamie Moyer.

Washburn and Moyer are extreme, extreme examples of LHP's defying gravity.   The next 20 guys coming up with Jamie Moyer stuff are going to get Hostel'ed, and the next 20 guys trying to pitch like Jarrod Washburn are going to (even worse) get Olson'ed.

That's not to impugn the (very fine) analysts, of course.  We're just doing Rome Is Burning panel-style give-and-take on one pitcher.  I'll take the other side on this one.


Q.  The comp is to saber profile, not to style, though.

A.  Right, but template -- "family of pitchers" -- is key to projecting pitchers going forward. 

You want to compare apples to apples.  Even PECOTA seeks to match comps by body type, in its effort to use physical templates as precedents.

We don't care whether Brandon Morrow and Ryan Rowland-Smith came into the league with similar K/BB/GB ratios.   The ratios will morph later, because of the kinds of pitcher they are.


Q.  What is French's game?

A.  Washburn has always pounded hitters with an effective fastball that has good location, up, and a weird hop to it.  

Luke French is no more a fastball pitcher than Jorge Campillo is.

French has a really lousy fastball, velo and command, but a really good (high-deception) power curve.  He mixes in a RRS-esque change slurve, but it's only average.

Pitchers in this template include:

1.  Ryan Rowland-Smith when he's throwing 86-87

2.  Livan Hernandez, lately

3.  Garrett Olson*, minus a couple feet, plus a better hook (OK, not really)

4.  Barry Zito, right now, minus the guile

5.  Francisco Liriano, right this second, while he's getting wasted

6.  Mike Hampton, late career


Q.  So he pitches like a vet innings-eater?

A.  He pitches like a 37-year-old ex-star whose arm is shredded like Pho.  As a rookie, that's not a good thing.

Look, amigos. 

1) Remember that Brandon Webb is a platypus. 

Then, 2) Paddle out to Fangraphs > leaders > pitchers > pitch type > sort by FBv ... and deep-sea dive until you find Luke French in the 86's.  See any starting pitchers there that you expect to sustain success?

Is it even *possible* for a left hand pitcher to throw 86, without pinpoint control, and sustain success?   I mean it literally, not rhetorically.  Can you name me one?


Or, just go to Fangraphs and find all the lefties with poor win values on their FB's and good win values on their sliders. 

Get a little sinking feeling in your tummy there?   You're talking smoke-and-mirrors, by definition.


Q.  What are the good points?

A.  French's hook causes real and severe problems to LH hitters.  Check the Tigers-M's vidlink that Spec gave us.

French not only blew away three M's, but he neutron-bombed them.  Russell Branyan fanned on a garbage swing.   ICHIRO (!) fanned on the worst swing he has taken all year.  Ryan Langerhans fanned horribly and then gazed out at the mound in utter confusion.

French's hook is a legit lefty-killer.   And how are his platoon splits?  Huge, and they'll probably get even worse.

Against righties?  Think Garrett Olson.


Q.  So he's a LOOGY?

A.  How many 86 mph LOOGY's do you know?


Q.  What's his role, then?

A.  Stopgap.

Robles being the #1 player in the deal, it's not clear to me, why not some other #2 player. 

It's got to be for 2009, I s'pose.  :confused:   Like an NBA team taking back a one-year rebounder/role player in a 4-for-4 deal.  So that this year's team isn't hung out to dry before the real players get here.


Q.  Are you saying that he will give up four homers, next start?

A.  I'm not saying that French will run a 6 ERA at any time.

I'm just saying that his chances to succeed, longterm, are unusually small. Same with Olson. You just don't see *any* SP's with their stuff sustain success. 

French, and Olson, will be able to scuffle, especially LH in Safeco. But opportunity to surprise and emerge as good SP's? Nada.


I'd rather have French than Olson himself.  French has a feature weapon, the hook.  He's not a Quad-A starter with three mediocre pitches and mediocre command; French can work off the jab.


Q.  Best case?

A.  Ted Lilly, Brian Bannister.  Don't take odds on that one, kiddies.

The chances would rest on French's fastball improving to mediocre.  Maybe, like RRS, he's been mildly hurt.  Maybe he'll find Moyer-esque command.

Maybe SABRMatt and I will get hired as seven-figure consultants to Chuck Armstrong.  Don't spend a lot of time worrying about it.


Q.  C'mon.

A.  Okay.  The positive comp that I do have an inkling for is Butch Henry,  who rode a really devastating change-curve to a fair number of outs.

Can a pitcher throw 50% curve balls?  I'd advise French to start doing so.


Q.  Dr's Diagnosis?

A.  Not far off from what it was on Garrett Olson:  fuhgeddaboudit.   But!  The caveat is, a lot of times (um, every time) Capt Jack knows things I don't know.   I'd like to hear his reply to the above; I'm sure it would be enlightening.

But you're asking the Mainframe, it says that French is just a bridge man to the actual 2010 rotation.

Robles, that is a horse of a different color.

Avast Capt Jack,

Dr D


Taro's picture

I haven't yet seen the vid asides from a short highlight reel.
The minus fastball seems to play better than it mph since it looks to have good life and deception. Speed at the plate is MUCH more important than speed out of the hand.
The slider is a plus pitch easily and is the reason for his higher K rate this year.
Good indications that his command has improved this year:
AAA Strike% 65.6%AAA SwS% 11.5%
MLB Strike% 64.4%MLB SwS% 9.1%
Hes only given up 8 Hrs combined this year in AAA/MLB.
Needless to say ALL marks are better than Jarrod Washburn.
My take?
Underrated potential #3-4 starter who may be very close to reaching his upside.


Likes French more than I do, including Zduriencik, who talked about having French for six years.  That's great.  Even the Mariner Central poll, where folks see French as the second player in the deal, has French in the 2010 rotation.  By a landslide.
Reminds us of March, when the consensus was that Garrett Olson was an interesting resource, whereas I dismissed him with a wave of the hand.   This isn't far off of that at all.
Hope the world is right and D-O-V is wrong :- )

Taro's picture

I liked Olson when the trade happened, but after seeing his first start I wrote him off.
Luke French >>>>> Garrett Olson
In AAA+MLB this year French has missed literally TWICE as many bats and has FAR better command. He has a much better ability to limit HRs.


We're comparing (1) one slice -- the best slice -- of the French pizza, to (2) one of the worst slices of Olson's career.
Can I pick the best slice of Olson's career?   A lot of Olson slices showed 9K rates.
Garrett Olson was a whale of a lot better minor-league pitcher than Luke French was.
OLSON:  8.8 / 3.0 / 0.6 career minors
FRENCH:  5.9 / 2.8 / 0.7 minors
Missing bats?  French never thought of missing the kind of bats Olson did -- if we're talking the bush leagues.
Does THAT sober you amigos up, as to the value of French's little dab of success in AAA?
You guys keep chargin' the hill.  I'll keep swinging the quarterstaff ;- ) ;- )

Taro's picture

Yes and No.
I think its likely that Olson has regressed from his 2007 season (when he looked like a potential MOR starter), but he has NEVER shown the strike% at the MLB level that French has this season.
In 2009 Luke French has been a whale of a better pitcher than Garrett Olson has, both at the AAA and MLB level.


Check French's game logs.
Take out one game -- 1 game lifetime -- against the woeful, LH-loaded Seattle Mariners, and tell me what you see in that game log.
13k's, 11bb's, in 24 innings.  Roy Corcoran couldn't do that?
French brought that hook up, and killed one team (our team) with it, and scuffled against everybody else ... and now we're all talking "look at that strike %."
Has anybody mis-applied the "sample size" credo on this one yet, or are we too enthused? :- )

Taro's picture

And he also has an awful start against Texas hurting his numbers. He was great against everyone else (peripherals beyond just BB and K).
You think Luke French is worse or on par with Garrett Olson. Gotcha. We'll see.

Sandy - Raleigh's picture

You mention sample size, Doc.  The sample is 29 major league innings.  I wouldn't make a call on any pitcher in the history of the game based on only 29 innings - whether it was Greg Maddux or Greg Olsen. 
Oh, I could pull out the "how many times has he allowed 3 runs" metric that you've used to judge Bedard this year, (answer = once in 5 starts).  But that ignores that unlike Bedard, French has REALLY been a 5 inning guy.  You want a pitcher who succeeded with a sub-90s FB, and I would throw Greg Maddux at you.  Of course, his glory years were before we were tracking things like runs above average by pitch type.
Me?  I've got no clue as to what French might become.  My first response was to WONDER "what changed that caused the spike in his 2009 AAA numbers"?  My second was to consider that IN A PENNANT RACE, the Tigers, who have produced Bonderman, Roberton, Verlander and Porcello in the recent past, elected to bring FRENCH up this season when needed.  This is also a club that snagged Edwin Jackson from the scrap heap and turned him around. 
My opinion of the Tiger organization is that TODAY, they are one of the better clubs at judging and developing pitching talent.  (and one of the worst at keeping said talent healthy). 
I feel the same way about French that I felt about Jaku when he was getting gushing reviews back in April --- there there isn't NEARLY enough data to draw any firm conclusions on.  Yes, his minor league composite line is Example A in the "Useless 101 Handbook".   But, his 2009 AAA numbers and his callup - and his relative success in 4 of 5 starts -- these ALL go counter to that minor league composite.
Me?  I value the ability to PITCH more than "stuff".  But, I understand to survive in the majors, you MUST have "minimum" stuff.  There's a major league minimum level of ability that is required for entry.  But, beyond that minimum ability - I firmly believe that the ability to PITCH is more important than the stuff.  Guys like Kerry Wood routinely fail in the majors despite ungodly stuff.  (Ian Snell is yet another example).
Unit had stuff out the ears.  He didn't learn to "pitch" until he was 29.  Nolan Ryan survived on "stuff" until he was almost 40.  His stuff was good enough where he didn't NEED to learn to pitch.  But, the last 6-8 years of his career likely only existed because when it started slipping away, he finally started to understand why VASTLY inferior pitchers routinely outpitched him.
I'm not going to wave away French's changes so swiftly, however, because I believe the Tiger organization knows waaaay more than I do.  And I suspect that Jack does, also.  That said, even if you are 100% correct about Olson -- that he fails to meet the admitance criteria for stuff (today), that it's impossible for him to learn something to meet that standard tomorrow. 
With Olson, at least, he's piled up enough MLB innings where the data is showing no signs of moving, so I can at least accept the concept that there is a reasonable data pool to stare into.
Honestly, however, I have this sneaky suspicion that Jack's plan is:
And the real short-term job for French (if Bedard returns soon), is going to be to help out in a very weak bullpen, where he can more readily leverage that one plus-plus pitch that everyone seems to agree that he's got.

Taro's picture

If French doesn't figure out RHBs, than the pen would be a really sweet back-up plan. He does profile pretty well there.
I think hes a better SP prospect than people give him credit for though. It wouldn't shock me at all if French had a better ERA at the end of the season than the hyped Ian Snell.

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