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Ben Francisco Has Two Arms and Two Legs

And if he had wheels he'd be a wagon.


When writing about managers, one of the methods Bill James would use to distinguish good managers from bad was to look at the rosters and ask if the players on the bench had a defined role or were they just there because they had two arms and two legs. Ben Francisco has two arms and two legs.

Ask yourself: What is Ben Francisco good at? What role does he serve on a major-league roster? I have an answer, actually. There is a 1936 Clark Gable/Spencer Tracy film called "San Francisco," which would have been a perfectly good story of a Barbary Coast saloon and the 1906 earthquake except that every two minutes the insufferable soprano Jeanette MacDonald bursts into the title song, shattering your serenity and your continence in one trilling blow. Every time Ben Francisco comes to the plate in a game, or makes a play, or is mentioned by anyone, anywhere, I get that song in my head.

Beyond that, though, what image do you have of Ben Francisco as a player? Glove man? No. Speed guy? No. Starter? No, he's not that kind of productive, obviously, or he wouldn't have been (a) traded all over creation last year, and (b) been released by the Indians this spring. Platoon guy? Ah, now we're getting somewhere, although the answer there is hard to figure out.

One point that we've had to revisit quite often since last season, as the Yankees have gone in for guys such as Matt Diaz and Juan Rivera, is the high bar that right-handed platoon guys have to get over. Last year, the average right-handed American Leaguer hit .262/.330/.428 against left-handed pitching. In 2011 it was .268/.338/.429. Francisco is a career .252/.329/.414 hitter against left-handers.

We could dismiss him on that basis, but it wouldn't be quite fair. At times, he's been quite good against lefties, such as in 2010, when he hit .284/.344/.557 against them in 96 plate appearances. At other times, such as last year, when he hit .213/.265/.362 in 102 plate appearances, he's been miserable. In both cases, we have a small sample that can't really be trusted. Given the inherent advantage almost all right-handers have against left-handed pitching, it would probably be safe to infer he hit in some bad luck against lefties last season and will rebound at least to some degree, but that's not the same as saying he would be an asset in a platoon role.

In short, Ben Francisco is an outfielder who plays baseball, but in terms of doing something that a team actually needs, well, he hasn't yet established what that is. Now, I know, I'm overlooking the obvious, which is that the Yankees have reached the point (as I said earlier today) of the general manager crying, "Scott Rolen? Derrek Lee? Chipper Jones? Hal Chase? Hello?" and aren't in a position where they can ask prospective players to have a purpose. They have to be satisfied with healthy, never mind good.

As such, this post really isn't a criticism of Ben Francisco, who can't help being who he is, but of an organization that has given so little thought to youth and depth that a handful of injuries have put them in the position of needing nondescript, colorless players like him.

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