Orioles: Behind Maikel Franco’s Team-Best RBI Total
By Arrick Joel
Offseason addition Maikel Franco has played a pivotal role in the Orioles’ run-scoring ability so far this season due to a few changes in his game
This past offseason, prior to the final few weeks of Spring Training in Sarasota, FL, the Baltimore Orioles and Maikel Franco agreed to a one-year deal to bring the veteran infielder in as the team’s everyday third baseman in 2021. With Franco still left on the free agent market in March when the Orioles signed him and some run-of-the-mill numbers to show on his batting line from previous seasons, the team’s expectation for production from Franco wasn’t very high. However, Franco has been able to exceed expectations through the month of April this season and has provided a jolt to the team’s offensive profile.
Prior to play on Friday, Maikel Franco leads Baltimore in RBIs at 17, tied with first baseman Trey Mancini. The offensive output from Franco has been somewhat of a revelation for the Orioles, with Anthony Santander on the injured list due to an ankle sprain and Ryan Mountcastle off to a very cold start this season, holding the fifth-worst wRC+ of any qualified hitter in Major League Baseball.
A big part of what has made Franco a formidable big leaguer for as long as he has been one has been his ability to hit the ball back into play at torrid velocities. Since 2016, Franco has ranked within the top 10% of hitters in max exit velocity four times, scorching baseballs that fielders often have trouble reacting to. So far this season, Franco’s max exit velocity ranks him within the top 18% of MLB, falling in a tick above heavy hitters such as Paul Goldschmidt and Javier Báez.
An interesting development in Franco’s approach at the plate that is worth noting has been a significant drop in his swing rate. To this point, Franco has seen a career-low 37.6% of his pitches inside the strike zone and has responded by posting a career-high in walk rate. The discipline Franco has shown has allowed him the opportunity to see and capitalize on hittable pitches as often as Ronald Acuña Jr. this season, with both players making contact on 87.2% of pitches in the zone.