Atlanta Braves August deals that mattered: Julio Franco
Moneyball was not created in Oakland
Most of us saw the movie and/or read the book putting for the concept that Moneyball somehow sprung from the seed of an empty ledger in Oakland and the chance hiring of a statistical analyst willing to tell a well-respected Major League GM where he was screwing up.
While the Athletics perhaps brought new twists to the idea, teams have always been looking for undervalued, underappreciated players and in 2001 the Braves had no choice. There weren’t any good options on the market and opposing teams were less than thrilled with the idea of helping the Braves continue to beat their brains out.
The Braves signed one-time Gold Glove third baseman and 1996 NL MVP Ken Caminiti after the Rangers released him in July. While Caminiti managed to hit six homers as Braves first sacker, he hit a puny .226/.320/.434/.754 and struck out 32 times in 106 AB.
Caminiti wasn’t the answer and they were running out of ideas when fortune – and staying on top of the business – paid off.
You want to sign who?
As then Atlanta Braves GM John Schuerholz explains it in “Built To Win,” Julio Franco became a member of the Braves because AGM Frank Wren read in Baseball America that Franco led the Mexican league in hitting. I couldn’t find the original article but saying he led the league in hitting actually understated Franco’s performance.
In 2001 Julio Franco seemed to have taken it upon himself to destroy Mexican League pitching – and he succeeded.
On August 30, 2001, Franco had a .417/.497/.678/1.175 line with 18 homers, 34 doubles, five triples and 90 RBI in 469 PA.
In any league those numbers deserve respect. After asking a few “are you sure you want to go there” internal questions, Schuerholz told Wren to get the whole story and as he recounted on pages 40 – 41 of the book, their questions drew enthusiastic responses.
". . .we sought (the opinion) of the opposition managers . . .Eddie Díaz, a friend and contact of Frank’s. When asked how (Franco) did against the top pitchers in that league, Díaz said, ”Julio hits everybody! He can still play. – He’s outstanding around first base and is in phenomenal condition.” The other recommendations were as strong, so we decided to go for it . . .”"
Going for it worked out really well.