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What happened to Ty France?

The Mariners’ DH hasn’t been the same since one particularly painful pitch

Los Angeles Angels v Seattle Mariners Photo by Steph Chambers/Getty Images

From Opening Day to April 19, the Seattle Mariners were an 11-6 baseball team. They were getting surprise production from several members of their unheralded roster, including the all-bat, no-glove Ty France. Over that gilded stretch, France hit .311 in 73 plate appearances, knocking seven of his 19 hits for extra bases. In the 17 games France has played since April 19, he’s hitting .161 with no homers. What happened on April 19, you may ask?

A swift 98 miles per hour to the forearm is what happened. France understandably exited that game, came off the bench for a pinch hit at-bat the next day, and then was back in the starting lineup on the 22nd. While you have to applaud France’s grit, want-to, and other intangibles, the numbers have been all kinds of brutal since Dustin May plunked him. We certainly don’t want to speculate about possible injuries, but these sorts of sharp declines are quite worrisome.

Ty France since HBP

April 1-April 19 73 .311 .411 .525 .936 19 3 168 0.475
April 20-May 10 70 .161 .257 .242 .499 10 0 52 -0.927
Must credit: Matthew Roberson

Now, slumps happen all the time. It’s certainly possible that France is just in baseball’s notorious stranglehold right now, and soon he’ll free himself and start hitting again. But, like, at the same time, his drop off started pretty immediately after that hit by pitch. If you can, please have the closest person to you pick up a baseball and huck it 98 MPH directly into your inner forearm. I’ll wait.

Baltimore Orioles v Seattle Mariners Photo by Steph Chambers/Getty Images

That probably hurt a lot, right? You’d probably look like a major chump if you had to try to swing a baseball bat right now, and guess what? You’re not even a Major League Baseball player (probably) and you don’t have to face Major League Baseball pitchers (if you do, I would greatly appreciate you sending $2,500 to @Matthew-Roberson on Venmo. For research purposes. I’m sure you could get that money back by doing one or two commercials for a local plumbing company.)

While he did record a hit in each of the team’s games at Fenway Park following the Dodger series, since leaving Boston, France has just one multi-hit game, and only four hits total. This prolonged plunge also included a nasty 0-for-24 stretch that lasted for two entire series against the Angels and Orioles, who aren’t exactly rolling out the ’93 Braves’ rotation.

Luckily, some of the underlying numbers paint a brighter picture for France. His average exit velocity in the games up to and including the HBP was 88.5 miles per hour. His average exit velocity since getting drilled is still 88.1, so it’s not like the juice has been completely squeezed from his bat. Unfortunately, he’s not getting the barrel to the ball nearly as much (15.9 Barrel% vs. 4.1%). Batted ball numbers also indicate that he was getting pretty lucky before Dustin May came to town. France’s BABIP was a pretty unsustainable .390 before catching some cowhide to the ulna. It’s been .204 since, which puts him at .317 for the season, still well above the .285 league average. Basically, regression was coming all along, we maybe just didn’t think it would come like an avalanche on an icy hillside.

I really do want to avoid playing doctor here, but another thing I found interesting was how rarely France has been elevating the ball since he was beaned. Prior to that Dustin May pitch meeting his Southern California flesh, France was hitting groundballs just 27.3% of the time? Since? He’s up to 40.8%. When he does hit the ball in the air, way too many of them are staying close to home. Forget about home runs for a second. France’s shit isn’t leaving the infield on 13.6% of his fly balls following the ball-person meeting that took place on his right arm. Infield pop ups will neutralize even the greatest hitters of all time, as those almost never go for a hit. This has been a troubling trend, especially in RBI situations.

Finally, as one might expect after a mishap on a ball that veered too far inside, France is not pulling the ball with the same regularity he once was. When things were going well, France was going to the pull side on 45.5% of his batted balls. That number is down to 32.7% post-bruise. Additionally, by FanGraphs’ wFB metric, which measures a hitter’s runs above average on fastballs, France has taken a dip. He was at a respectable 0.3 wFB, then a man inflicted violence upon him in the workplace, now he’s been at -5.0 ever since.

Whatever spiritual forces that have kept the Mariners above .500 are surely losing steam, and the team desperately needs some key members of its roster to start playing well again. If Ty France was in fact set back physically by that inside pitch on April 19, you’d have to imagine it’s starting to feel better after nearly a month of healing. Or, the disturbing flip side of that could be that he’s making things worse by playing every day with a bum arm. Again, I don’t know. The only people who do know are France and, hopefully, the training staff. Scott Servais gave France the day off in the Mariners’ most recent game, and with the off day on Monday, he’ll have over 48 hours of rest before facing the same Dodgers that may have caused his season to spiral.

This entire article dealt with very small sample sizes, but that’s all we have in the second week of May. The underlying issue is this: Ty France is one of the best hitters in a lineup that is not very good overall. For them to get anywhere close to being even an average offense, they need Ty France to start murking the ball again. He’s had just eight balls leave the bat at 100 mph or faster in the games after Rob Manfred’s signature was imprinted on his skin. Before that, he had 15.

Whether it’s a physical ailment, a chain reaction of mental things stemming from it, or just a classic run of bad days at the office, Ty France is pretty deep in the pits right now. Seattle needs to see this guy again, or risk falling even farther down the league’s offensive charts.