Vive la Ty France

Ty France
Joe Nicholson-USA TODAY Sports

The Mariners were the “luckiest” team in the majors last year. The combination of timely hits in key situations and a great bullpen earned them an incredible 33–19 record in one-run games and 90 wins total, but they couldn’t count on that same blueprint earning them success in 2022. But instead of hoping for clutch hits to squeak out wins, this year’s Mariners have one of the most potent offenses in the majors, leading all of baseball with a 129 wRC+, backed by the best walk rate and fifth-best strikeout rate in the majors. They’ve gotten great contributions from J.P. Crawford, Eugenio Suárez, and Mitch Haniger, but the man leading the charge is Ty France.

During the Mariners’ opening homestand, France collected 18 hits, two doubles, four home runs, and drove in 15 runs. His slash line during those nine games: .474/.524/.842, good for a 309 wRC+ and AL co-Player of the Week honors last week (which he shared with Miguel Cabrera, newest member of the 3,000 hit club). On Saturday against the Royals, France collected five hits, scored three times, drove in five, and blasted a three-run home run in the bottom of the eighth inning to put a dagger in a Kansas City comeback attempt. The next day, he homered in his first at-bat and collected another two hits. It got so bad that the Royals simply intentionally walked him when he came up to bat first in the decisive 12th inning.

Raking isn’t anything new for France. He put up a career .294/.389/.470 slash line (135 wRC+) in the minor leagues coming up through the Padres’ farm system and essentially forced his way onto the major league roster after batting .316/.401/.576 at Triple-A across 2018 and ‘19. But he struggled a bit in his first taste of the majors, slipping to just an 84 wRC+ in 201 plate appearances in ‘19, and was traded to the Mariners in August 2020 in the big Austin Nola deal.

Since then, France has been one of Seattle’s most consistent hitters. Last year, he posted a 129 wRC+ and 3.1 WAR as the Mariners’ everyday first baseman. An early wrist injury hurt his overall numbers a bit; from April 27 through May 13, he collected just three hits in 56 plate appearances. He went on the Injured List a day later and returned after the minimum stay, and from that point on, he’s been phenomenal. Combined with his hot start this year, he’s batted .317/.389/.492 with a 151 wRC+ in 571 plate appearances since May 24; that’s the fifth-best wRC+ among all qualified batters in the majors during that period.

(John Trupin of Lookout Landing wrote a similar profile of France this morning and it’s well worth reading.)

France’s approach isn’t anything complicated. He has fantastic bat-to-ball skills and isn’t afraid to spray the ball around the whole field. He’s aggressive on pitches he can handle and doesn’t swing at too many out of the zone. And when he gets a pitch he likes, he can turn up the power to his pull side. That makes it seem simple, but he’d be the first to say that it’s anything but.

“When you boil down hitting, that’s all you can control … getting in a good position and putting a good swing on the ball. Hitting is very hard. So when you can control the things you can control, it makes it a little bit easier.”

His approach is born from a succinct bit of hitting advice from Tony Gwynn, his college coach at San Deigo State, and it’s stuck with him into the majors: Get in position and take a good swing. During his first two stints in the majors, his strikeout rate shot up to 24.2%, uncharacteristically high for him. He wasn’t chasing pitches out of the zone at an increased rate but instead was struggling to make as much contact on pitches he could handle. Whether it was getting comfortable in the big leagues or finding a way to return to that mantra, he figured everything out last year. His chase rate did jump up a bit, but he also was far more aggressive against pitches in the zone, and his contact rate saw a five-point increase from 2020.

Because France is so aggressive on pitches in the zone, he doesn’t walk all that often, with just a 6.8% walk rate during his big league career. He more than makes up for it with tons of balls in play, though, and by limiting the whiffs; his strikeout rate fell to 16.3% last year and is an even lower 10.8% this season.

For all that contact, France’s batted ball peripherals don’t exactly jump off the page. His hard-hit and barrel rates both sat well below league average last year, and his expected wOBA on contact was just .370, slightly below average. When we look at his hard-hit rate per plate appearance, however, it’s clear that his high contact rate allows him to put more hard-hit balls in play. In 2021, his hard-hit rate per plate appearance was 28.2%, which ranked in the 62nd percentile among all batters with at least 100 batted ball events. This year, that figure is up to 32.4%. On top of that, France’s combination of bat-to-ball skills with decent power is relatively rare in the majors. Among all qualified batters with at least a .150 ISO, only six guys had a higher contact rate than France, and just three of them had a higher zone contact rate. He doesn’t have the light tower power of someone like Nolan Arenado, but their plate discipline profiles are remarkably similar.

France has also found success because he’s happy to take what’s given to him and shoot a pitch the other way. And with a swing geared toward line drives, that helps buoy his batting average on balls in play without getting too pull happy. His sweet spot rate, the rate at which balls leave his bat at the ideal launch angles, is excellent. Last year, it sat in the 72nd percentile at 35.9%; this season, it’s up to 48.2%. Here’s his spray chart from last year with colored hexbins by wOBA:

There’s red all over the field. His batted ball peripherals back that all-fields approach, too:

Ty France, Batted Ball Splits
Direction Hard Hit% Sweet Spot% xwOBAcon
Pull 41.7% 34.2% 0.397
Center 43.0% 37.0% 0.421
Opposite 30.7% 41.4% 0.320
2021 & 2022 combined

No matter where he’s hitting the ball, France is producing positive results on his balls in play.

With five home runs already this year, France is showing off a new level of power that wasn’t present at the major league level previously. And while we’re just a few weeks into the season, his strikeout, walk, barrel, and hard-hit rates are all trending in the right direction, too. We know France knows how to hit; he’s proven it at every stop during his career and has done it without much fanfare — until now, that is.

Jake Mailhot is a contributor to FanGraphs. A long-suffering Mariners fan, he also writes about them for Lookout Landing. Follow him on Twitter @jakemailhot.

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Domingo Ayala
1 year ago

Interestingly, his 2019 scouting report gave him a 50 hit and 60 raw power. Seems like the opposite now.

Last edited 1 year ago by Domingo Ayala
kick me in the GO NATSmember
1 year ago
Reply to  Domingo Ayala

he is on a 51 homer pace so far this season. I would call that at least 60 in game power!