SHANNON DRAYER

Drayer: Good Ty France is hitter Mariners need, and he’s trying something new

Dec 2, 2023, 11:22 AM

Seattle Mariners Ty France...

Mariners first baseman Ty France reacts after striking out against the Yankees on May 31. (Photo by Steph Chambers/Getty Images)

(Photo by Steph Chambers/Getty Images)

If the Seattle Mariners are to bounce back from a disappointing 2022 season, offense by trade or signing must be added.

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Multiple pieces are needed and the picture of what Jerry Dipoto and Justin Hollander will be able to do to improve the club this winter at this point remains murky.

There could be good news coming out of the Winter Meetings in Nashville. There could also be no news.

But this week back at home a glimmer of encouraging news regarding potential improvement from within was delivered via social media.

No, it wasn’t a signing, but perhaps a promising sign as Ty France, good Ty France, is exactly the player the Mariners need right now.

Looking for a right-handed hitter? Check. Looking for a hitter who can hit at T-Mobile Park? Check. What would you offer in trade for a hitter who in a recent year was top-10 in baseball in fWAR and wRC+ and 20th in strikeout percentage?

The Mariners can save those players for another trade. The above is Ty France. Good Ty France. The guy who had the best wRC+ on the team at T-Mobile the past three years from a player not named Julio. The best K percentage. Top-10 in baseball in fWAR and wRC+, 20th in K percentage from June 2021 to June 2022.

France since June 2022 has been a different story.

In that time, he posted a line of .244/.320/.374 with a 100 wRC+. It is worth noting the decline follows the collision with Sheldon Neuse in Oakland that landed him on the 10-day IL with an elbow strain. Although France has admittied he hasn’t felt good at the plate since, he’s hesitant to blame that injury for the drop in production and concerning loss of power.

“That hindered me for a month or so,” he said late last September. “I don’t want to say it ruined the whole year because it got to a point where I was able to play on it. I can’t make excuses, I just need to go out and perform. I could blame that, I could blame the hit by pitches, the list goes on. But at the end of the day, I just need to get the job done.”

This week, we saw France get back to work. Different work, and that could be the key.

France has always put in the work, but he is self-admittedly old school. Largely believing a hitter can be his own best coach, France hasn’t worked with outside hitting coaches. He believed in the swing that a coordinator early on in his pro career told him to stick with because it worked and stuck with it. Recently, he acknowledged, however, that this year it took far too long to fix problems when things didn’t feel right at the plate.

Enter Driveline.

The video posted showed snippets of the Driveline assessment that will break down aspects of France’s swing that even he doesn’t know about.

His biomechanics will be broken down with strength, flexibility and agility determined. Bat speed, bat path, exit velocity, launch angle, rotation, drive, pathways from his toes to his fingertips and where they perhaps break down, all of this mapped and measured. Information that should lead to answers to why he saw his slugging percentage drop from .435 in 2021 to .366 in 2023 and why his home run to fly ball rate was cut almost in half. Why he struggles to get to the inside fastball and if perhaps he can generate more bat speed.

Most importantly, the data should be able to answer questions for France himself. Were his struggles related to mechanics? Were they physical? Could he not get to hitting positions that would allow him to get his best swing off?

France is a player who has never wanted too much information and for a good part of his pro career, he probably hasn’t needed it. At least some of that information could now benefit him.

Driveline has many tools in their toolkit to improve players, but a magic wand is not one of them.

In France, I suspect they will have a lot to work with and despite the dogged old school-ness, an eager and willing subject. France, after all, is a hitter first and foremost. The work at first base, particularly in 2022, was a nice surprise, but let’s not forget, this is the guy who played for Tony Gwynn in college and when he arrived in Seattle to a Mariners team that highly valued defense, unapologetically and repeatedly declared he did not care where he played in the field, “I just want to hit.”

Hit he did. Armed with new information and different work, perhaps hit he will again.

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Drayer: Good Ty France is hitter Mariners need, and he’s trying something new