Also known as THE WILL TO WIN.
The other day, I was watching the visiting announcing crew call a Kansas City Royals game, when Jeff Francoeur came to the plate. Before it even began, I knew what was coming. The announcers started to praise Francoeur. You know, it was all the usual stuff—great leader, plays terrific defense, bat coming around, wonderful guy. And, suddenly, a question came to mind.
What player in baseball do you think has the most ANT—Announcer Nonsense Talk—spoken about them?
By ANT, I’m not just referring to stuff announcers say. I’m referring to a sort of universal praise that does not tie to logic or anything tangible but instead to a sort of whimsical hope and powerful narratives. I remember in a playoff game against the Cleveland Browns, John Elway once dropped back, almost fell down, ran into his own offensive lineman, almost fell down again, flipped a short little pass to Mark Jackson who broke and avoided like 49 tackles on his way to a long and ridiculous touchdown catch. As soon as it ended, the announcer shouted: “John Elway did it again!”
You know ANT when you hear or read it—it is when people start speaking in broad generalities about a player (“This guy just wants it more”) or when they start over-crediting a player for dubious achievements (pitcher wins and RBIs tend to be the sweet nectar of Announcer Nonsense Talk) or when they start to turn sports achievement into life achievement (“That was just a courageous pitch!”). And like I say, it’s not only announcers who do this—far from it. You see it everywhere. I’ve spent plenty of time writing ANT.
Derek Jeter has been the recipient of a lot of ANT through the years—I coined the word Jeterate based entirely on this—but Jeter is a legitimately great player, one of the best shortstops ever, and he is a consummate professional worthy of respect and admiration. So you can understand why people would want to tack on some nonsense talk to make the record even more sterling. For a while, David Eckstein seemed to be the worldwide leader of ANT, but, heck, the guy is 5-foot-6, can’t really run, can barely throw the ball across the infield, and yet he was a shockingly good baseball player for a handful of years. In 2002, he finished 11th in the MVP voting and deserved it, maybe deserved even a little more. So, yeah, you could see why he got so much ANT. When a player defies logic or sparks intense emotion, nonsense talk often seems the only way to capture the awesomeness of it.
Tim Tebow has probably had more ANT spoken about him than anyone, ever.
But back to baseball … and Jeff Francoeur. At this moment, Jeff Francoeur is hitting .209 with five walks and one home run. We are about a quarter of the way through the season, so you can multiply those numbers by four to get a sense of where he would finish the year at this pace. He has an OPS+ of 48. The Pitch FX numbers show he can’t catch up to the fastball, can’t recognize the slider and cannot stay back on the change-up. He’s O-swing percentage—that is, his percentage of pitches he swings at outside the strike zone—is at a staggering 44.6%, a career high in a career of hacking. It is the third-highest percentage in baseball, behind only legendary free swingers Pablo Sandoval and Alfonso Soriano.
Those guys, however, tend to be bad-ball HITTERS. Francoeur, no, not so much on the hitting part.