Three different players wore No. 29 for the Oakland Athletics this year. The first was Sam Fuld before he went to the Twins, but he switched to No. 23 when he came back so we already covered him. The next was Jeff Francis, who joined the team for a couple of months early in the summer. After Francis was shipped out in mid-July, Jeff Samardzija finished out the season with the number. Let's go in chronological order and look at Francis first. Also, it just happens to be Francis' birthday today (for like two more hours, at least), so happy birthday Jeff!
Name: Jeff Francis, aka ... The Canadian Cannon? (nope)
Position: LHP, relief
Stats: 9 games, 6.08 ERA, 13⅓ innings, 10 Ks, 3 BB, 1 save (!), 3.51 FIP
WAR: negative-0.4 bWAR, 0.0 fWAR
How he got here: Selected off waivers from Cincinnati Reds on May 18*
2014 Salary: Minor league contract (salary not readily available)
2015 Status: Signed by Toronto Blue Jays on Oct. 31
2015 Salary: Minor league contract (salary not readily available)
* later traded to New York Yankees for a PTBNL on July 11
Entering the season, Jeff Francis had appeared in 228 games in the Majors and 216 of them were starts. He even received Cy Young votes in 2007 with the Colorado Rockies. Injuries derailed his career by the time he reached his late-20s, but he's still hanging out and pitching in whatever roles teams will pay him to fill.
After making one start for the Reds in 2014, the 33-year-old Francis wound up in Oakland as a long reliever and mop-up man who could serve as a spot starter if needed. He found himself in an entirely different role on June 28, though, when the A's took a 7-6 lead in the top of the 14th against the Marlins. Sonny had gone only five innings, and by the end of the 11th Bob Melvin had used everybody except Jim Johnson and Francis. Johnson got through two scoreless innings, but after Oakland took its 14th-inning lead Miami loaded the bases against him with one out. It was time to make a change, and that meant that for the first time in Francis' 10-year career he was coming in to pitch in a save situation.
With the tying and winning runs in scoring position, he had no margin for error. He struck out Jarrod Saltalamacchia for the second out of the inning, and then he got Donovan Solano hit the lazy fly that could have tied the game if it had been hit with fewer than two outs. Fortunately for Oakland, that flyout ended the game, and Francis had his first career save. His 100 percent career conversion rate (1-for-1) ties him for first in all of MLB history, ahead of Mariano Rivera and Trevor Hoffman and Dennis Eckersley. And even more impressively, his outing earned the highest WPA (Win Probability Added) of any Oakland relief appearance in 2014 -- by one measure, it was Francis, and not Doolittle or Otero or Abad, who had the single best, clutchest relief effort of the year.
Of course, that game was by far the high point of an otherwise forgettable stint in Oakland. Francis replaced Joe Savery upon his arrival, and in his third game he found himself in a similar situation as the aforementioned Marlins contest -- a tie game in the 13th against the Angels. Francis did his job in the top of the 13th, but the A's went down 1-2-3 to start the 14th. Francis came back out and got two outs before serving up the game-winning homer to ... Collin Cowgill? No, that can't be right. Yeah? Oh man, even Cowgill hit a walk-off against us last year. Curse of the Former A's, man.
Although that game didn't go well for Francis, he did give the team one more shot at the Angels' bullpen and he can't be faulted for failing to shut down that powerful lineup for multiple innings at a time. Francis followed up that loss by allowing multiple runs in each of his next three games, but they were each blowouts so it didn't much matter. After that, he earned his save against the Marlins, pitched a couple more scoreless frames, and then he was sent to the Yankees for a player to be named later. I don't know who that player was, and if it's been announced already then no one has told Baseball-Reference yet, but it may as well be you or I because it's unlikely that Billy Beane got anything significant in return for a replacement-level mop-up man.
And that was Francis' chapter in Oakland A's lore. He only pitched nine games, but one of them may have been the clutchest relief outing of the entire season in a year in which the team went to the playoffs. For a journeyman trying to build a second career as a reliever, that's not such a bad accomplishment to hang your hat on. His first career save was a good one.
2014 season grade, relative to expectations: B ... Bear with me here. He was just supposed to be a mop-up man, eating innings in games that had already been decided. His ERA is really irrelevant, because none of his runs were supposed to matter. However, he got the chance to pitch in a couple meaningful situations, and in one of them he converted the save in a tough spot. Considering the A's won the second wild card by one game, every win counted. Without Francis' save, Oakland may have missed the playoffs entirely. Then the Mariners would have been in the postseason, and seriously, nobody wants to see that. Without that save, he'd probably have a C-, and if he'd somehow won that game against the Angels he'd have gotten an A.
2014 season grade, overall: D+ ... In the bigger picture, he was a back-end reliever with a bad ERA. Not much to see here.
Here it is, the final out of Francis' first career save.
And that is how you write 1,000 words about Jeff Francis pitching nine mostly meaningless games for the 2014 A's. I leave you with a picture of Francis' incredible "pitcher derp-face," which easily ranks an 80 on the 20-to-80 scouting scale.
Photo credit: Kelley L Cox-USA TODAY Sports
Oh man, let's go in for a close-up.
Photo credit: Adam Hunger-USA TODAY Sports
Part of the Season Review section was borrowed from my previous write-up of Francis in the SB Nation Awards in November.