SEATTLE — Jesse Winker interrupted the question before it had been completed, an inquiry on not if Ty France still feels like an under-the-radar hitter in today’s landscape of elite bats, but why.
“I don’t think that’s the case,” Winker said after the Mariners’ comeback win on Saturday, fueled heavily by France’s five hits. “I think Ty France is very well known. I’ve known about Ty France since we were young bucks in high school … I’ve always been a believer in how special the ballplayer Ty France is.”
Winker’s words carried weight, given that he’s only been teammates with France for six weeks and that, largely to those outside the Pacific Northwest, the first baseman isn’t exactly a mainstream star. Maybe it’s because France was a 34th-round Draft pick, or because of his simplistic, California-cool personality or that he doesn’t sell out for power or that his games are played when the East coast is already tucked in.
But France’s production has been a beacon of consistency — he was Seattle’s team MVP last year — and on Saturday, he elevated it to another level.
France’s fifth knock in the Mariners’ dramatic 13-7 victory on Saturday was a punctuating two-run homer in his final at-bat that capped a six-spot in the eighth inning that collectively broke a tie. His 5-for-6 showing raised his season slash line to .356/.441/.610 (1.051 OPS), and he’s reached base 30 times this year, more than any hitter in the American League. His 17 RBIs trail only Cleveland’s José Ramirez for the MLB lead.
Aside from Saturday’s booming home run, France’s hitting approach isn’t exactly flashy. That’s by design.
First base is a premium power position, and last year, France’s 18 homers ranked 19th among his counterparts, and his .445 slugging percentage was 16th. Yet he doesn’t sell out to go deep, which was evident on Saturday, when each of his first four hits were singles — all critical to the game’s outcome.
In the first, he reached and set up a two-run homer for J.P. Crawford. In the sixth, it positioned Eugenio Suárez for an RBI double, and in the seventh, with the bases loaded — making him Seattle’s most ideal hitter when trailing by one — it scored Julio Rodríguez to tie the game.
“I think that’s just kind of the type of hitter I am,” France said. “I’m perfectly fine with taking my singles the other way. The game kind of tells you what you need to do and when to try and ramp up and when to just try and take your single.
“Different pitchers with their stuff, some guys, it’s really tough to do damage off of so you’ve just got to take your knocks. We talk a lot about that in the hitters meetings, stuff like that. But yeah, I definitely pride myself on being able to shoot that hole.”
The advanced stats paint an even more illuminating picture. France has accumulated 1.1 wins above replacement, per FanGraphs, which trails only Nolan Areando and Manny Machado — two preeminent superstars — for the MLB lead. And his 221 wRC+ — a park- and era-adjusted metric accounting for runs created, where league average is 100 — is fourth best.
But, again, France keeps it simple.
“I’m just getting on time,” France said. “When I’m on time, I’m able to react to pitches, lay off bad pitches and put good swings on pitches. So that’s basically what it comes down to for me. When things are going well for me, it just means my timing is right and I’m able to get a good swing off.”