When it comes to talking about the top dynasty keepers this season, I’ve usually focused on young rookie players. This week I will still be focusing on a rookie. However, I don’t think he can be described as young since he is 28 years old.
J.P. France of the Houston Astros was not a highly sought after baseball prospect coming out of high school, leading him to attend Tulane University in his hometown of New Orleans. He earned a degree there with an emphasis in homeland security, giving him an interesting backup plan in case his baseball career didn’t work out.
After graduating from Tulane, France then transferred to Mississippi as a graduate student and played one season with the Rebels.
Climbing the Ladder
The Astros selected France in the 14th round of the 2018 draft, and after signing with the team, he began his pro career at Low Class A Tri City where he appeared in six games out of the pen before a promotion to Class A Quad Cities. There he finished the season with four appearances in relief.
Overall, France had a successful professional debut season, going 2-0 with a 0.50 ERA and 0.889 WHIP with a 14.0 K/9 rate.
France spent the entire 2019 season at High-A Fayetteville where he was used mostly as a starter, making 20 starts in 25 total appearances. After seeing his 2020 season canceled due to Covid, he pitched in Double-A and Triple-A in 2021 before spending the entire 2022 season at Triple-A Sugar Land.
With the Space Cowboys, he went 3-4 with a 3.90 ERA and 1.255 WHIP in 34 games, 15 of which were starts. He racked up 136 strikeouts and limited opponents to a .233 batting average. However, while he has posted some nice numbers during his minor league career, France is probably more known for his mustache than his pitching ability.
While France toiled away in the minors, he continuously worked on his craft. When the Astros, who entered the season with Lance McCullers already on the injured list, lost Luis Garcia for the season and Jose Urquidy went on the shelf with a shoulder problem, there were suddenly two holes in the team’s rotation. With France pitching well in Sugar Land, the club turned to him to fill one of the vacant spots in the rotation.
Since joining the team, he hasn’t been overwhelmed at all. In his major league debut in Seattle on May 6, France threw five shutout innings, allowing only three hits and one walk while striking out five.
In his next start against the White Sox, he went 6.2 innings and allowed only three hits and one walk with three strikeouts to earn his first win.
2023 Monthly Splits
Overall, France is 10-5 with a 3.49 ERA and 1.293 WHIP this season. Only twice has he allowed more than four earned runs in an outing. That includes a start against Boston on Aug. 24 in which he allowed 10 earned runs in 2.1 innings. If you eliminated that start from France’s season, he would have a 2.45 ERA and a 1/136 WHIP.
And to prove that the outing he had against Boston was more of a fluke than the beginning of the end for France’s season, he faced the Red Sox in Boston only five days later and allowed only two runs on five hits and one walk in 5.2 innings with three strikeouts.
Not Overpowering, But Effective
France doesn’t wow anyone with his “stuff.” His fastball averages only 93.1 mph and generates only a 10.4 Whiff%. But while France may lack a dominant fastball, he does feature two pitches with excellent movement.
According to Statcast, he throws a cutter that averages 6.4 inches of horizontal break and is a major league leading 3.7 more inches of horizontal break compared to similar cutters at his velocity.
Additionally, he throws a curveball that averages 66.1 inches of vertical movement, nine inches more vs. the average (or 16% more drop vs. the average), which ranks third in the majors.
France is posting two interesting statistical changes between his brief MLB career and minor league career.
In the minors, France averaged 4.3 walks per nine innings. But with the Astros, that rate is down to 2.6 per nine innings. While the walks are down, so is his strikeout rate.
He averaged 11.1 K/9 during his time in the system. But that number is only 6.7 K/9 with the Astros. This change can be somewhat explained by the fact that he is not pitching in relief, which he often did in the minors. After averaging 4.9 K/9 in June and 5.7 K/9 in July, that rate jumped to 8.1 in August, nearly equal to his K/9 rate from May.
While France may not rack up huge strikeout numbers, he has shown the ability to get them in bunches.
Despite being solid for the Astros since joining the rotation, France is still largely available on the free agent market. He is owned in 54 percent of Yahoo leagues and in only 25% of ESPN leagues.
I don’t expect France to be an ace next season, I believe he is a very solid No. 3 or No. 4 pitcher to have on your dynasty staff, especially in deep leagues where pitching is a little harder to add. I was able to add France to two of my dynasty teams earlier this season and have been happy ever since.