2014 Reds

Good news: Todd Frazier

Amidst the slumps, the injuries, the aging curves and the roster black holes, there are plenty of bright spots for the 2014 Cincinnati Reds. One reason for optimism is the hitting progress of Todd Frazier.

Batting stats  Frazier is hitting .265/.346/.479. He leads the club with five home runs and also has three stolen bases. Frazier’s wRC+ is 127 (remember, 100 is average). That puts him behind just the catchers and Joey Votto in that category. (In case you’re wondering, and you should be, his BABIP and HR/FB are right around his career averages, so he isn’t benefitting from luck).

Beyond those bottom line numbers, Frazier has shown notable improvement in several important leading indicators.

Strikeout rate  Frazier’s strikeout rate has fallen the past three seasons (from 22.3% to 20.8% in 2013). But in 2014, it has dropped considerably, down to 17.3%. That puts him well below the league average (19.6%) and is one of the best rates among Reds hitters.

Walk rate  Likewise, Frazier’s walk rate has steadily risen the past three seasons (from 5.8% to 8.3%). Again, his 2014 number (9.0) shows another promising jump. He’s now above league average (8.6%) for walks and falls between the Reds poles of Votto/Bruce (18%) and Cozart/Hamilton (3.5%). And if you think he’s walking more because opponents are pitching around him, you’d be wrong. In fact, he’s seeing a considerably higher number of strikes this year compared to the past.

Line drive rate  Frazier’s line drive rate has increased from 18% (2013) to 22% (2014), which is a huge jump. Better yet, the line drives have come entirely at the expense of ground balls, which have fallen from 42% to 39%. FanGraphs summarizes the benefits of hitting line drives quite concisely: “Line drives are death to pitchers, while ground balls are the best for a pitcher. In numerical terms, line drives produce 1.26 runs/out, fly balls produce 0.13 R/O, and ground balls produce only 0.05 R/O.”

Drilling into the fundamentals of Todd Frazier’s at bats, even more encouraging news awaits.

Plate discipline  Anyone who has watched the Reds third baseman over the years, and seen him flailing at those breaking balls off the plate, knows this has been his Achilles heel. Learning to lay off those pitches is step one for Frazier’s further development.

A central component of plate discipline – only swing at strikes – is measured by the statistic O-Swing% which is simply the percentage of pitches a hitter swings at that are outside of the strike zone. It tells you how many times, out of every 100 balls the batter sees, he’ll swing.

Looky here. Todd Frazier has cut down the number of pitches outside the zone he swings at by more than 10% this year. According to FanGraphs, his O-Swing% has fallen from 34% to 30%. A different data collection system, PitchF/x has those numbers at 35% last year and 31% this year. Either way, it’s a gigantic drop.

To give you context, that number falls between the Reds extremes of Joey Votto (18%) and Brandon Phillips (40%). And it’s just above league average (28.7%). So Frazier still has a ways to go, but that’s a huge improvement in one year if he can sustain it.

Whiffs  Stat services also track the number of pitches where a batter swings and misses. It’s represented in a statistic called SwStr%. Frazier continues to show tremendous progress in SwStr%. Here are the numbers for his first three seasons: 12.6% (2011), 12.3% (2012) and 11.5% (2013). In 2014, Todd Frazier is swinging and missing at only 11.0% of his pitches, another large gain.

So the big kid (and recent father) from New Jersey, who we remember back to his appearance in the Little League World Series, is figuring it out. If he can sustain these trends and respond to the inevitable adjustments opponents will make, Todd Frazier seems poised to shrug off his sophomore slump and become that above-average Major League hitter we were hoping to see. Super.

47 thoughts on “Good news: Todd Frazier

  1. Through the eye-test only, I could tell Frazier had been using some better plate discipline this year. I din’t know it was a stark difference. Thanks for quantifying it with the numbers. It really is impressive. He has made some nice strides so far this year. The Reds really need it badly right now. And you didn’t even mention his one-arm swinging HR’s, which also seem to be on the increase this year. He’s one strong dude. He also has a bit of “clutchiness” about him that I like.

    • I’d avert the eyes on that, too, unless you’re brave. Hint: It’s higher than every other player on the Reds team, including pitchers, except one. He also swings at 45% of the pitches outside of the zone. Great DH, there.

      • I love knocking on Soto as much as the next guy, but it is based on a VERY small sample size in the majors. His AAA hitting numbers are perfectly respectable. Still, he shouldn’t be DHing for a major league club by any means.

  2. Frazier has definitely been one of the bright spots this year and might end up being the savior of this team. He’s proven to me that he belongs starting at 3B for a while. I’m just sad it took him as long as it did to get to this point. But you can’t control that. I also don’t think it can be underestimated how important he is to the team in terms of attitude and enthusiasm. I can’t remember the last guy I saw who enjoyed playing baseball as much as Todd and it’s obviously infectious in the clubhouse. Now that he has a couple years in the show under his belt I think he’s starting to take on more of a leadership role and you can even see guys like Votto loosening up around him. I love that those two have brought back the Bash Brothers forearm bump. His walk off against the Brewers was easily the best moment of this season so far.

  3. Great read Steve. Also wanted to mention that the ToddFather is tied for 5th in the NL in WAR (per espn mlb stats). I was def shocked when I read that. He has indeed taken a step forward in his game and its great to see from a really good person that Todd is as well. Glad he is a Red!

  4. I have a random statistical question: I understand the difference in how OPS+ and wRC+ are calculated, but it seems like for any given player at any given time they’re almost exactly the same. They’re certainly never more than a couple percentage points apart. Assuming wRC+ was developed to be and is used as a better predictor, what does it do so much differently? What kind of hitter would have a drastically different OPS+ and wRC+?

    • Off the top of my head, a guy like Adam Dunn should have skewed numbers. His high OBP (due to walks) and high slugging (due to homers) would likely give him a nice OPS+, where as the lack of singles, doubles, and other aspects of the game would probably make his wRC+ lag behind.

      • Welp, I’m wrong. Heis OPS+ and wRC+ for his career are both 124.

        Hmmm.

        Maybe the opposite? A guy with no power who has a high OBP with lots of singles and walks? Ichiro? I’ll go look…

        • Hm, well, Ichiro’s career OPS+ is 111 and his career wRC+ is 108. Close.

          Oddly enough, both he and Dunn have samples from 2001 to 2014. Interesting random choices!

    • OPS gives equal weight to SLG and OBP, which is biased a bit in favor of the importance of slugging. OPS+ being a derivative of that, would have the same issue. wRC+ starts from the ground up, much like wOBP does, in weighting the actual run impact of each at bat outcome. So hitters who depend more on power for value would have higher OPS+ compared to wRC+ when the two diverge. I haven’t really looked at this that closely, but that’s my guess.

      • Steve is 100% correct. wRC+ used to also analyze baserunning contributions, which differentiated it even further. However, they took out that component in 2012 and created it’s own separate category, wBR/UBR

      • Either that, or Ichiro and Dunn are virtually the same player……I think we’ll go with your thought Steve.

        • I washn’t attempting to explain the difference in how they are calculated. I am fully aware of how both are calculated.

          Just trying to find examples of players where the two numbers tell different stories.

      • That all makes perfect sense, but then how do you explain Adam Dunn having identical career OPS+ and wRC+ numbers?

        • I’m not exactly sure why they are identical, but I just did checks on Cecil Fielder, Barry Bonds, and Pedro Alvarez. All their OPS+ and wRC+ are darn near identical, too.

          I’m attempting to find a guy where one number says he’s above average and the other says he’s below.

          Unforunately, FG doesn’t show OPS+ and BBR doesn’t show wRC+. Thank goodness for dual windows!

        • Ok, so looks like wRC+ is calculated using wOBA (linearly weighted). And wOBA uses walks, singles, doubles, homers to be calculated. The same things that go into OPS (and, thus, OPS+).

          My new guess is that the linear weights introduced in wOBA are meant to track similarly to to the value that OPS puts on each event, just not exactly. For example, two singles is better than a double in wOBA, but identical in SLG (and, thus, 1/2 of OPS).

        • I’d be shocked if you ever found someone with THAT drastic of a swing, unless you’re talking about a guy with an OPS+ of 101 and a wRC+ of 99 or something. Everything about the logic of wRC+ makes sense to me, but I just don’t quite understand the logic of all the additional math if it’s going to yield almost the same number. I mean it’s not like WE have to do the math or anything, I just feel random sometimes when I decide to cite either OPS+ or wRC+. Mostly because BR has OPS+ in their basic hitting stats table and FG has wRC+ so it depends on whichever site I happen to be on.

  5. Great stuff, Steve. I’m a baseball nut and know a lot about the game but you have really helped me increase my knowledge.

    A question.

    Does any one know what the Reds numbers are this year with the bases loaded? Just curious. It seems like they haven’t done much.
    I know Heisey had a grand slam earlier in the year but it seems like they mostly get sac flies and ground outs.

    I wouldn’t even know where to look for that stat.

      • Yeah. That’s a decent example of “observer’s bias.” We tend to remember things more clearly when they don’t play out as we desire. Since we always want our Redlegs to do well with the sacks jacked, we don’t remember when they do well, and we remember when they do poorly.

  6. Excellent post. Todd is my favorite Red, so it brings me great joy to see him progressing at the plate. I still can’t help but think of how things would have been different had he been on the hot corner in game 3 of the LDS against the Giants. Oh well.

    I think one of the things that draws me to Frazier is he really seems to enjoy the game. It is an endearing quality even though it means nothing in terms of performance.

  7. Also: 1. if it was Todd Frazier instead of Billy Hamilton who couldn’t grip the bat with both hands, we probably wouldn’t even notice. 2. Only Todd Frazier could be awarded second base while sitting on the dugout bench. 3. Todd Frazier saves lives. And finally #4: The truly amazing thing about this Todd Frazier list is that 1-3 are all true.

  8. The interesting thing, though, is if he really has a higher line drive rate, shouldn’t we also expect his BABIP to increase somewhat? I thought it was a generally held fact that the greater percentge of linedrives a hitter hits, the higher their BABIP can be expected to be.

    What I’m saying is: If his BABIP is right around his career norms and he’s hitting more linedrives, is this evidence that he has in fact been UNLUCKY to a degree, and we can in fact expect his BA and OBP to rise as the BABIP numbers catch up to his new line drive rates?

    If so, that’s an exciting thought.

    • Well, his BABIP has fluctuated pretty widely every year. Right now it’s at .289 which is up a bit form last year when he finished .269. That seems pretty low, so yeah he was probably a tad unlucky last year. But in 2012 it was .316, which seems like he was pretty lucky and was good for a .276 BA. Interestingly that year was also his lowest LD% year, almost 10 points lower than he’s at right now. SO what can we learn from all of this? I have absolutely no idea.

  9. Good post, Steve. Frazier has been important this year and looks like he’s showing real improvement. The only caveat I’d put in is that his LD% doesn’t mean anything yet. It takes much, much longer for batted ball rates to stabilize. We can, however, reasonably expect an improved LD rate if his plate discipline continues to be improved.

    • The research on when LD% stabilizes is mixed. Some shows it stabilizes as early as 150 AB (TF has 133 right now, so getting close). And ground ball rates stabilize earlier than that. Like I said in the post, the key will be whether Frazier can sustain his early numbers.

  10. Frazier watched Major League again this winter. He got some “hats for his bats.” Bats are no longer afraid of curveballs. If Frazier goes into a slump we’ll have to get him a bottle of Rum and a smoke for Jabu. It is bad to drink Jabu’s rum, it is very bad. If that doesn’t work, we’ll have to get someone to put a snake in his locker. And if it gets bad enough that Frazier wants to sacrifice a chicken, they’ll send Barnhart down to the KFC.
    (Off-day rambling.)

  11. Looks like Walt Jocketty did some bargain basement shopping today at the MLB scrap heap. When will he actually do something to improve the offense and shore up some mighty big weaknesses??

  12. So Frazier looks like a pretty good risk for an average to above average bat at 3B and very good defense at 3B. He’s a great personality and clubhouse presence. Next season he is arbitration eligible and become a FA in 2019, his age 32 season. The Reds have some possible 3B prospects in the minor league system, but no high-profile, superior 3B prospects. Should the Reds consider extending Frazier to buyout his 3 arbitration seasons along with maybe 2 FA seasons with an additional club option for a 3rd season? That would take Frazier through his age 34 season. The alternative, as opposed to just waiting and then having to overpay for any FA seasons, is taking the next 3 years of arbitration, through Frazier’s age 31 season, and hoping a 3B prospect is ready to take over by 2019.

    • I think people could debate the overall length – I’d probably prefer to not be on the hook past his age 32 season so if those could be option years – but overall I don’t see why they wouldn’t want to lock him up for his prime. And I’d do it soon. He could easily put up a career year and drive his price up.

    • With the Reds #19 pick in the MLB draft, they are in the neighborhood selection-wise to be in the running for a high school SS that is 6’5″. This SS also projects as a 3B. This guy has an A-Rod type of body (without the baggeage and steroids). If the Reds are able to draft this guy, it changes the future outlook on the left side of the infield for the Reds. Stay tuned, the draft is just one month away.

    • The Reds should just do nothing and enjoy the roster flexibility. I like Todd, but the Reds cannot afford to keep locking up non-elite players with these guaranteed contracts. There is a ton of time in between now and the year Todd becomes a FA, and a lot can change. Gotta think if the Reds collapse this year or next year, at least one of their starting pitchers could be traded, bringing back propsects in return. The Reds have long term commitments in their starting 1B, 2B, RF, and two cheap long term options in C and I guess CF (ugh). I like Frazier, but to me, it doesn’t make sense locking him up long term. The Reds need to leave themselves some outs in case a trade opens up.

  13. If anyone is looking for a father’s day gift, graduation gift, or for a B-day, may I suggest the new Baseball Hall of Fame coins available at the US Mint. They are a curved coin. Very unique. The silver dollar may be sold out, but they still have the half dollar available. They are of a very limited edition. I bought a few of the silver dollars last month. They are pretty awesome. Can’t wait for them to arrive. For that hard to buy for dad that is a baseball fan who has most everything, probably doesn’t have this.
    Check them out at the US Mint’s web site.

    http://catalog.usmint.gov/webapp/wcs/stores/servlet/CategoryDisplay?langId=-1&storeId=10001&catalogId=10001&identifier=4000

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