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.