According to modern thinking about player aging curves, hitters begin to decline as soon as they reach the big leagues. Yet, Todd Frazier, at the age of 29, seems to be beating the odds by posting a career best 143 wRC+ and 1.9 WAR though a quarter of the season. Is Frazier’s new production destined to fall back to his 2014 levels or below, or as Frazier’s New Jersey hero Frank Sinatra might say, is Todd Frazier’s best yet to come? (Mandatory background music for reading this post)

2012-2014: Steady Production

Frazier’s broke into the league with an outstanding .273/.331/.498 slash line in 2012. He experienced a sophomore slump, only batting .234/.314/.407 and his isolated power fell from .225 to .173. In 2014, Frazier bounced back, hitting .273/.336/.459 with an ISO of .186.  Was Frazier’s down year in 2013 a function of bad luck? After all, Frazier’s BABIP was .269 in 2013 compared to .316 in 2012 and .309 in 2014. Frazier’s batted-ball profile, in fact, should have produced a BABIP of .309 in 2013. So his luck on balls hit in play explains almost all of Frazier’s drop in average and on-base percentage. Frazier’s strikeout (K%) and walk rate (BB%) stayed relatively constant from 2012-2014, as did his swinging strike (SwStr%) rate. Broadly speaking, Frazier’s offensive performance from 2012 through 2014 appears largely steady.

2015: Promising Start

Frazier has jumped out to a big start in 2015. He’s hitting .252/.347/.551 and on pace to hit 45 home runs. His isolated power is a career-best .299, third best in the National League. The obvious question arises, has Frazier been lucky or good? Well, the surprising news is that Frazier’s underlying fundamentals are strong, and indicate a possible jump to a higher level of results. He’s swinging at far fewer pitches out the strike zone. His O-Swing% is 30.9, a career low and substantially below his career average of 33.4 percent. His contact rate is a career high and swinging strike rate a career low. This has produced a strikeout rate (16.5 percent) far below his career average and easily his best. Same with Frazier’s walk rate (10.6 percent), a career best and way below his average.

On top of all this, Frazier’s BABIP (.236) is extremely low. Given his batted ball profile (number of line drives, ground balls and fly balls) his BABIP should be .329. In plain speaking, Frazier not only has been hitting the ball out of the park at a personal-best pace, he has been pounding it inside the park as well, with not much to show for it yet. This play from Wednesday night is an apt example:

Frazier’s batting average may be a bit low, but given everything else that we know about his performance at the plate, that’s nothing to worry about.

In terms of home runs, is the power spike believable? The early data supports an affirmative conclusion. Frazier’s average batted ball distance continues to increase.

AvgBBD

As you would expect, Frazier’s hard hit ball numbers fall in line with higher home run numbers.

HHBFrazier is still showing good coverage on the outer part of the plate. This was a crucial development last year that boosted Frazier’s home run number from 19 to 29. He hit more home runs to center and right field.  Here is Frazier’s heat map from this year, showing his isolated power (ISO) hot spots.

trumedia_baseball_heatmap (3)[Credit: ESPN Stats and Information]

But Frazier so far hasn’t flashed as much opposite and centerfield power as he did last year, at least so far. Here’s a comparison of his spray charts, with 2015 on the left.

spraychart

Credit: FanGraphs

However…

Yes, practically every shred of data points in the direction of higher production for Todd Frazier in 2015. But before we start celebrating too much, it’s worth remembering a cautionary tale from 2014. Frazier showed similar gains in O-Swing, swinging strikes, line drive, walks and strikeouts last year. We even published an article like this one just about a year ago, only to see Frazier go through a massive slump in the second half of the year. At the All-Star break, he was hitting .290/.353/.500 with and ISO of .210. For seven weeks after that, Frazier cratered, along with many of his teammates. He averaged one extra-base hit a week during that stretch. He bounced back a bit the final three weeks of the season. At the end of the roller coaster, Frazier’s numbers had settled back into his career norms.

So what does that say about 2015? On the one hand, it confirms that strong early starts, like the one Todd Frazier is enjoying right now, can be undone by late-season slumps. That career arcs are hard to budge. On the other hand, Frazier’s numbers look crazy good right now. If he could find a way to avoid that terrible patch and if Alex Gordon would quit running through fences to catch Frazier’s extra-base hits, SuperTodd could obliterate his career-best numbers, hang a sharp left on his aging curve and put himself at the top tier of NL leader boards.

Going Forward

Todd Frazier will remain under Reds team control through the 2017 season. He’s signed for $7.5 million next year and is eligible for arbitration in 2017. If the Reds do pursue a serious rebuilding effort, will Frazier be a part of it? After trading Cueto, Leake, Chapman and more, the Reds might not be contenders again until 2017 or 2018, with Frazier gone off to free agency. Should the Reds entertain thoughts of trading Frazier at the end of 2015 to get maximum return? With two cost-controlled years remaining before SuperTodd reached free agency, he would bring back a huge windfall of players. On the other hand, he might be exactly the kind of cornerstone veteran the team needs in its next stage of competition.

But the good news is, all signs are pointing to an extremely productive year for Todd Frazier.

11 Responses

  1. gaffer

    I think Frazier may hold this higher level of production for 2 reasons: 1) His prior performance was always there but he wasted 40 AB a season trying to hit balls 4 feet low-away. By saving those ABs his numbers have improved and his numbers are not explained by an unsustainable BABIP.

    2) He came to the bigs older than many top prospects and therefore has less mileage and the league has only had time to learn him a few years (in other words he has not had to reinvent his approach multiple times).

  2. tct

    Yep, Frazier is the man and yet he still doesn’t get the attention he deserves.

    Interesting question: should the Reds shop Frazier around if they fall out of the race?. I believe that Frazier would probably bring the highest return of any Red right now because he has two more years after this one at very reasonable prices. Trading Frazier now may be the best example the Reds could make of “selling high.” If you are committing to a full rebuild, then I think they should try to trade him between now and next year. They probably wouldn’t contend in Frazier’s last two years, and signing him after that would be a big contract for a guy who’s already in his thirties.

    On a personal level, I would hate to see Todd go. I would like to see a measurement of his bat speed. It has to be off the charts because I have never seen a ball jump off of a bat like it does Frazier’s. He doesn’t even have to make great contact to hit it out. We’ve seen several one handed homers, and even a no hands homer vs Jamie Moyer a few years ago. That was ridiculous.

    • CTRedsFan

      I think he doesn’t get the attention because he is a player that is good at everything but not exceptional at anything.

      Never hit .300 but well above average last year in .270’s
      Never had 40 HR, but showed good power with 29 last season
      Never won gold glove, but is good defensively
      Stole 20 bases, impressive but not enough to be considered a base stealer

      Put the whole package together and Todd is an outstanding player, he just doesn’t have that one exceptional trait to garner national attention.

      IMHO, the Reds should hang on to Frazier until FA and then let him walk. He is too old to give a big free agent contract to, yet too valuable to this team right now to let go. Without Todd, I believe, this ship would truly sink.

      • jdx19

        That is a fantastic point, CTREDSFAN. So fantastic that I had to go explore.

        Earlier in my life I read a lot of automotive magazines and fell in love with a ranking system they devised. The basis is you rank each car (player) in any category you want. Assign the winner 100 points, and everyone else points relative to how much below the leader they are. So, say someone had 10 widgets and the next guy had 5 widgets. The first person would get 100 points and the 2nd place guy would get 50 points. After you take all that stuff into account, you sum up all the points from every category and the winner is the winner!

        So, since Todd’s power is likely his defining characteristic, I decided to use the Top 20 HR hitters in MLB last year. This gets you a sample all the way down to guys who hit 26 HRs (think Adam LaRoche).

        So, based on that methodloty, and using HR, R, RBI, SB, BB%, AVG, OBP, SLG, wOBA, wRC+, BsR, and Def as my tests, I applied the above methodoloty to the players.

        So, here are the best “all-around power hitters” in baseball from 2014 in descending order.

        1) Mike Trout (duh!)
        2) Todd Frazier (Hooray!)
        3) Giancarlo Stanton
        4) Adam Jones
        5) Josh Donaldson)
        6) Jose Bautista
        7) Anthony Rizzo
        8) Justin Upton
        9) Jose Abreu
        10) Edwin Encarnacion
        11) Adrian Gonzalez
        12) Lucas Duda
        13) Nelson Cruz
        14) Carlos Santana
        15) Chris Carter
        16) Victor Martinez
        17) Chris Davis
        18) Albert Pujols
        19) David Ortiz
        20) Adam LaRoche

        Caveats: Although any measure of all-around players that is topped with Mike Trout is almost instantly validated, I must admit that this is a pretty poor methodology. It has a lot of overlapping stats (like wRC+ and wOBA) and also incorrectly assumes that something like a SB is as important as a Home Run, or more generally, it assumes all counting stats used are equal.

        Either way, that was fun to do.

        Yes, it’s slow at work today. The day before a 3-day government holiday weekend is preeeetty slow. 😉

      • jdx19

        I typo’d “methodology” to “methodloty.” THAT is impressive.

      • greenmtred

        I assumed it to be a word I didn’t know and was going to ask you what it means.

  3. Eric the Red

    Generally, hitting with RISP is not an actual skill. This season, Frazier’s average with RISP is well below his average overall, and his record on getting runners in from 3rd with less than two outs–even with a sac fly or groundout–is appalling. Bad luck, small sample size, or is he pressing? (For me, the “eyeball test” says it’s not bad luck or small sample size–at least the getting guys in from 3rd part–and I hope he is able to fix this in order to turn a very good performance into an outstanding one.)

    • jdx19

      Small sample size. FIFTEEN. That’s the sample size you are talking about here. That’s appallingly low.

      It’s the same as seeing a guy not hit a HR in the first 4 games of the year and concluding he won’t hit any the rest of the season.

  4. Jeremy Conley

    Todd Frazier is definitely one of the most interesting players in the league, let alone the Reds. He’s also going to be one of the most difficult decisions for Reds coming up.

    I would love for the Reds to be able to make him a Red for the rest of his career, but at a reasonable price. Something like a 5 year extension on top of his current deal for $40Mil? The problem is that he’s going to be able to get more than that from someone else.

    So if they can’t get that done, they could certainly trade Frazier for a nice package. It would be really sad to see him go, but if you’re gonna get great prospects, those are the tough calls you have to make.