How Did Todd Frazier Steal All Those Bases?

I’m gonna go ahead and write about Todd Frazier again.

I wrote about Frazier last week, with a focus on the combination of both power and speed he displayed in 2014. According to a metric devised by legendary historian Bill James in an attempt to quantify one’s combination of power and speed, Frazier’s Power/Speed was third in the major leagues, behind Carlos Gomez and Ian Desmond and ahead of Mike Trout and Andrew McCutchen.

That’s really impressive for a third baseman who we didn’t know had this kind of speed and blah blah blah I’m starting to repeat myself from last week. Point is, Frazier did these two things really well. I focused moreso on the power in last week’s post, but the more surprising part is the steals, so I wanted to investigate that a bit further.

In order to put Frazier’s season on the bases into a bit of historical perspective, let’s whip up a quick leaderboard. Frazier swiped 20 bags last year, and that’s an arbitrary endpoint that people seem to like, so let’s start there. 20-steal seasons, since 1920, because that covers the entire live-ball era. That gives us 1,771 player-seasons. In other words, 1,771 times has a player stolen 20 bases in a season since 1920.

Now, we’ve got a metric here on FanGraphs that you might be familiar with called Spd, also developed by Bill James, which is short for Speed Score. It isn’t a perfect metric, but it passes the eye test and works well for what we’re trying to do here. Frazier’s speed score was 4.6 this year, where league average is 4.4 for all players and 3.7 for third baseman.

So, the question is, out of those 1,771 20-steal seasons, how many players had a lower speed score than Frazier? 23. In other words, 1,747 of the 1,771 players who have stolen at least 20 bases in a season since 1920 have been faster than Todd Frazier, according to speed scores. That puts Frazier in the top (or bottom) 2%.

That’s… remarkable. We knew Frazier’s steal total was a bit surprising, given his speed, but that’s even more extreme than I had expected. Clearly, we need to see what was going on here. No matter how trivial it may be, this is something of historical significance, and it’s the offseason, so what else better do we have to do than analyze all 20 of Todd Frazier’s stolen bases?

Which is exactly what I did. I watched video from all 20 of Frazier’s steals this year and wrote down some important facts about each one, hoping to pick up on some trends. I wrote down the date, innings, outs and count of each steal, as well as the catcher he stole against and how well that catcher controlled the run game. The red bars indicate times Frazier was caught stealing or picked off.

Todd Frazier, stolen base log, 2013-14
Date Inning Outs Count Catcher (rSB)
No. 1 3/31 2nd 1 0-0 Y. Molina (+5)
No. 2 4/18 8th 1 0-0 Pickoff (–)
No. 3 5/1 4th 2 0-0 Lucroy (-1)
No. 4 5/21 2nd 1 2-1 Ramos (+4)
No. 5 6/7 4th 0 0-0 Ruiz (+2)
No. 6 6/10 4th 2 0-1 Butera (+2)
No. 7 6/17 7th 0 0-1 R. Martin (+6)
No. 8 6/23 9th 2 1-1 Castillo (+6)
No. 9 6/25 1st 1 1-2 Jo. Baker (-3)
No. 10 6/26 1st 2 0-0 Posey (-2)
No. 11 6/27 7th 2 1-2 Posey (-2)
No. 12 6/30 3rd 2 3-2 Grandal (-4)
No. 13 7/1 5th 2 0-0 Grandal (-4)
No. 14 7/12 1st 2 0-0 R. Martin (+6)
No. 15 7/19 4th 2 0-0 McCann (+2)
No. 16 7/29 6th 1 0-0 Montero (-4)
No. 17 8/7 6th 2 1-0 Gomes (+2)
No. 18 8/28 2nd 2 0-0 Jo. Baker (-3)
No. 19 8/28 4th 2 0-1 Jo. Baker (-3)
No. 20 9/12 1st 2 0-0 Pickoff (–)

So, we’ve got a couple patterns worth pointing out here. The first is that Frazier really didn’t run all that often over the first couple months of the season. In last week’s post about Frazier, I speculated the shift in steals was simply due to the change the Reds made at manager, going from Dusty Baker to Bryan Price. And this much appears to be true. Frazier got the green light in 2014, but he didn’t get it right away.

Here’s what Frazier told The Cincinatti Enquirer’s C. Trent Rosecrans at the end of July:

“I was really fast when I was younger, and as I got older, I guess, the weights kicked in and a couple of root beers — I don’t know,” Frazier said. “I’ve always thought of myself as a really good baserunner. You have to have confidence in what you do. We get the green light here and I’ve been working on it a lot.”

What we figured is true. Frazier had the green light in 2014, and it looks like he got it in early June — or at least that’s when he started taking advantage of it.

The more important trend to be gleaned from that table, though, are the outs and the count. Of Frazier’s 20 steals, 13 came with two outs and 11 came on the first pitch of the at-bat. These are the times when a pitcher is likely to pay the least attention to a baserunner on first, therefore allowing that runner to take advantage. Speaking of which, let’s get to the juicy part of the post, now 800 words in.

Frazier stole a base in the Reds very first game of the year. Here’s what it looked like:

frazier1

It was game 1/162 and Frazier already had 1/6 of his steals from the season prior. It was the first pitch of the at-bat, Adam Wainwright never even looked over and Frazier took advantage with an insane lead and jump. That’s how a Todd Frazier steals a base on a Yadier Molina. Something is about to become very apparent over these next few GIFs, so I’m just going to present them without comment.

Frazier’s fourth steal:

frazier4

His fifth:

frazier5

So, big deal. Frazier caught a couple pitchers sleeping in the first couple months of the season and racked up a few steals. It’s not like they’ll keep letting it happen all year.

His 13th steal:

frazier13

No. 15:

frazier15

18:

frazier18

That’s what Todd Frazier does with a green light. And there were three more like these six that I didn’t show you because they weren’t quite as obvious. But on half of Frazier’s steals this year, the catcher couldn’t even throw down.

Frazier, to Rosecrans again:

“I have to give credit to Mike Stefanski, he’s done tireless hours in there trying to help me out on what time’s good to go,” Frazier said. “I kind of have a walking lead sometimes and when to time that out, I definitely have to time that out.”

On one hand, you’ve got to hand it to Frazier here. He clearly has a knack for recognizing when a pitcher isn’t paying enough attention to him, and more importantly a knack for timing that pitcher up really well. He was given the green light, and he was never afraid to act on it. But I couldn’t help to think, “what happens when the book gets out on this guy and pitchers simply stop letting this happen?”

Fittingly, here’s Frazier’s 20th and final stolen base of the season. It came with two outs, on the first pitch.

frazier20

Think Kyle Lohse and the Brewers didn’t know what was coming? Look at the first baseman. Lohse never even gave Frazier a glance, knowing full-well what would happen as a result. Frazier got this one, but only by a hair.

And the thing about Frazier’s other 13 steals? Three more were walking-lead jumps like these. Three were essentially catchers indifference. One more was a botched pickoff like the one above. Four included a pitcher spiking a ball in the dirt or the catcher airmailing a throw. Only two of Todd Frazier’s 20 steals were straight-up steals of second base, where he was being held on like a normal runner, got a normal jump and just beat the catcher’s throw.

Take that how you will, with regards to Frazier’s future as a base-stealer. This seems like the kind of thing where, maybe the book on Frazier didn’t get out during the course of a year, but you know damn well pitchers are going to know about it coming into next year. It’s likely that Frazier still catches a couple pitchers napping next year, but it’s probably more likely that it doesn’t happen 10 times again.

Todd Frazier, the base-stealer, had an advantage in 2014 in that pitchers knew he was Todd Frazier. Because pitchers knew he was Todd Frazier, they didn’t pay him much attention at first base. When the time was right, mostly with two outs on the first pitch, Frazier would take advantage of his Todd Frazier-ness and consistently catch pitchers napping with a running head start to second. He did that 10 times, and with the aid of some other good fortunes, he was able to rack up 20 steals. It’s not that Frazier is slow — his speed is league-average and well above league-average for a third baseman — and he clearly has superb base-stealing instincts and a green light to go with them. It’s just that you have to wonder what’s going to happen next year when pitchers know this is coming.

We hoped you liked reading How Did Todd Frazier Steal All Those Bases? by August Fagerstrom!

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August used to cover the Indians for MLB and ohio.com, but now he's here and thinks writing these in the third person is weird. So you can reach me on Twitter @AugustFG_ or e-mail at august.fagerstrom@fangraphs.com.

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Andrew

and this is why I come to fangraphs