Sometimes, you read something or find a stat that changes your perception of a player. It probably shouldn’t be just one stat that changes your entire perception, but seeing that one stat may cause you to dig a little deeper into who that player is and what they’ve been doing, and your collective research could lead to a shift in perception.
Hey, Todd Frazier.
I spend enough time on FanGraphs that sometimes I forget about the little, exclusive stats offered by other websites. It’s fun to go dig around in the lesser-known parts of a site like BaseballReference, because it can make you think about things you might not have thought about while digging around on FanGraphs. Some deep BR digging led to a post I wrote a couple months back about David Price and the art of the three-pitch strikeout, and now it’s going to lead to a post about Todd Frazier.
The metric that caught my eye is called PwrSpd. It was developed by Bill James, and it’s a very basic metric. The leaderboard that caught my eye was topped by Carlos Gomez in 2014, who’s probably one of the first few people to come to mind when you think of elite combinations of power and speed. Ian Desmond was second and Jacoby Ellsbury was fourth. Mike Trout is in the top 10, and so is Andrew McCutchen. These names all make sense.
But sitting up there at No. 3, right above Ellsbury, is Todd Frazier. It sticks out like a sore thumb when you look at it. Really, it’s just a fancy way of saying Frazier was one five players who had 20+ homers and 20+ steals last year, alongside Gomez, Desmond, Michael Brantley and Brian Dozier. But either way you put it, that’s surprising. In the top 10, you’ve got five center fielders, two shortstops, a second basemen, a left fielder, and Todd Frazier. It’s not a top 10 meant to be inhabited by third baseman, yet there he is.
That Frazier has power isn’t a revelation. We knew that as soon as he came up, and if there was anything we expected him to excel at, it was probably hitting for power. That he hit as many homers as he did (29) came as perhaps a bit of a surprise — especially a year after he hit just 19 in his first full season — and that he added 20 steals to go with those 29 homers made the nature of Frazier’s breakout one that very few people could have seen coming.
The steals are the most unusual part about it, but if you look at his minor league numbers, it’s not as bizarre as it seems on the surface. He stole 17 bases in just 90 games at Triple-A in 2011. He stole 14 bases in 130 games the year prior at Double-A. His career speed score is 4.6, which was the same score Elvis Andrus had this year. It’s not that Frazier is slow — he’s athletic and has always displayed good range at third base. It’s that he was never given the opportunity to run. Dusty Baker was Frazier’s manager to begin his career, during which time Frazier attempted just 17 combined steals from 2011-13. In new manager Bryan Price’s first season, Frazier attempted 28. Frazier has the ability to swipe bags, and it seems his new manager will let him run, so the steals could keep coming for Frazier as long as Price’s philosophy doesn’t change.
As for the power, there’s some noticeable shifts in Frazier’s approach that bode well for the future.
When Frazier first came up, he was a dead pull hitter, like a lot of power guys. Over his first full season’s worth of plate appearances, he ran a wRC+ well above 200 to the pull side and well below 100 to the opposite field. In 2013, he improved to league-average going the opposite way. Last year, he became well above-league average.
And really, it just speaks to Frazier becoming a more complete hitter:
|Todd Frazier wRC+, by location|
For the first time in Frazier’s career, he drove the ball with authority to all fields, something you can also see in his spray charts:
You see his home runs shifting more towards center field, which is very encouraging in terms of future power production. If a guy can consistently hit it out to center, he can consistently hit it out anywhere. You see the line drives, rather than being clustered down the left field line, sprayed evenly across the whole field, which is encouraging in terms of future batting average production. Frazier has twice finished seasons with a .273 average and twice finished seasons under .235. Seeing his line drives sprayed to all fields bodes well for his future averages being closer to .273 than .235.
Let’s peel the onion back one more layer and dive into the plate discipline. Before, Frazier was pretty much a fastball-only guy, which, again, is a trait common among many young power hitters. Up until last year, Frazier hit just .211 with a .361 slugging percentage against breaking and offspeed pitches. In 2014, that came up to .264 with a .434 slugging percentage.
And, though it might be obvious considering his shift from a pull hitter to an all-fields hitter, Frazier finally conquered another weakness he once had. Intuitively, you might already know where this weakness was. Either way, here’s a visual guide:
Early in his career, Frazier feasted on the inside pitch, as is often the case with a pull hitter. And then everyone feasts on pitches over the middle. But in those first two seasons, you see a sharp line that divides the outer-third of the plate, showing that he was susceptible to pitches on the outside corner. This year, that outer-third filled up with red. The raw numbers:
Slugging percentage, outer-third
- 2012: .437
- 2013: .457
- 2014: .645
In more ways than one, Todd Frazier became complete in 2014. He became more complete as a hitter, by shoring up his two big weaknesses. He started hitting the breaking and offspeed pitches he couldn’t hit in the past, and he began covering the entire plate with his swing. Shoring up these holes allowed him to use the entire field with his line drives, and his power shifted from the pull side to the center and opposite fields.
And it’s not just with the bat where Frazier became more complete, as he became a threat on the bases, too. He’s always had the athleticism and speed, he just wasn’t able to use it in the past. Under new management in Bryan Price, Frazier’s legs have become an asset, and with an already slick glove, there’s really nothing Frazier can’t do well. Your perennial 20-20 contenders each year include the usual suspects in Mike Trout, Andrew McCutchen and Carlos Gomez, but as surprising as it may sound, you may be able to add Todd Frazier to that list.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org.