Todd Frazier’s Power Explosion

Blind comparisons are always fun. They’re fun because we have set notions about who players are, and when we strip away names, similarities that we didn’t think possible come to the surface. With that said, here are two players:

Player A 7.9% 18.2% 22 .345 .289 172 3.8
Player B 7.6% 18.3% 17 .252 .327 154 3.9

Player A, as you might have guessed by the title of the article, is Todd Frazier. Player B — he of the lower ISO and almost exact same strikeout and walk rates — is Josh Donaldson. An oft-used term is “the poor man’s version of so and so,” but currently, Frazier isn’t the poor man’s version of anyone — in fact, he’s been one of the best players in baseball through the first two months of the season. Donaldson is too, and he probably plays a little better defense than Frazier does.

However, the Reds third baseman is up there: he has almost the same WAR (3.8) as Mike Trout (3.9), and his current ISO is third only to Bryce Harper and Giancarlo Stanton’s. That doesn’t mean Frazier will finish this season with the same WAR as Trout, or the same ISO as Harper or Stanton, but it’s interesting and requires our attention.

There should probably be a little caveat here, and it’s that Frazier has hit four home runs in his last two games (he sat on Thursday). His ISO was .31o on Tuesday, but he’s been on a tear since then, culminating in a walk-off grand slam on Wednesday night. It was a good one:

Despite his incredible 22.4% HR/FB rate, which might be ripe for regression, Frazier is displaying a few markers that tell us this incredible power output could have some reality behind it. Let’s start with this chart, of his home-run and fly-ball distance over his career compared to the league average:


Last year was good: top-40-in-the-league good. He was bracketed on either side by Yasiel Puig (38th) and Andrew McCutchen (40th) to give you an idea of the company. This year? He’s just inside the top 20 (20th, to be exact), after tacking on an extra 10 feet of average distance. Fly-ball distance isn’t everything, especially after only two months, but hitting the ball further is always a good thing, and Frazier is hitting a lot of balls very far.

There’s a lot that goes into home runs (not just distance), so let’s look at some other places that might explain Frazier’s power surge, and where he might have improved. First up — spray charts. Where are his home runs and fly balls going this year? From 2012 to this year:


Frazier has always been a guy who had an even distribution of his home runs across fields, with a slight lean toward right field for his fly balls. Not in 2015. We can see his propensity to pull the ball has increased dramatically this season, with all but one of his home runs going to left or center field. We’ve seen the kind of power jumps that players can have when they start pulling their fly balls more; couple that tendency with a major increase in fly-ball distance (into top-20-in-the-majors territory), and you have the makings of a big year.

A point to remember: Eno ran the year-to-year correlation of pull percentage in an article from last year, and found that players have about a 50/50 shot of carrying over the change to the following year. This could be the new Frazier, but it could also just be a great two month stretch in a long career — it’s best to temper our expectations a bit.

With that out of the way, what are the changes he’s shown at the plate that have caused this power surge? Lest you think Frazier is only feasting on inside pitches and pulling them to left field, here’s a map of his home runs to left and center field this year, courtesy of Baseball Savant:


He’s pulling or going to center with power everywhere he’s being pitched — inside, over the plate, outside. Much of the improvement he’s showing this year is simply better contact, as he’s posting career-bests in Z-Contact% and overall Contact%. In that same vein, take a look at his ISO per pitch in different parts of the zone for 2012-2014 vs. 2015:


Besides hitting pitches in almost all parts of the zone for power, it’s the high pitch that he’s punished the most this year. His swing rates also show that he’s swinging at more high pitches over previous years (most likely to try and drive them), so it makes sense that he’s posting the highest fly-ball rate of his career, at 48.5%. His infield-fly-ball rate has also almost doubled over the past two years (to 16.3%), so this seems like a conscious decision to try to get under the ball. How about this — let’s do a quick a quick side-by-side comparison of his swing from last year vs. this year to see if we can notice anything glaringly different:


On the left, we have Frazier from August of 2014, and on the right we have this past Wednesday night. One is a fastball and one is a hanging curve, yes, but from my eyes there really isn’t too much of a difference. Maybe a bit more weightiness to the swing this year, with more body and less arm action, but that could just be my imagination. I’m not a swing mechanics expert, so I’ll leave it to more expert minds than mine to discern the finer details and differences.

Is Frazier going to hit 60 home runs? Probably not. His HR/FB% is almost sure to regress, and pitching adjustments are bound to happen. But hitting 22 home runs by mid-June while posting elite batted-ball distance is the way you have a monster year, and he’s already there. He’s done it by being strong, hitting a ton of fly balls, and pulling the ball more. Whether Frazier continues to find this level of success with that approach is the only question. Is it time to start talking about Frazier as one of the better power hitters in baseball, if not at least one of the most underrated? Given how we talk about the likes of Donaldson and Stanton, yes, it probably is.

Owen Watson writes for FanGraphs and The Hardball Times. Follow him on Twitter @ohwatson.

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8 years ago

The swings are the same. In fact, Frazier’s swing is the same as it was in 2013. The difference has been his change to a longer bat. This can be real beneficial for guy who swings with a front elbow that is almost locked (not much bend as he gets into his swing). It allows him to cover the plate more without making small adjustments with his forearms while ball is in flight. He can still drive pitches away because of the length and his position in the box. And he can still hit balls hard that are going to be inside by hitting them further out in front of the plate.

Its a way of maximizing your power production without having make changes to your swing. Sometimes its a simple as that. Not really all about this metrics crunching. Expect it to continue until he has an upper body injury or right handers decide to throw him cutters that start inside off the plate that move towards the black of the plate (Luckily for Frazier, there isn’t really anybody who does this consistently).

8 years ago
Reply to  Chino_S

Why didn’t he do it sooner?

8 years ago
Reply to  Chino_S

He also added 20 pounds of muscle during this past offseason – which he’s obviously using.

Rick Thurman
8 years ago
Reply to  M W

That’s an enormous exaggeration. Ask any bodybuilder if it’s possible to add 20lbs of muscle without steroids in 6 months. They’d probably say yes only if the lifter was a skinny shrimp who never lifted before. Not the case with Frazier.