So many things have gone wrong for the Pirates this year. It’s been a veritable maelstrom of injuries, mystifying dropoffs in performance, and malcontents that Adam Frazier’s down year has sort of flown under the radar.
Frazier hasn’t been bad, per s , but he also hasn’t been good, either. Frazier built on a promising enough debut in 2016 with a somewhat flat follow-up in 2017, but really consolidated his gains into a solid 2018 campaign. Last year he slashed .277/.342/.456 to produce a 116 wRC+. Coupled with baserunning and defense, Frazier turned in a 1.9 fWAR campaign in just 352 at-bats.
Coming into this year, Frazier was anointed as the full-time starter at 2B in 2019. If he could replicate his batting line and produce at least average defense at the keystone, the Pirates would have been content with that outcome. And while defensive metrics are, in general, unreliable, Defensive Runs Saved is usually one of the best. It has Frazier at +6 runs saved, which caused me to do the Hyun Jin Ryu face in disbelief:
Ryu is very intrigued by Martin’s pitch calling. pic.twitter.com/6mXvveeXCs
' Rob Friedman (@PitchingNinja) August 18, 2019
Regardless of where you stand on his defense, his 2019 triple slash of .264/.324/.389 (86 wRC+) is a far cry from last year’s line. And while it’s great that his strikeout rate has dropped from 15.1% last year to 12.0% this year, the overall production has not been there. The isolated power drop from .179 to .125, after it looked like Frazier unlocked his power after the demotion mid-year to Triple-A, made me decide to delve into this some more.
By utilizing Statcast metrics, the first thing to examine is the drop in Frazier’s exit velocity and hard hit percentage. While he’s never been very good in either of these, in 2018 his exit velocity average was 87.6 and now it is 86.3 in 2019. Likewise for his hard hit percentage, Frazier has dropped from 30.7% to 26.7%, a figure that puts him in the bottom 7% of the league.
Going one level deeper is where you find a possible ‘why’ to explain these numbers. This is the breakdown of Frazier’s batted ball profile this year compared to previous years:
His pop up percentage has jumped from 3.7% to 5.8%, which is not good by itself, but his ground ball percentage has plummeted from 48.7% to 41.8%. This is reflective in his Under% column, as well, where he is sitting at a career-high of 26.5% in getting under balls. And finally, after tapping into his power stroke and pulling the ball (especially in the 2nd half of 2018), Frazier has adopted more of an all-fields hitting approach this year, with his opposite field percentage climbing nearly five percentage points. This may be a case of Rick Eckstein and Jacob Cruz tweaking a player’s approach and not having success with it.
This season has been the equivalent of the Exxon Valdez running aground into the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant. All options need to be on the table for improvement. Adam Frazier is the kind of guy who would be excellent to have on the bench or in a super-sub role, but his place should not be carved in stone as a starter at 2B next year. With the way free agency occurs now, there are plenty of bargains to be had for teams in all price ranges.
There’s also the chance that Adam Frazier put too much pressure on himself heading into this year. Perhaps his swing mechanics were tweaked by Eckstein and Cruz, but he’s stuck inside his own head on how to implement them. Either way, the Pirates need to search for an upgrade over Adam Frazier heading into 2020.