Todd Frazier, Hitting The Ball Harder

The most amazing thing about Todd Frazier’s breakout season is how little his basic statistical profile changed. He was still the same old Todd Frazier, but better this time. Good enough to be the second-best third baseman in 5×5 fantasy baseball in 2014.

I mean, check it out. Remove a few key stats, and it really was the same old Todd bod out there:

Todd Frazier 2014 Career
BB% 7.9% 7.9%
K% 21.1% 21.3%
BABIP 0.309 0.294
GB/FB 1.11 1.01
LD% 21.7% 20.7%
O-Swing% 32.5% 33.7%
Z-Swing% 67.0% 67.0%
FB% 55.1% 54.1%
HR/FB 17.0% 14.5%

By strikeouts and walks, he was almost exactly the same as he’s been for his career. He wasn’t especially lucky on batted balls, and though he hit a few more grounders, his overall batted ball mix was about the same as it ever was. He hit an extra line drive every 100 chances, swung at one less pitch outside the zone in every 100 pitches, and saw an extra fastball out of every 100 pitches thrown to him.

You could say the last is the biggest difference. He hit 171 fly balls this year, and with his old home run per fly ball rate (13.3% going into this year), he would have only seen 23 homers this year instead of 29.

I did ask the player about this breakout despite little change in his overall approach. I asked him if he was just hitting the ball harder. “That’s what I try to do every time, hit the ball as hard as I can,” the player responded this July.

This year, Todd Frazier was 39th in baseball with a 293.6 average distance on his homers and flies. Last year, he was 98th with a 286.7 average distance. He did hit the ball further, but the research on batted ball distance from Chad Young and Mike Podhorzer suggests that this sort of change is ultimately unsustainable. Batted ball distance really only goes one way for the population as a whole (down) and you really want your gains to be larger than seven feet to place much emphasis on it. In fact, given his gain seen in the light of similar past gains, he should lose all of the extra distance in 2015.

Maybe Frazier saw a fastball or two hundred more this year, due to Billy Hamilton on base in front of him. And he does like fastballs, as he said in that same interview — “That’s what I hit and that’s what I like to hit.” But if you look through the actual fastballs and what happened on them, it’s not likely that those extra fastballs were a large source of his power breakout. For one, Frazier can’t swing at some of them if Hamilton is in the middle of taking off for second.

Maybe Frazier has reached slightly less, there’s a whiff of that in the numbers. And he did say that thanks to his hitting coaches, he’d found a good routine of preparation and had become “More selective, yeah, that’s something I’ve always had to work on.” The heat maps (’13 on the left, ’14 on the right) show that maybe he laid off some low pitches that he’d swung at before.

Frazier13Frazier14

It’s tempting to award Frazier the sustainability tag for changing his approach slightly, hitting the ball harder, and not experiencing any obvious good luck that should regress aggressively to the mean next year. You’ve got the added selectivity and the batted ball distance to hang your hat on.

But even these heat maps change from year to year — look at Brandon Belt’s swing and pitch charts and how they morph. Perhaps the pitchers throw the ball low in the zone more often and he ends up reverting to old habits. Perhaps a few batted balls don’t go as far and he reverts to his old batted ball distance. Either way, you can rely on the fact that the 28 year old is post power peak and should therefore show less power next year. Give Frazier six hundred plate appearances next year if you think he’ll be healthy again all year, but don’t project him to keep all of his home run gains.

(Or stolen base gains, either, given how that stat ages.)





With a phone full of pictures of pitchers' fingers, strange beers, and his two toddler sons, Eno Sarris can be found at the ballpark or a brewery most days. Read him here, writing about the A's or Giants at The Athletic, or about beer at October. Follow him on Twitter @enosarris if you can handle the sandwiches and inanity.

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tct
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tct

Had Frazier’s breakout came on the back of a huge BABIP or HR/FB increase, it would have been called luck. But his peripherals don’t change that much and you call that luck too? Isn’t it just as likely that he was unlucky last year as he was lucky this year? We have three years of data on Frazier and his wRC+ has went 122, 100, 121. It seems strange to call the 121 year lucky.

Second, it doesn’t make much sense to me to compare his 2014 numbers to his overall career numbers, because he had fewer than 1200 pa coming into this year and got 660 this year. Over a third of his career pa come from 2014. It would have made more sense to compare his 2014 to his 2012 and 2013. When you look at it like that, it seems more like he was a bit unlucky in 2013 rather than lucky this year.

Should Frazier be expected to hit 29 or more homers next year? Probably not, but I don’t see any reason why it should be treated as a fluke and it shouldn’t be surprising to anyone if he does get thirty next year. His power is legit and he plays in a homer friendly ballpark.

Eno Sarris
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Eno Sarris

Should have been more specific: his overall performance isn’t luck, it was right in line with what he’s always done. I did say as much early on.

But his 29 homers? Yeah I’m taking the under on that, and I thought it was obvious I was talking about his power the rest of the way. For the reasons cited. If it was such a homer friendly park, why did he set a baseline at 20 homers when he’s been hitting there for a while. He’s post power peak and the added batted ball distance hasn’t been shown to stand up. It’s not necessarily luck, but more ‘random variance’ and things coming together for his peak year.

Shibboleth
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Shibboleth

I kid, Eno, great read as always. I’m still keeping him!