Since joining the Pirates organization in 2013, Adam Frazier has been lauded for his superior bat-to-ball skills. Frazier has career strikeout rates of 10.9% (MiLB) and 14.1% (MLB), while also displaying above average pitch recognition (28.2% career MLB O-Swing rate). During the same time, Frazier has also displayed a serious lack of pop. Before the 2018 season the best isolated power (ISO) mark Frazier had posted at any level was a 0.123 during the 2017 MLB season; the league average ISO in 2017 was 0.171.
Precedent for Change
In the past few years, a number of previously contact-oriented hitters have successfully changed their swings to hit for more power; Justin Turner and Matt Carpenter are some of the more obvious examples of this. There are reasons to think Frazier can hit for more power too, as well as evidence that he’s already made some of the necessary changes to do so. A Turner or Carpenter power increase is unlikely, but even a moderate power increase would add a ton of value to his bat.
As mentioned above, Frazier already has the ability to make consistent solid contact (88mph average exit velocity vs league average 88.4mph), and recognize hittable pitches. All that’s left for him to do is to start lifting the ball, something he may have already starting doing during the 2018 season.
Pathway to Change
Frazier finished the 2018 season with a 0.179 ISO, easily his career best at any professional level and also comfortably above the 2018 league average of 0.161. The season didn’t start out all that well for him though, and in early-June he was optioned to AAA after posting an 87 wRC+ (with a 0.119 ISO) to that point in the season. Frazier, disappointed in his current predicament, decided to make a change. He lowered his hands:
“I was like, ‘Wait a minute. There’s a big difference there, so the past three or four days, it kind of clicked, and the swing feels easier and the bat path feels a lot freer.”
From his return to MLB action on June 21st through the end of the season Frazier posted a 138 wRC+ (with a 0.224 ISO), and was effectively a completely different hitter.
Admittedly, we’re working with small samples, but given the evidence of a material change I think these are worth looking at.
Judging from Frazier’s GB/FB ratio and pull rate above, it looks as though he came back from AAA having made the conscious decision to pull the ball in the air. In this excellent article, Max Weinstein notes that pulled fly balls and pulled line drives have the highest expected run value of all batted ball types. And since Frazier has demonstrated approximately average exit velocities, his lack of power to this point has been more a function of his batted ball profile than anything else. If Frazier is going to keep hitting more pull flies and liners, it’s probably going to mean good things for his overall line.
Expectations Moving Forward
Is Frazier going to maintain the changes he made in the second half of 2018 and keep hitting like an all-star? Maybe. Maybe not. However, given the changes to his statistical profile and the evidence of a real change to his swing, I’m optimistic. In December Pirates GM Neal Huntington suggested Frazier would likely be their regular second basemen in 2019, so it looks like we’ll get a real chance to see if the new Frazier is here to stay.
Stats courtesy of Fangraphs.com, Baseball Reference.com, and MLB.com.