Adam Frazier Can Really Hit

Adam Frazier was a 6th round pick in the 2013 draft. He was a smooth hitting shortstop who lacked an above average tool. If you read any of his pre-draft scouting reports, you will likely run into descriptions that use words like “underwhelming.” He was unranked by websites such as Baseball America and MLB.com and was projected to go after the 5th round.

When he joined the Pirates organization, there were moderate expectations regarding development. Considering that he was coming out of college, he was not expected to physically develop much more and was looked upon as a future bench player.

It did not take long for him to make an impact in the organization. When he finished his first season in Low-A, his slash line was .321/.399/.362. He struggled defensively, but continued up the Pirates organizational ladder. In High-A Lakeland, he hit .252/.307/.309 which resulted in his lowest batting totals for any level he would eventually go through. After a full season in High-A, he moved to Altoona where he rebounded nicely and slashed .324/.384/.416. This was not a small sample size, he had 423 at-bats during his time in Altoona. He was promoted to Triple-A in 2016 where he had 299 at-bats and slashed .333/.401/.425. At this point in his career, he was viewed as an above average utility man who would end up getting most time in the outfield. Neil Huntington loves versatility and that was exactly the type of player that Frazier was becoming.

Throughout his college career, he never hit a home run, but in the early part of his major league career he hit two. Additionally, as a compliment to this slight power surge, he hit .301/.356/.411. Some people may call that a small sample size, but at some point you have to buy into what the kid has accomplished. Anytime someone has well over 100 plate appearances, it is time to start minimizing the “small sample size” talk. He is silencing the doubters by hitting .361/.446/.515 through the first part of the 2017 season.

I can understand why people always labelled him a bench player throughout his time in the minor leagues. No one is ever quite sure how players will adjust to the big leagues and no prospect is a guaranteed star. Frazier now has 267 MLB plate appearances and has continued to produce in the same ways he did in the minors.

One of the first aspects to look at when evaluating a hitter is to evaluate their walk percentage (BB%) and strikeout percentage (K%). Frazier’s strikeout percentage is under 15% through 272 plate appearances in the major leagues. League average in 2016 was 21.2%, so this speaks to Frazier’s plate discipline. In terms of walk rates, Frazier is slightly above average. League average in 2016 was 8.2% and Frazier is at 9.2% during his time in the majors.

Frazier was drafted as a player who was going to be called upon to get on base at a high rate. So far this season, Frazier is far exceeding those expectations with an on base percentage (OBP) of .446. However, his batting average on balls in play (BABIP) is exceedingly high right now. As we near the end of May, his BABIP is at .395, which means he is due for some regression, but how much is the question. Frazier hits a high amount of line drives (LD% 23.8%), which is encouraging due to the fact that line drives drop in for hits more frequently than ground balls or fly balls. I went no further than to FanGraphs.com in order to find some statistical evidence to support this claim. There’s a great post about batted ball data. With this data, they calculated the batting average for ground balls, fly balls and line drives during that season. Their research concluded that the batting average for fly balls was .207 and the average for ground balls was .239. What really caught my attention was that the batting average for line drives was .685. This speaks to the value of players like Frazier who hit high amounts of line drives and shows why their BABIP is always higher than league average. To compare, his career minor league BABIP was high as well at .337 in more than 1,500 plate appearances.

*It should be noted that this data is not perfect. Sometimes line drives are classified as ground balls when in reality they are line drives. However, FanGraphs is a very credible source and this data still provides a great picture to batted ball types.

Below are spray charts of Frazier’s batted balls during 2016 and 2017. Notice how there is not a specific area where he is hitting the ball. As more teams gain knowledge on certain players batted ball data, shifts are becoming more frequent. Players who can spray the ball in different directions will be more successful than players who have consistent batted balls.

Plate discipline is another area of Frazier’s game where he is successful. In 2017, his percentage of contact (contact%) when swinging at pitches both in and out of the zone is 87.4%. The league average contact% is 77.6%, so Frazier is well above average in this aspect. To dive into this deeper, his contact percentage on pitches out of the zone (O-contact%) is 80.7%. With league average being at 62.9%, it is easy to see how good he is at making contact on pitches both in and out of the zone. These numbers could give more reason to why the Pirates should continue to bat him in the leadoff spot. To provide a visual example of just how good he is at making contact, I have included a heat map representing his contact%.

Notice how his contact percentage for pitches on both the inside and outside of the strike zone are high.

This might make some Pirates fans cringe, but I have included a photo of Andrew McCutchen‘s contact percentages for 2017. Notice the differences on both the outside of the zone and the percentage of contact in the zone.

These are a few reasons why Frazier has been so successful throughout his short career. In summary, he does not strike out very much, makes contact and hits line drives, which is why his BABIP may always be higher than league average if he continues this style of hitting.

He most likely will not hit for power, but he will get on base at an above average rate. Weighted on-base average (wOBA) is arguably the best statistic to evaluate players offensively. To see where Frazier ranked regarding this statistic, I went to the Fangraphs  leaderboard. I had to set the minimum plate appearances to 250 so that Frazier would qualify, but what I found was astonishing. Since 2016, he’s ranked 32nd in all of baseball (at least 260 PAs) with a .367 wOBA. Some of the names he ranked ahead in wOBA—Andrew Benintendi, Carlos Correa, Xander Bogaerts and Francisco Lindor. Frazier has been really good since joining the Pirates last season. If he can keep this up, he most definitely should earn an everyday role and quiet his critics.

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