Heading into 2016, not many people knew who Adam Frazier was. By most evaluation sites, he was a prospect ranked outside of the top 20 within the organization. However, he proved himself at every level that he could hit and play with passable defense.
Now, in 2017, there aren’t many people who don’t know who Adam Frazier is. At the time of this article Frazier owns a career .289/.352/.400 slash with a 102 wRC+. This year specifically we have seen him as an elite hitter to start the season, to then fall as a miserable hitter in the early summer, and finally back as an elite hitter again. Since the All Star break, Frazier owns a .354/.390/.500 slash along with a 132 wRC+. With the understanding that Frazier brings a solid top of the order bat, what exactly is his role on this team?
The knock on Frazier has been his defense. Before the season we stated we would like to see him play a full time role at second base opposed to being the true utility guy. The thought process to this was to get him to focus on one position rather than spread himself thin at learning multiple. Well, that did not happen and that may have actually been a blessing in disguise. Everyone has witnessed the blunders Frazier has performed at second base this year. His defense has not been Daniel Murphy bad, but you can see it is not the ideal spot to play him. He currently owns a -1 DRS this year and overall at the position. Also, his UZR for his career is a -3.5.
This is where you have to look at his outfield numbers and metrics. In 2017, Frazier has logged 483.1 innings in the outfield opposed to the 184.2 at second. This provides us enough innings to give solid data on how well of an outfielder Adam is. By metric of Defensive Runs Saved, Frazier has a total of 6 DRS is left, 1 DRS in center, and -1 DRS in right field. This equates to an overall 6 DRS in the outfield this year. Yes, as you probably thought in your head immediately that this leads the team among their outfielders. Here is surprising fact – it also leads the team of any player for any position. Yes – Adam Frazier has been our best defender in 2017.
Okay, well you can argue about the defensive runs metric and I can understand. Measuring defense and quantifying it is rather difficult. Statcast has been trying to get better at measuring it and before this season they introduced catch probability. Again, this is not the end all be all but when you use this data to to compare to the DRS data it can provide a clearer picture. Below is a chart courtesy of Statcast to show how well they measured Frazier in the outfield.
As you can see here Frazier seems to be holding his own in the outfield. He is 10/10 in the catches he should make, but what stands out is the range he is showing for the more difficult catches. A four star catch is defined as one that is made 26-50% of the time. This year he has made those outs 71.4% of the time. With the data that Fangraphs provides about defensive runs saved compared to Statcast date here, it paints a positive picture for us to see that maybe Adam Frazier has found a clearer role for this club. In comparison, here is a table showing how fellow Pirates killer Billy Hamilton has played this year with his 9 DRS this year.
Yes, Hamilton has plenty more catches and a larger sample size, but when you look at percentages it lets you know just how valuable Frazier is. He seriously is holding his weight among one of the league leaders in outfield defense.
I believe with this info and just enough sample size it informs us that Adam Frazier is a competent defender in the grass and certainly is a wonderful fourth outfielder to carry on any MLB team. With all the scrutiny the Pirates have been given by fans for not going out and getting a fourth outfielder, it is now proven that they have had an excellent one this entire time. Among players with at least 200 innings played, Frazier ranks within the top 30 outfielders defensively in all of MLB.
With the emergence of Frazier’s glove in the outfield and the addition of Sean Rodriguez, it gives the Pirates some flexibility heading into 2018 among decision making. Whether Cutch stays or gets traded and Meadows makes his way to PNC, Frazier should provide a solid security blanket as an outfielder, bench bat, and an occasional infielder. It is these things in order that tell us exactly what Adam Frazier is.