Over the past three years, we have seen two very different Todd Fraziers. From April to June, Todd Frazier dons his cape and torments pitchers. Throw a fastball? Watch it become a souvenir. Throw a breaking ball? Todd will see you at second. When Frazier was on pace to hit 55 dingers this year, you almost felt bad for the player standing just over sixty feet away from him. Almost.

But from July through the end of the season, Frazier trades his cape for a pair of nerd glasses and a desk job at the Daily Planet.

Hitters go through ups and downs for many reasons: sometimes they are nursing an injury, perhaps they go through a stretch of tough matchups. Other times it might just be normal variation in the distribution.

What’s so odd about Frazier is that he exhibits the same pattern year-after-year: Crush the ball from April to June then fall back to Earth for the final half of the season. While this does not rule out any of the above explanations (for example, he could be unfortunate enough to experience injuries each of the last three years around the same time), it does raise the question: are there any patterns in his decline? Let’s dig through the data to see why Superman is falling back to Earth.

The Split

In the first three months of 2013, 2014, and 2015, Todd Frazier put up super star numbers, slashing: .271/.344/.510. At nearly 982 at-bats, this is a sufficiently large sample size to draw some conclusions. While there are some signs of concern, such as his 20.5 K% compared to only an 8.6 BB% over this time, his power numbers have allowed him to still create immense value for our Redlegs.

In July, August, and September, these numbers fall to: .240/.295/.404. While Frazier’s K% stays relatively the same (20.4), his BB% declines to 6.3%. His isolated power nearly falls in half and he loses about 20 points in BABIP.

We can look deeper than his aggregate line by examining if there are types of pitches that Frazier is struggling with more than others. For example, we can subdivide pitches into hard pitches (fastball, cut fastball, sinking fastball) and soft pitches (curve, change, slider). From this divide, we get a little better idea of what is going on with Todd:

BA OBP SLG ISO K/BB
Hard pitches, First half 0.294 0.368 0.626 0.332 1.94
Hard, Second Half 0.270 0.324 0.468 0.198 2.65
Soft Pitches, First half 0.275 0.318 0.468 0.193 4.50
Soft, Second Half 0.209 0.247 0.280 0.071 5.44

This table tells us that Todd is having trouble with both hard pitches and soft pitches in the second half. While Todd crushes the hard stuff in the first half, he loses almost half his power in the second half against these pitches. Furthermore, his power disappears against moving pitches in the second half.

So when Todd struggles, he struggles against all types of pitches. But like real estate, pitching is all about location. Using pitch tracking, we can subdivide the strike zone into the top of the strike zone (bottom of the letters to the belt) and bottom half of the zone (belt to bottom of the knees). Here is a table of Todd Frazier’s numbers against hard pitches that are in the bottom of the strike zone for the first half of the season and the second half of the season:

 Hard Pitches BA OBP SLG ISO K/BB
First Half, 2014-2015, bottom half of the zone 0.273 0.340 0.477 0.203 2.08
Second half 2014-2015, bottom of the zone 0.344 0.372 0.550 0.206 2.33

And here are the same numbers against the top half of the strike zone:

 Hard Pitches BA OBP SLG ISO K/BB
First half 2014-2015, Top half of the zone 0.331 0.383 0.793 0.463 4.14
Second half 2014-2014, Top half of the zone 0.192 0.27 0.323 0.131 3.2

We can do the same exercise for soft pitches:

 Soft Pitches BA OBP SLG ISO K/BB
First half 2014-2015, Top half of the zone 0.360 0.429 0.720 0.360 1.5
Second Half 2014-2015 Top half of the zone 0.217 0.269 0.478 0.261 6
First half 2014-2015, bottom half of the zone 0.296 0.325 0.444 0.148 5.4
July/Aug 2014-2014, bottom half of the zone 0.181 0.202 0.193 0.012 9

The upper-zone slow pitches is too small of a sample size to really make any conclusions about (n<50 PA). All others are n>98 PAs. 

What is fascinating is that Frazier is crushing the low hard stuff in the second half of the season. In fact, he hits better against the low hard stuff in the second half than he does in the first half. The big problem for Frazier is in the top of the zone where we see his entire line trend the wrong way in a big way. Frazier is also hemorrhaging power against anything that moves in the second half.

What does it mean?

The story that I see behind these numbers is a slow bat: In the first half, Frazier has the speed and quickness to catch up to fastballs up in the zone. Due to his bat speed he can also afford to stay back against curveballs and drive them. Yet sometime during the season that bat speed starts to slow and Frazier begins his swing just a fraction of a second earlier in order to catch up against the fastball. This has the consequence of causing him to frequently miss (or make weak contact) against breaking balls. Pitches in the lower half of the zone give Frazier more reaction time so he is still able to catch up against them, but against the high heat, he just cant get the bat around fast enough.

There is some research to support that hitters perceive pitches differently based on where the ball is thrown, a concept Perry Husband calls “effective velocity”. The logic is that due to the shorter distance between the plate and a pitcher’s release point for an inside pitch (for a RH hitter-righty or LH-Lefty matchup) and that the hitter must get the bat further out in front of inside pitches in order to extend their lead arm and make solid contact.  Conversely, outside pitches are both further from a pitcher’s release point and the hitter does not need to rotate the bat out in front of the plate in order to fight it off.

Here is a chart (from a right handed batter’s perspective, so the circled value is up and in) from baseball prospectus describing differences in effective velocities. According to this graphic, a ball that is throw up-and-in will appear eight to ten miles per hour faster than the same pitch thrown low and away.

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It’s important to keep in mind that my only qualification as a swing coach involves winning second place in the prestigious 1997 Maffie backyard home run derby contest; offering hitting advice to the slightly more accomplished 2015 MLB Home Run Derby Champion might sound a little odd. Yet there are reasons to believe that Frazier may be suffering from fatigue in the box:

First, Frazier exhibits the same pattern in the same order over the past three years. If Frazier had a hot second half and a slow first half, that would undermine that the “fatigue” theory. Yet since Frazier exhibits the same hot/cold splits for three straight years suggests that the ordering is important.

Second, Frazier swings one of the larger bat pieces of lumber in all of MLB. C Trent Rosecrans described it as a “35-inch, 32-ounce monster”. While many MLB players use 32-ounce bats (Frazier used a 32.5-ounce bat during Home Run Derby), the usual split is 34/32. But it’s not just the bat, it is how Frazier holds it in the box: Frazier holds the bat way down below the handle (a similar tactic to a first serve in tennis) to maximize the power he can get out of his bat.

[OK, this has very little to do with the article but it’s amazing and I want to share it: Babe Ruth used to swing a fifty-four ounce bat. That’s 1.5kg. He lightened it up to only forty-ounces when he cracked 60 home runs in 1927. Rogers Hornsby used a 50-ounce bat. Ted Kluszeski used to hammer nails into his bat to make it heavier. Oh, the things you can when fastball velocity is below 85 mph]

The Reds are not just responsible for developing their players but also putting these players in the best possible position to succeed.  Frazier played 150 games in 2013, 157 games in 2014, and 123 out of 125 games so far in 2015. It could be a psychological blindspot to assume that an “everyday player” is healthy enough to literally play every day. Health, conditioning, and strength training are areas where professional sports teams can derive a competitive advantage (just ask any of the professionals who work on/for the Oregon NCAA football team), or in the case of Frazier, perhaps fall behind.

Or it could just be expected random variation in the data. It could be that, too.

All stats from ESPN TruMedia.

17 Responses

  1. sultanofswaff

    Great read. This confirms my observations about the hard-high, soft-away approach by opposing pitchers. I don’t know if it’s a chicken and egg thing that the struggles create the lack of patience or vice versa, but he has been really overanxious in high leverage situations in the 2nd half. It’s funny, many of the same issues plague Matt Carpenter, another guy who runs really hot and cold.

  2. WVRedlegs

    Excellent article. The data suggests that if the Reds ever decide to trade Frazier, then the best time to maximize his value would be before the July 31 deadline after he has his hot 1st half. Not during the winter after a sub-par 2nd half.
    It also suggests that the Reds should have a quality backup 3B/1B to give their big bats a rest more during the season. Not worried about Votto’s conditioning, just give his knee a rest once in a while. But for Frazier, with this data, sitting him once every 10 games might be in order to preserve his stamina.
    Or, his off-season conditioning program needs to step it up some. Didn’t he get married 3 winters ago then had his first child 2 winters ago. Not much time for conditioning, but he’s going to have to find more time for it.
    He needs to run the steps in the stadium like Cueto did.

  3. Matt WI

    Nice break down. I hope the Reds have people who do this kind of thing too.

  4. SabrChris

    I’d be curious to see how the Reds stack up against other organizations on the percentages of healthy rest days given to the starting eight.

  5. Carl Sayre

    I didn’t have a clue that Frazier only missed 2 games this season. I think the amount of games and travel that all players would be better if given more days off than that. The “we can’t blame Price for everything” crowd should tell me who we should blame here and when Price does give players off it seems like it is when he is already short handed and he will give a couple of guys the day off besides.

    • CP

      Who exactly was supposed to fill in for Frazier? Chris Domingeuz? De Jesus wasn’t called up until June 3rd. Suarez was called up June 11.

      Frazier and Votto were pretty much irreplaceable for this team. From Price’s perspective, you have to give a ton of rope to the two stars when you have such a huge gap between him and the replacement players.

      • Matt WI

        Meanwhile, many fans complain that the manager is “giving away the game” when the starter sits, and muse about how it shouldn’t be hard for a baseball player to play every day.

    • WVRedlegs

      “tell me who we should blame here”
      Walt Jocketty and Bob Castellini.
      Go Big Bob, and take Walt with you.
      Hopefully, the minority ownership meets soon and a mutiny occurs to wrestle control of this franchise away from the Castellinis. The 2012-13 seasons will go down in infamy in Reds franchise history as the biggest wasted opportunities for a World Series.
      People talk about the lost decade before Castellini and Jocketty. Now we can talk about the wasted decade under Jocketty’s and Castellini’s leadership. Castellini gets credit “for bringing winning baseball back to Cincinnati”. He should get equal credit for bringing last place baseball back to Cincinnati.

      • Chuck Schick

        All a team can do is build a team good enough to make the playoffs.

        There was no “wasted opportunity” in 2012-13. In 2012 they lost to a team that was no better, no worse. In 2013, they lost a one game playoff and they weren’t that good.

      • MrRed

        I’m on board with assigning blame for poor management decisions to Castellini. He’s very open and honest about his involvement. And his involvement can reasonably be attributed to the inability to move players at the right time when where passion might dictate one thing but cold-hearted business sense might dictate the opposite. But don’t kid yourself here, you’ll take Castellini as the owner and you’ll like it because there are very few willing and able candidates for ownership of this franchise. He’s a passionate, hometown guy with business acumen whom I believe is willing to change is him mind if something isn’t working.

  6. muttonlettucetomato

    Very well done article. Frazier’s bat sure has looked slow to my eyes over the past several weeks and this sort of confirms it. I just assumed he was running out of gas with nothing to play for these days.

  7. Shchi Cossack

    Mike, thanks for putting some data to a theory regarding Frazier’s 1st half/2nd half splits and his repeated 2nd half struggles. You never fail to produce when breaking down your explanations. I had never seen or considered the effective pitch speed based on the location of the pitch. Good stuff.

    The Reds have multi-million dollar investments in these players and I don’t see them utilizing any proactive or reactive anaylsis to protect those investments. Of course such anaylisis might be there and we just don’t see it, but we also don’t see the positive impact of such analysis. What we see is an organization that leaves the players on their own to identify and correct any issues.

    I just don’t understand how BC is comfortable with the way his professional baseball team and his investment is handled from a baseball operations perspective.

    • lwblogger2

      I’m not even sure how much analysis was needed. It seemed to a lot of folks that he just wasn’t quite catching up to the fastball and he was over-committing on the breaking stuff, especially down. I thought some of it was probably due to him being such a guess hitter and pitchers changing sequencing on him.

      My suggestion were I a hitting coach would have probably been to tell him to try a 34/31 (or even a 34/30 as I don’t believe MLB has a rule in place for minimum bat drop) and see if he could get around a little better. He may lose a little power but he’d make more general, solid contact in general.

  8. Jeremy Conley

    I’m not sure that .271/.344/.510 qualifies as a “superstar” line, but it definitely looks like there’s something going on here. I’ve heard a lot of ex-players say that they would go down an ounce or two in their bats as the season went on, maybe Todd should consider that.

    • lwblogger2

      He’s probably about as light as he can get with a 35″. He’d have to shorten to a 34″. I didn’t see your post before my reply to the Old Cossack above.

  9. Scot Lykins

    He has been pitched with sliders down and out to get him out. If they see him leaning then they bust him in. They just have him confused right now.