Breakout or Fakeout: the Todd Frazier Files
Frazier somewhat burst onto the scene in 2012, with a very strong 121 wRC+ season that included 19 homers in just 465 plate appearances. He subsequently entered 2013 as a popular “breakout” pick on draft day, and promptly disappointed buyers with an uneven .234/.314/.407 line ranked just 17th among third basemen in standard 5×5 leagues, meaning he was producing backup value in anything short of a deep 18+ league. This season has been a much different story, however: he’s been the best third baseman tear-to-date and the 5th best player overall in the fantasy game over the past month, and his aggregate line of .279/.349/.517 has been good for an outstanding 139 wRC+. So what’s changed from last year to fuel this breakout, and how sustainable are his results to date?
Well, the short answer is not too much, but perhaps just enough. The two main outlying areas of production involve his line drive rate (and its corresponding effect on his BABIP) and his HR/FB rate. Last season Frazier was done in by a .269 BABIP that served to depress his average, and with it his counting stats. His line drive rate played a big role in that fall, as just 18% of his balls in play were on a line. That marked a four percent decrease from his career number to date. Fast forward to this season, and his line drive rate has rebounded back up to the 22% range he’d posted to start his career.
The even more significant jump this year however has been a dramatic spike in his HR/FB rate. Last year’s 11.7% rate has skyrocketed up to 20.8%, and it hasn’t all been a pure function of luck, either. His flyball distance has now gone from 280.0 in 2012, to 286.7 last year, all the way up to 300.3 this season. While the jump is a bit of an outlier, it also follows the general trend line you certainly want to see out of a power hitter as he reaches his physical peak. I wouldn’t expect the HR/FB rate to sustain quite as high as it has, but it shouldn’t be too far off going forward either. Otherwise there are no great flags in his approach; his swinging habits and contact rates remain more or less consistent with past seasons outside of a modest bump in his swing-and-miss. Owners will gladly take that as a consequence of the power output, though, and Frazier’s breakout largely appears to be the real deal.