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Know Your Orioles 40-man: Adam Frazier

The veteran second baseman seems like an odd roster fit on the surface, but there may be a method to the Orioles’ madness.

Division Series - Houston Astros v Seattle Mariners - Game Three Photo by Rob Carr/Getty Images

How he arrived: Signed a one-year, $8 million contract 12/15/22

Of all the roster holes facing the Orioles this offseason — the starting rotation, backup catcher, maybe an outfielder or a backup first baseman — second base didn’t seem like the biggest priority to fill, based on the Birds’ in-house options. But the Orioles, ever zigging when we expect them to zag, landed veteran Adam Frazier last week.

If your initial reaction is, “Wait, why?”, you’re not alone. The Orioles, though, saw a chance to add to their depth and improve a position that was a major weakness in 2022.

Frazier, a sixth-round pick by the Pirates out of Mississippi State in 2013, made his MLB debut three years later and quickly became a jack-of-all-trades for the club. During his first three seasons, Frazier started at six different positions (all three outfield spots, and everywhere in the infield except first base) while providing solid if unremarkable offense. In 2019, he settled in as the Pirates’ everyday second baseman, the position at which he’s spent the majority of his career since. Still, his versatility has remained on display. Last year for Seattle, he started 18 games in the outfield and two at short.

Frazier’s defense is his calling card. For four straight seasons from 2018-2021, Frazier earned at least five Defensive Runs Saved at second base each year, and he was an NL Gold Glove finalist at second base in 2019 and 2020. This season, he somewhat inexplicably dropped to -1 DRS for the Mariners, which is perhaps just a fluke, considering he still ranked in the 90th percentile with 6 Outs Above Average. He’ll represent a clear defensive upgrade from the Orioles’ regular second baseman this year, Rougned Odor, who posted negative marks in both DRS (-9) and OAA (-5).

Frazier is also (probably) a better hitter than Odor, though with a much different offensive style. Frazier has never been a power guy — his career high in homers is 10, accomplished in both 2018 and 2019 — but he makes a living off of putting the bat on the ball and getting on base. He carries a career .273 batting average and .336 OBP, posting his best numbers in 2021, his lone All-Star season for the Pirates. That year, Frazier was hitting .324 with a .388 OBP through 98 games before Pittsburgh traded him to the Padres, an inflection point that seems to have short-circuited his production ever since.

Playing his home games at San Diego’s Petco Park and Seattle’s T-Mobile Park — the two worst ballparks in MLB for hitters the past three years — saw Frazier’s stats collapse. He batted just .267/.327/.355 in 57 games for the Padres in 2021, then a meager .238/.301/.311 for the Mariners in 2022 after they acquired him in an offseason trade. A change of scenery to Camden Yards should help; Baltimore’s ballpark ranks as the ninth-best for hitters the last three years. The recent changes to the left-field dimensions shouldn’t particularly hurt Frazier, a left-handed hitter who rarely drives the ball deep to the opposite field.

For his part, Frazier has a plan for how to reverse his offensive freefall, and the Orioles have a plan for how to help him. “It seemed like they’ve done their homework on myself and seems like we kind of view things in a similar manner,” Frazier told reporters after signing with the Birds. “I know it’s in there. It’s just a matter of simplifying a few things.”

For starters, Frazier needs to hit the ball with more authority. Per Statcast, his average exit velocity has declined every year since 2018, dropping to 85.1 mph in 2022, ranking in just the third percentile of MLB hitters. His hard hit percentage, too, has dropped steadily over the last four years, falling from 31.5 percent in 2018 down to 24.5 percent this year. That, too, landed him in the second percentile of MLB. As good as Frazier is at making contact — striking out in only 12.1 percent of his at-bats this year — it’s hard to hit well when the ball is coming off your bat that softly.

Frazier, who turned 31 last week, will get every chance to prove he has something left in the tank. He’ll likely be the Birds’ primary starter at second base against right-handed pitchers, perhaps with spot starts in the outfield as well. If nothing else, O’s hurlers should appreciate Frazier’s glovework at second, which should take a few hits away from opposing batters.

Still, if Frazier doesn’t turn around his recent offensive decline, he might not have as long a leash as his predecessor, Odor, did. The Orioles are now loaded with infielders, with uber-prospect Gunnar Henderson ready for an everyday spot at third base and Gold Glove-caliber shortstop Jorge Mateo entrenched at short. Ramón Urías, a 2022 Gold Glover himself, can play every position on the dirt, and middle-infield prospects Joey Ortiz, Jordan Westburg, and Connor Norby are beating down the door at Triple-A Norfolk. And don’t forget Terrin Vavra, who started 11 games at second base for the Birds this year.

So, yes, it’s a crowded infield picture, even if the recent trade rumors swirling around Mateo ultimately culminate in a deal. I guess it’s what you’d call a good problem to have. Time will tell how Frazier fits into the puzzle.

Next up: Mychal Givens