Between signings and trades this offseason, the Orioles made five moves that had an immediate impact on the roster picture for the coming season. Four of them had readily apparent rationales for making them, even if it would have been nice to see the Orioles choose to spend some money for better starting pitching options. The one that didn’t make sense to me then, and still doesn’t really now, was the signing of Adam Frazier.
The Orioles infield seemed to be set up pretty well for this season without making any additions from the outside. Top prospect in MLB Gunnar Henderson is taking charge at third, presumably pushing Gold Glove winner Ramón Urías to second base. Jorge Mateo can’t hit but he should have won a Gold Glove at shortstop and he steals many bases. Any one of Connor Norby, Joey Ortiz, and Jordan Westburg seems to be close to bursting into this mix as well, and Terrin Vavra could be a versatile OBP machine.
Mike Elias clearly had a different assessment of how to best handle that situation in the short term, because the signing of the 31-year-old Frazier to an $8 million contract for this season seems to signal that he’s going to be getting a lot of starts at second base. Every time I look at his 2022 season batting line of .238/.301/.311, I wonder if we’re in for a repeat of the frustration every time Rougned Odor was in the lineup.
Frazier, at least, was good as recently as 2021, when he OPSed .779 across 155 games for the Pirates and Padres. His defensive marks are acceptable, and he’s even stolen 10+ bases the last couple of sesons. The power is minimal, but so are the strikeouts. In his career, Frazier has struck out in 12.7% of plate appearances. Frazier also brings some experience that the other infield options don’t have. He’s played in 821 MLB games in his career, which is nearly as many as Mateo, Urías, Henderson, and Ryan Mountcastle combined.
Projection systems like the ones we’ve been highlighting in this ongoing series believe in a bit of a bounce-back for Frazier. Here’s how three systems project his 2023:
- ZiPS: .267/.323/.368
- Steamer: .263/.323/.368 (both from FanGraphs)
- Marcel: .259/.321/.361 (from Baseball Reference)
At least in terms of the batting lines, these are remarkably similar-looking projections. That’s not too surprising when talking about a player with as much of a big league track record as Frazier has. They will tend to expect that he will be about what he’s been before, with some slight decline now that he’s in his age 31 season.
Notable in the ZiPS projection is that along with that batting line, it also projects solid enough defense from Frazier that he will have a 2.5 fWAR season. Steamer has a less sunny but still improved over Odor projection of 1.5 fWAR. If we get to season’s end and Frazier has performed this way overall, I will probably be able to live with that.
The case for the over
Don’t get hung up on Frazier’s 2022 struggles. While he was never among the league’s best or most exciting hitters, he does have a track record in his six seasons with the Pirates where he combined for a .766 OPS. It’s only after being traded to San Diego in 2021 that he has fallen off into a rougher patch. ZiPS is only projecting a .691 OPS. You don’t have to be a great hitter to exceed that.
There’s a lot of room to land between that and his Pittsburgh performance, and it’s not outrageous to think that the Orioles coaching staff can do some work with him to get him back closer to what he was before.
The case for the under
Frazier is on the wrong side of 30. In order to exceed his ZiPS projected batting line, he would need to add 80 points to his OPS from last year. Although he is a lefty batter and Camden Yards is friendly to left-handed power, Frazier doesn’t have any power to benefit from this. He has hit eight home runs in 1,118 at-bats across the last two seasons. The case for the under is simply that last year’s numbers are closer to what Frazier is now.
Maybe some day the Orioles under Mike Elias will sign a truly exciting free agent. Until then, we’ve got the Kyle Gibsons and the Fraziers of the league in hopes that they can stabilize the volatility that might otherwise come from a team full of players without a lot of MLB experience. How do you think he’ll do this season?
Will Adam Frazier go over or under his ZiPS projected .691 OPS in 2023?
This poll is closed
Tomorrow: Cionel Pérez