I didn’t like it, you didn’t like it. Nobody liked it when the Orioles signed veteran second baseman Adam Frazier to a one-year, $8 million deal back in December. From one point of view, Frazier and his .238/.301/.311 slash line in 2022 didn’t feel like enough of an upgrade over Rougned Odor. From another, it felt like Frazier’s arrival was blocking Ramón Urías, a Gold Glover at third, or Terrin Vavra, whom I was excited to see more of, or an exciting prospect like Jordan Westburg or Joey Ortiz.
Well, it turns out we were wrong about a few things. One, in this constantly rotating infield, there’s room for everyone to eat. Even with Gunnar Henderson and Jorge Mateo as regular fixtures on the left side of the diamond, manager Brandon Hyde has trotted out more than seven different infield combinations, counting those days where Gunnar Henderson DH’s and Anthony Santander starts at 1B.
Two, depth is good. With Ramón Urías having had to miss two weeks with a hamstring injury, it’s kind of nice that suddenly, you can sub players in and the offensive production doesn’t drop off a cliff. (Remember when Andrew Velazquez played 40 games for the Orioles in 2020 and hit .159?) Now I don’t mind when I see Henderson-Mateo-Urías in the lineup, or Vavra-Henderson-Frazier. Or Urías-Henderson-Frazier. Or Ortiz-Mateo-Frazier. They’re kind of all nice in their own way.
Three, Adam Frazier might be good. It’s easy to say when he’s doing stuff like this:
DING DONG, Frazier's here! pic.twitter.com/SAVzdPctHw— Baltimore Orioles (@Orioles) May 25, 2023
But he’s been better than just a one-week, short-term afterglow thing. He’s got a couple of clutch home runs in the last week, during which he’s OPS’ing 1.083. But he’s got more than that working for him.
Across the board, Frazier is putting up improved offensive numbers this season. We knew 2022 was a down year for him—this was one of the things O’s fans were told when they heard of the signing, looked at last season’s slash line, and were like, Him? But in fact, Frazier is not just improving on last year. He’s putting up some numbers that are legitimately good in themselves.
Frazier is one of the best in the league at avoiding the strikeout, with a whiff and K percentage in the top 5%. Frazier has also improved his walk percentage by a significant amount over last season. There’s also improved quality of contact: maybe you didn’t expect Frazier would be in the 83rd percentile in expected batting average. But he is!
What’s also great to see is that this season, his eighth, he’s putting up career bests in some offensive categories, namely walks, strikeouts and home runs. Frazier is walking in 10.2% of his at-bats. League average is 8.5%, so this is good to see. He’s never been Mr. Slugger, but his home run rate of 3% is exactly league average, six times his lowly mark last year (0.5 HR/9) and also tied for a career-high. Last but not least, league average in strikeouts per at-bat is 22.7%. Frazier is striking out in just 9% of his at-bats, not only the best mark on the Orioles, but, again, in the top 5% of all hitters. Adam Frazier is definitely onto something.
Frazier is not a slugger, and he’s not breaking any records in hard contact. But this year, he is hitting near-best totals in barrels and in his ground ball/flyball rate. He’s also pulling the ball more than ever before (35%) and, with the shift abolished, this appears to be good news for him.
There are a few areas he can still improve. Surprisingly, he has a massive home/away gap in average (.171/.329) and OPS (.485/.986). That one seems odd, as lefties are favored by Camden Yards’ dimensions. His BABIP of .258 is also low. Both are likely to change in a favorable direction.
Frazier currently ranks sixth on the Orioles in total WAR this season, after such luminaries as Yennier Cano, Cedric Mullins, Tyler Wells, Adley Rutschman and Mateo. What’s interesting about that is that Frazier is doing this in a season where, according to the fielding metrics, he’s having a down year defensively. BaseballReference gives Frazier a 0.1 dWAR thus far on the season and ranks this his third-worst in eight seasons at second base, with an estimated -6 defensive runs saved adjusted over 162 games. BaseballSavant agrees, ranking him a below-average defender (-5 OAA) and thrower.
It’s kind of hard to know what to make of the defensive hate for Frazier. Eye test-wise, it’s a little puzzling: he’s been steady in the field, if possibly a little limited in range. He turns a nice double play, so it’s hard to be concerned about his throwing. Besides, Frazier was considered a plus defender in 2022, with a tidy +6 OAA (90th percentile) and arm strength in the 61st percentile. I’d keep an eye on Frazier’s defense going forward, but I also think it’s possible this is just noise.
Either way, the veteran 2B has been steady in the field, poised at the plate, hard to strike out, and is delivering some big hits. It’s a good version of Adam Frazier the team is getting right now, and he’s making the front office look pretty smart.