Against our wishes, most feel good stories just don’t have the happy endings that they deserve. Todd Frazier’s hometown heroics in the Home Run Derby just seemed like so much more. He had 25 bombs through the first half of the year and was raking at a blistering rate of 284/337/585, good enough for a wRC+ of 148. And thanks to above average defense at third, his 3.7 fWAR put him eleventh among all major leaguers. It would certainly seem that Frazier’s hot start was only a sign of things to come, and his Derby crown just a milestone set on the way to a dominant season.
And then the clock struck midnight.
Maybe it was just an unsustainable performance. Perhaps it was the Home Run Derby curse. Or Frazier might be dealing with an injury of sorts. Whatever the reason, he’s nowhere near the same player in the second half that he was in the first. Sitting at a lowly 55 wRC+, he’s striking fear not into the arms of pitchers, but into the hearts of the Cincinnati faithful. His second half fWAR of -0.1 has him squarely as the 156th most valuable player – out of 177 qualified. He hasn’t just come down to earth, he crashed through and kept going.
Something we see with second half burnouts is that pitchers figure them out. With Frazier, it isn’t nearly that simple. Look at where he hit his first half homers:
And then look at his Slugging% heatmap:
Good luck trying to figure that out. Frazier was tearing apart anything in the strike zone, and everything elevated. And looking at how he’s being attacked now, it doesn’t appear that there’s any new game plan for him. Pitchers have been giving him a pretty straightforward heatmap for a right-handed hitter based on previous work done with heatmap tendencies.
Pitch location is virtually the same, and not even in a way to try and find weaknesses. And the pitch tendencies have remained similar as well, as told by this chart on Brooks Baseball. Yet despite almost nothing changing from one half to the next, Frazier has forgotten how to be a major league hitter. His strikeout rate has jumped seven percentage points and his Isolated Slugging has been cut almost in half, from .301 to just .170. It’s almost impossible to reason with the data so far. Frazier, in the middle of a torrid power campaign, just seems to have fallen off.
But maybe looking at pitcher game plans is being too cautious. It is, after all, ignoring half of the battle. And as we look closer, maybe Frazier is the main reason for his struggles, not an injury or a better strategy. It’s plausible that the Derby win got to his head, as his fly ball percentage jumped up over eight percentage points. While that’s not always bad, now that he’s almost at 50% fly balls it’s easier for defenses to adjust and get under his batted balls, meaning more fall for easy outs instead of power doubles.
He’s also going less towards center field and hitting more the other way, in right field. Going the other way is a good strategy for contact hitters, but a useless one for power hitters like Frazier – he’s not trying to hit the ball where the defense isn’t, he’s trying to hit the ball where there’s no more field for defense to exist. Sending so many the other way indicates he’s late on pitches more frequently. This could be a sign of an injury, or also a pitch recognition issue – though this seems unlikely as he’s seeing basically the same pitch sequences as earlier in the year where he was white-hot.
And most telling could be his decline in hard contact. His first half mark of 38.9% was one of the best in the league, and right in line with his power profile. But now he’s dropped down to a pedestrian 29.4%, a huge decrease that sees him next to players who are lucky to reach double-digit dingers over an entire season.
As unfortunate as it sounds, there isn’t a simple fix to what has been plaguing Todd Frazier over the second half of the 2015 season. His hot stretch over the first half was backed by strong peripherals and good projections over the course of the year. But something funny happened to him, and he’s just not able to tap into his power anywhere near as consistent as he was earlier, or what he needs to be in order to be the hitter the Reds expect. Even right now, the production of Frazier is about what you’d expect out of a minor league call up. Slumps are fine, but Frazier needs to shape up his power before his value dips too low.
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