Should the Cincinnati Reds Consider Trading Todd Frazier?
Cincinnati Reds third baseman Todd Frazier has always been a darn good player. He's always been able to play a solid defensive hot corner, and he's always provided the Reds with a lot of pop in the middle of the lineup.
But in 2015, Frazier has taken his power game to another level. And as a result, he's about to become very expensive for the Redlegs.
Going into Monday night's action, Frazier was hitting .292/.356/.636 in 292 plate appearances, with a weighted on base average (wOBA) of .421 and a weighted runs created (wRC+) of 169 with 23 homers, 48 RBI, 50 runs scored and 8 stolen bases. He has, simply put, been one of the most valuable players in the National League, and perhaps the most valuable player in fantasy baseball, given the position he plays.
Frazier leads all qualified Major League third basemen in the following categories: home runs, wOBA, wRC+, fWAR (tied with Toronto's Josh Donaldson at 3.9), slugging percentage, total bases and isolated power (ISO). Those eight stolen bases are second.
And while Frazier was one of the better home run hitters at his position last year with 29 long balls, with a decent slugging percentage (.459) and ISO (.186), it's a far cry from what he's doing now. So what's changed?
In glancing at his batted ball data, Frazier has drastically cut down on his ground ball percentage, which last year was 41.2% and the year before was 42.2%. This year, it is 30.5%. The trade off has been a big increase in his fly ball percentage (FB%), which is up from 37.1% last year and 39.7% the year before to 49.3% this season. And when you play in the bandbox that is the Great American Ballpark, that's a good thing.
And his home run per fly ball percentage (HR/FB) is 21.9%, up from 17.0% last year and 11.7% the year before. He's also just hitting the ball a lot harder now, with a "hard hit" percentage of 42.7% -- compared to 34.2% last year.
Frazier is partly a product of his own ballpark, which consistently plays as one of the easiest in which to hit a dinger. This year he's hitting .354 with 15 home runs at home but just .231 with 8 homers on the road. Those splits are similar to last year when he hit .284 at home with 20 homers in Cincinnati and hit .262 with 9 home runs away from Great American Ballpark.
And whenever a player enjoys a serious power spike, the number of balls that hitter is pulling is usually increased. That is true here as well, with 44.1% of everything Frazier has hit this year going to the pull side, up from 37.7% last year and 41.6% for his career. He's going the opposite way less frequently this year too: just 19.2% of the time, down from 24.7% of the time last year and 22.5% for his career.
Fangraphs also noted in these spray charts that almost all of Frazier's home runs this year have gone to left field, a stark contrast to what he did over the course of his career previous to this season. He's become more pull-happy, and the dinger total has increased as a result.
Frazier also has not been getting incredibly lucky on balls in play, with just a .284 batting average on balls in play (BABIP).
He's always been an above average power hitter for a third baseman, but now he's become one of the most dangerous sluggers in all of baseball, especially at home. He may not be quite at the level of Bryce Harper and Paul Goldschmidt in terms of NL MVP consideration, but he's a close third and appears ready to step into the void should either of those guys slip.
As Fox Sports' Ken Rosenthal noted, if the Reds plan to keep him around as part of the next good Cincinnati team, they're going to need to make the 29-year-old an aggressive offer now because he's about to get real expensive in arbitration and then even more expensive as a free agent after the 2018 season.
It feels a little early to consider trading him, but if they did, he'd bring back an enormous haul of prospects. As Rosenthal noted, Kyle Seager's 7-year, $100 million contract could be the number around which talks coalesce.
But whatever they do, they've got a monster on their hands, which is a very good "problem" to have.