The Phillies haven’t gotten off to the best of starts but the team hasn’t been devoid of bright spots. The Phillies’ bench has been one of the best in the league and Kevin Frandsen deserves much of the credit. Frandsen is hitting .258/.361/.516 in 37 plate appearances after hitting .338/.383/.451 last year.
Frandsen had the best season of his career in 2012, and in the early going this year, both his wOBA and wRC+ are even better. His walk rate, isolated power and slugging percentages are also higher than they were last year. His .361 on-base percentage is great, especially in a reduced offensive environment, but it would look even better if not for a .231 BABIP. Just like last year’s .366 BABIP wasn’t likely to be sustained, Frandsen isn’t very likely to continue struggling to convert balls put in play into hits this season.
If his current true talent level falls somewhere in between the last two seasons, the Phillies have a very valuable bench player and someone who deserves legitimate consideration for an extended platoon role. His defensive versatility should enable him to spell any of the four infielders at any given time, and he could likely handle corner outfield activity as well.
What stands out in analyzing his numbers over the last two seasons is how he compares to the recent gold standard of pinch-hitting: Greg Dobbs, circa 2007-08. From 2012-13, Frandsen has logged about half of Dobbs’ playing time from 2007-08 and has essentially matched his overall productivity. Frandsen’s production has been seemingly less important than Dobbs, given the overall performance of the 2007-08 Phillies in conjunction to this current iteration, but that doesn’t make him any less valuable.
Since the start of the 2012 season, Frandsen has a robust .327/.380/.460 batting line, a .365 wBA and a 130 wRC+ that suggests his offensive production has been 30 percent better than a league-average hitter. He has 1.5 WAR in this span. He has played the vast majority of his innings in the field at third base, where he essentially has a break-even fielding rating, and his baserunning is right around the league average as well.
He has a very solid 23% line drive rate and has put 55% of his balls in play on the ground. Batted ball profiles that are lower on flyballs give the player more of a chance to see his balls in play turn into hits, which is a big reason for his .348 BABIP in this span. Additionally, he has a .413 BA and .625 SLG against lefties since the start of last season.
Dobbs hit .284/.331/.467 from 2007-08, with a .342 wOBA and a 102 wRC+. His fielding and baserunning marks are virtually identical to Frandsen’s, and while his isolated power is higher, his strikeout rate is practically twice as high. Dobbs played far more than Frandsen has, and basically put together a traditional full season of stats over those two years. Despite twice the playing time, he had 1.7 WAR, a mere two-tenths of a win better than Frandsen.
Dobbs logged 598 plate appearances and added 19 home runs, 95 RBIs and six steals. The Phillies used Dobbs more often because of his productivity and that decision paid dividends.
But before he came to the Phillies, there would have been no tangible reason to suspect he was capable of that type of production.
It was easy to look at Frandsen’s numbers last season, write them off as flukish, and not consider him for a starting or platoon role this season, while Dobbs was lionized after his clutch 2007 campaign and thrust into a more prominent role.
His role was made that much more important when the Phillies were launching their comeback in the standings against the Mets in 2007 and vying for a World Series the next season. Frandsen has performed even better but his production hasn’t been nearly as important. If the season continues down the path it seems destined to head, the Phillies would be wise to consider moving a cheap and productive Michael Young and installing Frandsen at third base to see if he really could handle a larger role moving forward.