Context is key in any evaluation or analysis.
I’ll probably have that phrase etched on my tombstone. Judging numbers in conjunction to the league average, the player’s past averages, or both, is the single most important aspect of analysis. Otherwise, it’s impossible to truly grasp what the information means.
I’ll stop there before this player review devolves into a Morpheus-style philosophical discussion, but just remember that context is integral to understanding information. It’s also particularly appropriate when discussing Kevin Frandsen‘s 2012 campaign because he exceeded every possible expectation this past season.
Frandsen performed at a level that nobody, likely himself included, thought was possible. On their own, Frandsen’s numbers were quite solid over a small sample of plate appearances. Relative to his various pre-season projections and the meager playing time he was expected to receive, his numbers were literally off the charts.
He established career bests in practically every statistical category, and every time it seemed like his production would start suffering, he churned out a 3-5 night with a double, triple and two hard-hit lineouts. Sure, his line was driven by a sky-high batting average on balls in play, but it’s foolish to write off or ignore what he actually did this season based on the likelihood that he regresses in the future.
Kevin Frandsen hit a relatively gaudy .338/.383/.451 this season, with a .358 wOBA and a 125 wRC+. Among the 29 National League third basemen with 200+ plate appearances, Frandsen’s wOBA and wRC+ ranked 6th. In both cases, he was a mere point behind Chipper Jones. Frandsen fielded at an average level and wasn’t a baserunning liability either. While it’s not accurate in the least to assume he would continue producing at this level had he played an entire season, it’s fun from an anecdotal standpoint to note that his 1.6 WAR in 210 PAs prorates out to 4.5 WAR over 600 PAs.
Entering the season, Frandsen had a career wOBA under .300. From 2006-11, he posted the following marks: .268, .310, .000 (in 1 PA), .182, .278, and N/A, since he didn’t play in the majors last season. That’s important to keep in mind; this was a guy that couldn’t even get a September call-up last season, and yet his production this year convinced many a Phillies fan that the third base position is solved in the interim.
Essentially, Frandsen combined his highest minor league batting average, on-base percentage and slugging percentage, across several seasons, and produced better than that at a much higher level.
We can’t ignore the elephant in the room, however, in that Frandsen was able to put up these great numbers thanks to a .366 BABIP. While some hitters can live comfortably above .300, Frandsen’s career major league rate was around .280 prior to this season. This isn’t to say that he didn’t produce well in 2012, but rather that skepticism regarding his ability to continue playing at this high of a level is merited. Among those same 29 third basemen, only Colorado’s Chris Nelson posted a higher BABIP. Frandsen also finished with a paltry 4.3% walk rate, which was among the lowest in that hot corner crop.
Given that it’s unlikely to repeat such a high BABIP, but that it’s equally unlikely he suddenly develops patience at the major league level, the Frandsen on display this year probably won’t be around moving forward. However, he made some very real improvements beyond just BABIP. Or, at least, as real as an improvement can be over 210 plate appearances.
Frandsen really hit the ball hard this year, posting a 24.3% line drive rate that was far and away better than his previous 16% average. He also kept balls on the ground at above a 50% rate, meaning that his two primary sources of batted balls were the ones that go for hits more often than not. He may not continue to hit liners at this rate, but his spike in BABIP is at least partially explained by the surge in this area.
One reason he may have hit the ball harder is increased selectivity. He reduced his rate of out-of-zone swings, relative to both the league average and his own past rates, but became far more efficient and effective on those pitches. In fact, his 78.6% contact rate on out-of-zone pitches ranked 25th out of the 182 NL players with at least 200 PAs. His 93.2% contact rate on in-zone pitched ranked 29th among the same group. He was hitting the ball harder and making more contact, which is generally a good recipe for success.
Frandsen probably isn’t the solution at third base, but with Cody Asche’s likely arrival in 2014, the Phillies should enter 2013 with him in mind as a major player at the position. He certainly earned that with his torrid play this season. He had a heck of a half-season with the Phillies, and his offense, while bound for regression moving forward, was a big part of the team’s second-half surge.
Grade: A…. I don’t give out A+ marks lightly, but I strongly considered it here. Frandsen blew his expectations out of the water and became a key member of the lineup down the stretch. We might never see that same guy again, but it doesn’t at all erase what he accomplished this season.