Todd Frazier’s bid to lead the White Sox in more than just home runs

When Todd Frazier was acquired, what was expected was that he’d provide power and good defense at third base. With an MLB-leading 17 home runs, he’s certainly delivered on the first part; his defense hasn’t been quite as good as in years past, but it certainly hasn’t been bad. He hasn’t done things in exactly the expected manner (for instance, his high power and paltry BABIP puts him in some strange company), but his overall results with the bat and glove aren’t out of line with expectations.

What wasn’t much discussed when he was acquired is that he’s also a reasonably prolific base thief, having swiped 13 bases last year and 20 the year before (against eight times caught stealing each year), which would have been good enough for third and second on the White Sox, respectively (It did merit a parenthetical in Jim Margalus’s analysis of the trade). With the departure of competent base stealer Alexei Ramirez, then, it shouldn’t be surprising that he’s tied for the team lead in steals; he, Adam Eaton, and Jimmy Rollins each have five steals and have been caught twice. BP’s SBR (stolen base runs) has Frazier at +0.76 for the year, 0.6 runs ahead of runner-up Avisail Garcia and 0.4 runs ahead of last year’s leader, Melky Cabrera. For what it’s worth, FanGraphs’s wSB has Frazier at +0.1 for the year, in a pack with Garcia, Rollins, Eaton, and Dioner Navarro.

Given that he is a not particularly fast third baseman, it makes sense that Frazier does not steal bases in quite the usual way. August Fagerstrom looked at this after Frazier’s 20 steal campaign and observed that a huge portion of his steals that year were stolen without a throw; he just took a big walking lead off an unobservant pitcher and breezed into second. Indeed, per Fagerstrom, only two of Frazier’s steals that year involved him beating a clean throw by the catcher.

Based on my review of his steals this year, one of those things has changed and the other hasn’t. In Frazier’s seven attempts, the catcher has yet to make a clean throw on any of them. He’s been caught stealing by the pitcher twice, and of his steals the catcher held the ball once, threw poorly three times, and had the ball bounce beyond his grasp once. (To be fair to Frazier, it looks like he would’ve beaten each of the bad throws.) From watching his jumps, it seems like he’s as reliant as ever on getting a huge walking lead and taking off, but since he now has a reputation for this he’s not likely to be as effective as he was two years ago.

PECOTA projected Frazier for 12 steals and six caught stealing before the year and has him at 13 and six now, so none of this is truly unexpected, just a little bit odd. Eaton and Rollins are both projected to finish with 17 steals, and Austin Jackson with 12, so while I can see a road to Frazier leading the team in steals—Rollins loses some playing time, Frazier gets lucky, Eaton gets unlucky or God forbid gets hurt—it doesn’t seem particularly likely.

Given that he’s the commanding favorite in the team home run race, if he did pull it off, he’d likely be the first White Sox player to lead the team in both since Jorge Orta in 1976. (Orta had 24 steals and a mere 14 dingers; unsurprisingly, that team lost 97 games.) Even if he doesn’t, he’s on track to post one of the better power/steals combinations in club history:

White Sox Players With at least 30 HR and 10 SB

Player Year SB HR
Dick Allen 1972 19 37
Carlton Fisk 1985 17 37
Magglio Ordonez 1999 13 30
Magglio Ordonez 2000 18 32
Magglio Ordonez 2001 25 31
Carlos Lee 2003 18 31
Carlos Lee 2004 11 31
Jermaine Dye 2005 11 31
Todd Frazier (projected) 2016 13 33

It’s worth reiterating that Frazier’s stealing is likely to come in at about neutral for the year, so even with his relatively large stolen base totals his legs won’t make up any real portion of his value. (He’s also generally below average at the non-stealing parts of baserunning.) As someone who really likes watching stolen bases, it’s not as much fun as seeing a real base thief (which the White Sox haven’t had since Juan Pierre—no pressure, Tim Anderson!), but seeing an unassuming third sacker break for second every few games constitutes a nice fringe benefit to the Frazier trade.

Numbers via Baseball-Reference and the Lahman database.


Lead Image Credit: Matt Marton // USA Today Sports Images

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