Aug 7, 2013; Cincinnati, OH, USA; Cincinnati Reds center fielder Shin-Soo Choo (17) and third baseman Todd Frazier (21) prepare on deck during a game against the Oakland Athletics at Great American Ball Park. Mandatory Credit: David Kohl-USA TODAY Sports

Gaping Hole in Todd Frazier Batting 2nd Logic

The latest contestant in the celebrated “Who Wants to Bat In Front of Votto”  game is Todd Frazier, a traditionally likable Red that has fallen on hard times. And in the wake of some of the offense’s worst performances, Dusty Baker has made the call to bat Frazier second, despite currently having the worst slump of his young professional career (zero for last 31). So, Todd Frazier is currently hitting at a dreadful average of .233. But as every saber has readily pointed out, Frazier’s OBP, newly deemed the only stat that matters atop the lineup, is about fifty points higher. And don’t mistake the unintentional condescending tone as dismissive – the role of any hitter batting that high is to set the table for Joey, Brandon and Jay. So naturally, a .326 OBP is more preferable to a .276.

But when examined a bit closer, it’s not so nice of a trade-off. First, Cozart is batting .243 to Frazier’s .233. While batting average matters less and less by the blog post, Cozart is still out-hitting Frazier; however, again, it’s about getting runners on base, which Frazier has proven he’s able to do at a much more frequent pace (higher OBP).

The problem with this logic is that it’s not taking into account walks. Frazier has 41 walks compared to Cozart’s 19. There’s enough

Jul 30, 2013; San Diego, CA, USA; Cincinnati Reds first baseman Joey Votto (19) is congratulated by shortstop Zack Cozart (2) after scoring in the sixth inning against the San Diego Padres at Petco Park. Mandatory Credit: Christopher Hanewinckel-USA TODAY Sports

distance between the numbers to parallel park a Greyhound bus – if we want someone who can get on base in front of Joey,  the obvious choice is Todd Frazier and his .326 OBP.

Only one minor problem: we know about batters hitting in front of Joey. We know they’re going to see a lot of straight balls, because pitchers know who is lurking right behind him. The two hole, on this Reds team, has walked just 27 times this year. The only batting spot that has been issued fewer walks is the pitcher’s spot at ninth.

Frazier walked 41 times, primarily from the 6th spot in the order. And because of that, he’s managed to build a solid OBP that people can point to and make a case for hitting second. But if the rationale behind batting Frazier second stems from his decent OBP, which is significantly attributed to the amount of walks he’s amassed, how does it make sense to put Frazier into a position where hardly any are issued?

It doesn’t. And while it’s less surprising that Baker is merely exploring less conventional options to shake this lineup it, it is surprising that a large demographic of Reds fans have endlessly criticized Baker for not trying Frazier at the two and instead sticking with Cozart for months at a time. Cozart hit .254 and amassed a .284 OBP from the two, statistically the best Red at that spot in the order (considering total plate appearances).

I’m definitely not saying it can’t work. But the logic behind it doesn’t.


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  • RobinGood

    Maybe the 2-hole only walked so few times because Zack Cozart isn’t a player who is good at taking walks? I think it’s a bit far-fetched to tie a number of walks to a lineup-spot. Just because Choo walks so much, does that mean he sees less “straighter” balls? Or is it tied to his 11.8% walk rate, which he actually outperforms by a huge margin this year? I find it hard to understand why a .316 wOBA player could be any worse than a .286 wOBA player. I feel like you have read this article already, but you should read it again as to why a .10 difference in BA is way less important than a .30 difference in OBP, especially when it’s a spot high in the order.

    • Tyler Grote

      Or, maybe it’s because there’s a top 3 OBP guy behind the two spot, and pitchers would rather pitch to contact before surrendering a walk?

      That’s far-fetched?

      Choo walks so much because he’s a phenomenal baseball player. He’s in the 400′s, we’re talking about guys in the 280′s, 320′s.

      And again – the reason Frazier’s OBP higher is because he’s walked a lot more. But i’m willing to bet he won’t be afforded many hitting in front of Joey, you are absolutely shorting MLB pitchers on that one.

      OBP is incredibly important. And the best chance of getting on base in front of Joey Votto is to hit. So you put your best hitters up top. A guy currently 0-31 should not be awarded more AB’s than a guy batting .10 higher than him, makes little sense. This could work, but it won’t be because of TF walking. And for record, hope it does.

      • RobinGood

        I simply do not think Lineup protection and “fear” or “more agressiveness” for pitchers work like that. I think an ability to take walks is either there or not. In case of Cozart, it is not. In case of Frazier it is. In the same way I may be shorting Pitchers on actually throwing more strikes, although I still don’t think any pitchers suddenly throws more strikes just because Votto comes up, you in my opinion short baseball players’ ability to take walks. And although Cozart has a higher average, he isn’t hitting the ball hard and is essentially a very bad contact hitter, with 13% being Infield-Fly balls. If you hit everything then you won’t walk and the difference between BA and OBP is going to be low. Cozart is exactly that, but doesn’t hit the ball hard or at a high quality.

        And the argument still stands that Frazier is a .030 wOBA points better HITTER than Cozart. Walking is a part of hitting after all.

  • Josh Bresser

    Not to say that Dusty’s logic is great here, but I think the rationale comes from Frazier’s ability to hit fastballs as compared to his ability to hit anything else.

    Todd Frazier hits for 6.9 runs above average on four seam fastballs. He also hits for 5.2 RAA on two seam fastballs. Comparatively, he really struggles against curveballs (1.0), sliders (-9.8), Sinkers (0.9), and changeups (-4.5.)

    Zack Cozart, on the other hand, can’t hit fastballs. Off of four seamers, his RAA is -4.4. Off of 2 seamers, it’s -6.8. Comparatively, he hits sinkers (2.3), sliders (-2.7), curveballs (-0.5), and changeups (-1.7.)

    The aura of ‘protection’ that Votto provides in the 3 hole actually hurts Cozart, since he struggles to hit fastballs in comparison to everything else. Frazier, on the other hand, crushes fastballs in comparison to everything else.

    I think that, in addition to his comparatively high OBP, is why Dusty slotted him there. He won’t be walked as much, like you said, but he will see more fastballs as a result of pitchers trying to get pitches over to avoid facing Votto with a guy on base.

  • Steve O’Red

    Even in the minors, Cozart never displayed he was for taking walks. In only one minor league season was his walk rate higher than 10% (11.6% in ’09). Other than that season, his next highest was 6.6%, the previous two seasons before his 2011 call-up. Frazier has been more consistent at the minor league level at drawing walks.

    Call it plate discipline, if you wish, but there’s this. Frazier swings at more pitches out of the strike zone (33.3%) than Cozart (30.2%). I will add that Cozart has a higher overall contact rate (82.3%) than Frazier (75.5%). And Cozart has seen 52% of his pitches in the zone. Frazier: 44%.

    I believe Josh is on point with the huge discrepancy in the pitch types, especially when referencing the fastball. Frazier should see more of those fastballs, and pitches in the zone as well, hitting ahead of Votto. That’s the theory anyway. Well, unless Frazier starts chasing bad pitches…which he does do more often than Cozart as previously noted.

    In fact, if you check each player’s PITCH F/x pitch values on Fangraphs, the only pitch in which Cozart scores one plus side is on the sinker (2.3). By contrast, Frazier has only three pitches that are negative (slider: -10.0, changeup: -3.8 and splitter: -0.8). He rates positive in all other pitch types.

    Take these and other numbers however you wish. There are negatives and positives for both players.