Fantasy baseball season is nearly here, so to kick-start your 2016 draft prep, SI.com’s fantasy baseball expert Michael Beller will give a snapshot of certain players who may not necessarily be a breakout, a sleeper or a bust (all of which we’ll preview in the upcoming weeks), but could still prove influential this season.
The player: Todd Frazier, 3B, Chicago White Sox
• The 2015 stats: 678 plate appearances, .255/.309/.498, 35 homers, 89 RBI, 13 steals, 20.2% K%, 6.5% BB%, .242 ISO, 114 wRC+
• The three-year sample (162-game average): .255/.320/.457, 29 homers, 85 RBI, 14 steals
• The SI rank: No. 44 overall, No. 5 3B
• The consensus rank (FantasyPros): No. 37 overall, No. 5 3B
• The skinny: Todd Frazier’s season-long numbers from 2015 show a player building on a previous breakout campaign, finding a bit more power while regressing slightly in the on-base department. He hit 35 homers, saw his isolated slugging percentage climb to .242 and smacked 43 doubles. The only players with more homers and doubles combined than Frazier’s 78 were Nolan Arenado (85), Josh Donaldson (82) and Bryce Harper (80). In essence, he proved that his 2014 season wasn’t a fluke.
Unfortunately, his 2014 wasn’t entirely good. After slashing .290/.353/.500 before the All-Star break two seasons ago, he went just .247/.312/.396 after it. In the first half of 2014, his wRC+ was a robust 137. In the second half, it was a below-average 96. Frazier—not to mention his 2015 fantasy owners—wish last year’s drop-off was only that steep.
Frazier was one of the absolute best players in baseball in the first half of 2015. He hit .284/.337/.585 with 25 homers and 57 RBI, racking up 146 wRC+. To put that in some context, Mike Trout had 179 wRC+ in the first half and 165 in the second half. After the break was an entirely different story: Frazier hit .220/.274/.390 with 10 home runs, posting a wRC+ of 75. The context here is just as necessary, but not quite as glowing. Freddy Galvis had a wRC+ of 76 last season. Erick Aybar was at 80. Frazier was quite literally one of the worst players in the majors in the second half of 2015.
Now, again, the season-long numbers were great, even though you would typically hope for a little more out of the rate categories. Frazier’s consecutive second-half swoons, however, are reason for pause, especially for owners in head-to-head leagues. In rotisserie scoring, it doesn’t much matter when your players get their numbers, so long as they do get them over the course of a full season. On the other hand, head-to-head scoring is essentially 20-plus individual seasons that get packaged together to determine who wins the regular season and which teams advance to the playoffs. If Frazier, yet again, gives his owners 10 weeks of production ranging from below average to legitimately terrible, he will not give them the full value of his overall numbers.
Prospective Frazier owners will want to take note of his 2015 batted-ball rates, which differed greatly from where they were in 2014. He posted career highs in fly-ball rate (47.7%), pull rate (46.1%) popup rate (16.8%) and hard-hit rate (36.9%). Despite hitting six more homers than in ’14, Frazier’s HR/FB ratio fell by nearly two percentage points to 15.1%. It seems that the mere uptick in fly balls was more responsible for his small home run surge than anything else. Frazier actually lost some distance from his average fly ball, dropping to 288.73 feet from 293.6 feet. If his fly-ball and pull rates decline a few percentage points, he could very well see an attendant drop in his home run total, as well.
The move to Chicago should be a neutral one for the 30-year-old third baseman. Great American Ballpark and U.S. Cellular Field are both among the league’s most hitter-friendly stadiums. Frazier’s old home ranked seventh for long balls at 13.7% higher than league average. His new home was eighth, checking in at 11.3 percent better. U.S. Cellular, however, played slightly better for right-handed power than did Great American Ballpark, but the differences between the two aren’t enough to really be felt by one player over 81 games.
Frazier’s greatest benefit in Chicago might be the players around him. Last year, he had Joey Votto and not much else in front of him in the lineup. This year, he’ll be hitting fourth behind Adam Eaton, Melky Cabrera and Jose Abreu. Eaton posted an OBP north of .360 for the second straight season and has quietly turned into one of the most effective leadoff men in baseball. Cabrera has a career .336 OBP and is just one season removed from a .301/.351/.458 campaign. Jose Abreu owns a career .303/.364/.540 slash line. Frazier should have many more RBI opportunities this season, and on the whole, his counting stats are better off in Chicago than Cincinnati.
There’s likely no more growth in Frazier’s game, but he doesn’t need any to deliver value on his 43.27 average draft position. Unfortunately, his owners have to brace themselves for a downturn in the second half, and that should make you think twice before pulling the trigger. Ultimately, I’d be trying to get one of the top four third basemen or waiting on someone like Matt Carpenter (70.05 ADP) or Maikel Franco (103.36 ADP) rather than trusting Frazier.
• The best-case scenario: Frazier finally delivers after the all-star break, and it results in the best season of his career. He combines 2015’s power with 2014’s rates to become a top-30 fantasy commodity.
• The worst-case scenario: Frazier is just as bad in the second half as he has been each of the last two seasons, and this time around his swoon begins before the break. Last year’s power surge turns out to be a mirage, driven by more fly balls and a tendency to hook everything to the left side. As that evens out, he ends up hitting just 25 homers while being a drag on batting average and OBP.