The Pittsburgh Pirates get a boost on Tuesday when left fielder Starling Marte returns from his 80-game suspension for use of nandrolone. The addition of the former All-Star means improved depth, but means less playing time for Adam Frazier. This could be the boost that Frazier needs.
When Pittsburgh Pirates outfielder Starling Marte returns from his suspension on Tuesday night, he will take away some amount of playing time from a lineup regular: Adam Frazier.
In his weekly radio show on Sunday, general manager Neal Huntington said Frazier will move to second base and regular second baseman Josh Harrison will move to third when Marte returns to play left field.
Manager Clint Hurdle is interested in playing struggling third baseman David Freese less and Hurdle will get those opportunities with Marte’s return. Freese will still get plenty of playing time and Frazier will be the odd man out in those circumstances.
This may not be a bad thing for the second-year player.
Frazier came flying out of the gate to start the 2017 season. The Mississippi State product hit .306 with a .370 OBP and started in 11 of the 15 games that he played. He missed 18 games with a hamstring injury, but returned in mid-to-late May and amped up his production. Over 80 plate appearances across 19 games, Frazier hit .314 with a .400 OBP.
Since the start of June, Frazier hasn’t been the same player. As Andrew McCutchen has overcome an early season slump, Adam Frazier has done the opposite.
As recently as May 24, Frazier was hitting .370 with a .458 OBP. Following his walk-off single in The Pittsburgh Pirates’ 4-3 victory over the St. Louis Cardinals, Frazier is hitting .267 with a .345 OBP.
The significant drops can be attributed to a less than stellar June and July. Frazier has hit .227 with a .297 OBP over 144 plate appearances since June 2.
When Frazier has hit, he has not collected many extra-base hits, as his .313 wOPA suggests. In fact, Frazier only has seven extra-base hits over his last 143 plate appearances. Additionally, Frazier’s 93 wRC+ is below-average (153rd among batters with at least 250 at-bats).
Compared to last season’s stats (.301 average, .356 OBP, .335 wOBA, 110 wRC+), Frazier has regressed in 2017. Solution? Enter Marte.
Talk of changes in Frazier’s swing is legitimate and noteworthy. Regardless, less may be more for Frazier. Less playing time, that is.
Frazier’s numbers in 2016 came across 160 plate appearances in 66 games. In 2017, Frazier has 273 plate appearances over 69 games.
The 113 plate appearance difference from last year to this year is due to more starts. Frazier made 27 starts in 2016 and had 22 games with four or more plate appearances. In 2017, he’s started 55 games and 56 games with four or more plate appearances.
As a lineup regular in 2017 as opposed to a bench player in 2016, Frazier’s number of games with at least four plate appearances through the first 66 games he played has increased by 48.4 percent.
Still deserving of playing time
The Pirates clearly think highly enough of Frazier and believe he’ll improve to keep him as a lineup regular. Even though Frazier has a -2.1 UZR at second base, the Pirates want him in the lineup for his bat.
Even with Marte back, there will still be opportunities for Frazier to gain playing time in the outfield. On days that Marte plays in center field and Andrew McCutchen gets a day off, Frazier is an option in left field. Frazier could take Marte’s place in left against right-handed pitchers and he could also give right fielder Gregory Polanco a day off from time to time.
Though he’s spent limited time in the majors at the positions, Frazier is an option to play shortstop and third base as well. However, a combined seven starts at the two positions in two major-league seasons suggests it is unlikely.
When Marte returns, the Pittsburgh Pirates will gain a .300 hitter and a two-time Gold Glove winner. He will provide an immediate boost on both sides of the ball.
Most importantly, however, their depth will improve. Look for Frazier’s numbers to improve in the time after Marte rejoins the team. Whether it be a result of extra rest or extra motivation, Frazier should thrive.
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