Last night the Mets beat the Phillies 5-0 behind an all-around great performance from Jonathan Niese.
The lefty through a complete game shutout, walking only one batter, and provided some muscle at plate by going one for two with a walk, a run scored, and three runs batted in. The Phillies offense seemed stymied, and starting pitcher Kyle Kendrick pitched as though he already knew the eventual outcome of the game.
Amidst the embarrassing loss to a team that had just that day lost their most healthy potent offensive weapon, was the Phillies’ lineup. Manager Ryne Sandberg, knowing the team was to face a tough left-handed pitcher, took yesterday as an opportunity to sit Cody Asche, also a lefty. Phillies television announcers Tom McCarthy and Chris Wheeler noted that Asche’s absence from the lineup gave Sandberg an opportunity to get a better in-game look at other players on the team in preparation for putting together the 2014 roster.
The explanation from the booth has some logic to it in that sometimes players need days off, and at those times it gives other players a chance to show the manager something that could prove beneficial to them in the future. Still, the booth announcers also used the same reasoning for why Roger Bernadina, a lefty, started in center field and batted first in the lineup. More likely, Bernadina started in center field because Domonic Brown, Casper Wells, and Ben Revere are all hurt, and Asche got a rest because of the left-handed pitcher on the hill.
Bernadina’s spot in the lineup aside, I thought about Asche’s replacement. Kevin Frandsen didn’t replace Asche at third, although he could have, instead Michael Young took that spot, and Frandsen started at first base. Frandsen’s appearance in the starting lineup led me to wonder how he had played overall this season. When I looked up his numbers, something quite obvious stood out. Frandsen has been as close to awful as a player can get, even one who is primarily used as a pinch-hitter or as a fill-in. Here’s how Frandsen has done this season in comparison to his solid 2012 campaign:
It doesn’t take a trained eye to notice the distinct drop off that has occurred. A keen mind might ask whether there might be a sample size issue here. Could his numbers be skewed towards the horrid end because he’s played in fewer games and in this games hasn’t performed as well? The answer is no, Frandsen has had 194 plate appearances this season, and should by all accounts eclipse his the number of appearances he posted last season (210). So, for some reason Frandsen has not gotten as many hits, can’t get on base as much, has hit for less power, and strikes out more frequently this season than he did in 2012.
Looking a bit more in depth at some of Frandsen’s batting tendencies, we can see that Kevin has been swinging at pitches more often this season than last year, as his swing percentage indicates (46.3% in 2012 to 51.3% in 2013). Instead of turning those extra swings into contact, and thus possible hits, Frandsen has turned them into swinging strikes. His swinging strike percentage has jumped from 5.5% to 7.0%, while his contact percentage has simultaneously dropped from 87.9% to 86.6%. Swinging more often can be a product of a number of habits, but two that pop up frequently are pitchers changing their approaches to a hitter and the hitter’s swing slowing down. In Frandsen’s case it’s probably both.
Here is a spray chart, showing where Frandsen’s 2012 hits, outs, and times on base by error are located on the field:
As you can see, Frandsen’s hits are spread fairly evenly around the outfield. The majority of his base knocks did not go into the gaps or down the lines, but he seems to have a good ability to hit singles to all three areas of the outfield. This generally shows a hitter’s ability to hit line drives and hard ground balls on pitches on the inside corner, outside corner, as well as both fastballs and off-speed pitches.
Taking a look at Frandsen’s 2013 spray chart, we get a sense of what might constitute the problem:
First of all, the attrition in overall number of hits is obvious in that far fewer green dots appear on the 2013 chart as do on the 2012 version. Secondly, his 2013 hits have no distinct pattern to them. The majority seem to be located in left-center field, with a few stray hits in right field, he has had almost not hits, let alone outs, hit squarely to a righties pull side, left field. Even more egregious is his propensity to make outs solely to the left side of the infield. This denotes a hitter who is either only hitting good pitcher’s pitches or one who is over swinging to compensate for some lost speed and oomph on his swing. Finally, Frandsen has only eight or so hits to right field this year, whereas in 2012 that number was roughly double. This could be a sign of nothing, but it could also reflect a hitter who is pulling off towards his pull side on pitches on the outside part of the strike zone instead of going with the pitch.
Frandsen’s approach at the plate has altered, and whether it is due to pitchers’ adjustments or a loss of power in his swing, he needs to correct the problems. Last season Frandsen posted a line drive percentage of 24.3%, but that number has dropped to 14.9% this season. His ground ball and fly ball percentages have subsequently risen, which only further’s the timing issues explanation.
Defensively, Frandsen has always fallen right around average. Overall in his career, Frandsen has played 1st, 2nd, and 3rd base, shortstop, and even spent some time in the outfield. According to the three main defensive metrics available, Frandsen has played at about an average level defensively (1.0 UZR/150, -2 DRS, -3.8 FRAA). This season Fangraphs’ main defensive metric Ultimate Zone Rating, has Frandsen as having been a positive defenseman. In last night’s game, he did make a costly error in the field when he overthrew second base attempting to get the lead runner on a ground ball hit on the grass between first base and the pitcher’s mound. By no means was it a routine play, but most first basemen make the play, and it underlined Frandsen’s average abilities in the field.
Getting back to Frandsen’s hitting woes, it is important to note that Frandsen has suffered this season from a large dip in hisbatting average on balls in play. BABIP is subject to randomness and luck as sometimes a weakly hit ball put in play will
drop in a spot on the field far from any fielder and other times a hard hit ball will travel non-stop directly to a fielder. Overall, a player’s BABIP usually fluctuates some from season to season, but usually falls around his career average. Frandsen’s career BABIP stands at .277, but in 2012 Frandsen posted a BABIP of .366, and this season that average has fallen to .243. One could make the case that at least some of Frandsen’s hitting fortune this season could be due to some bad luck on balls he has put in play, but the same argument should be made for his good fortune in 2013.
In the end, Frandsen’s hitting troubles this season most likely derive a bit from all of these sources. Pitchers probably found certain pitches in specific areas of the strike zone that would prove difficult for Frandsen, and he most likely has battled a season with more bad luck. Still, it remains important to note that the numerous changes in his numbers show a hitter who has yet to or failed to properly readjust to pitchers approaches, as well as a hitter who most likely has lost some velocity on his swing.
At 31 years old, no one expects Frandsen to turn into a starting caliber player, but he is under team control until 2016, albeit under arbitration for the next two seasons, and as a player with the ability to play average to above average defense at multiple infield positions, Frandsen has some value. At his best, it seems that Frandsen is worth between 1.2 and 1.5 wins above replacement, and at worst he is exactly replacement level. Worse things have been said about bench players, but for the Phillies’ sake, Frandsen should look to correct any issues with his approach to hitting as possible this offseason because if the Phillies are to win anything in 2014, it will be an entire team effort.