The Kevin Frandsen Illusion

Kevin Frandsen went 2-for-4 with two singles in yesterday’s series finale with the Washington Nationals, raising his average to .351 in his short time in Philadelphia. Spending all of 2011 with Triple-A Lehigh Valley and brandishing a career 68 OPS+ in his 626 Major League PA, the 30-year-old agreed to another Minor League contract with the Phillies, hoping to perform well enough to earn a promotion. He did just that, hitting .302 in 418 PA with the Iron Pigs, and the Phillies added him to the roster at the end of July. Since then, he has been one of the Phillies’ most productive players along with Erik Kratz.

I covered Frandsen briefly in a post on Wednesday, and Baumann did the same on Friday, but he is causing quite a stir and I figure explaining his performance is worth its own post.

As you may infer from his high batting average, Frandsen is sitting on a sky-high BABIP as well: .364. His career average BABIP is .272. While hitters have a lot more control over their BABIP than pitchers, they are still prone to the single-season flukes. Of the eight qualified MLB hitters with a .360 or higher BABIP in 2011, seven of them had a lower BABIP in 2012.

Name ’11 BABIP ’12 BABIP DIFF
Michael Young .367 .295 .072
Hunter Pence .361 .296 .065
Adrian Gonzalez .380 .327 .053
Emilio Bonifacio .372 .325 .047
Alex Avila .366 .322 .044
Miguel Cabrera .365 .325 .040
Michael Bourn .369 .361 .008
Matt Kemp .380 .387 -.007

In 2010, only four MLB hitters had a .360 or better BABIP: Austin Jackson, .396; Josh Hamilton, .390; Carlos Gonzalez, .384; and Joey Votto, .361. Each regressed the following year: Jackson, .340; Hamilton, .317; Gonzalez, .326; and Votto, .349. So you can bet on most if not all of the players at the top of the hitter BABIP leaderboard to regress the following year, Frandsen included.

Relative to his career averages, Frandsen hasn’t changed his batted ball splits all that much. The big difference is he has hit 7.5 percent fewer fly balls and six percent more line drives. The latter fall for hits about 60 percent more often than the former, so that’s explains a lot of Frandsen’s BABIP. But he’s also been lucky on fly balls and ground balls too.

 BABIP LD FB GB
2012 .688 .250 .267
Career .624 .128 .208
NL 2012 .712 .139 .236

If he had his career average BABIP this season rather than .364, he would have two fewer line drive hits, three fewer fly ball hits, and two fewer ground ball hits for a total of seven fewer hits. That would drive his average from .351 all the way down to .252, which says a lot about his luckiness but also about the small sample — 103 plate appearances.

It isn’t like Frandsen has suddenly made incredibly good contact with a majority of the pitches he’s swung at, either. Most of the balls he is putting in play are in front of the outfielders as his hit chart illustrates:

The idea of Frandsen at third base in 2013 has been thrown around a lot lately, but his production thus far is almost entirely a fluke and very unlikely to be repeated next year. He will go back to being a guy with an OPS in the mid-.600’s and the Phillies will still be left looking for a legitimate third baseman. Placido Polanco‘s combined OPS in 2011-12, by the way, is .658. He and his Gold Glove-caliber defense have a $5.5 million mutual option just begging to be picked up in the face of an abhorrent free agent class.

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42 comments

  1. nik

    August 27, 2012 08:04 AM

    Stop it with Polanco please. He and his gold glove defense are d.o.n.e

  2. Richard

    August 27, 2012 08:18 AM

    It’s funny how the anti-stats crowd gets swayed by stats, just the wrong ones. I mean, if you watch these games, it should be clear that Frandsen’s gotten a fair number of bloops and dinks and infield singles. Like, if you watch the game and see a pop fly fall for a hit, does it really occur to you to assign that to anything other than luck? Maybe in the moment, sure, but then you forget and you see the .351 BA and you imagine lots of line drives…

  3. TJules21

    August 27, 2012 08:35 AM

    I really hate these stats. BABIP…some people smoke the ball and some don’t. I’m not saying Kevin Frandsen is ripping the cover off the ball, but give the dude a little credit. The luck element of BABIP evens out over time as anyone who has ever played or studied the game of baseball will tell you. This is over-analysis and you can’t draw any conclusions from stats like these.

  4. Joe

    August 27, 2012 08:35 AM

    So does re-signing Polanco take into account his amazing health? I’d rather pay $800k for a BABIP fueled batting average with OK defense (not sure that’s even true… as long as it’s better than Wigginton) than pay 5.5 million for a very good defensive guy with no bat and lots of DL experience.

  5. drew

    August 27, 2012 08:51 AM

    Polanco may have been a gold glove defender and the same OPS as Frandsen can be expected to have, but what good is a gold glove if you are injured half of the time

  6. BobSmith75

    August 27, 2012 09:03 AM

    Good post on Frandsen. Polanco and his bad back though should make the Phils really hesitant to pick up that option:

    GS
    2009: 146
    2010: 121
    2011: 115
    2010: 72* (likely to start 85-90 games)

    No reason to pick up a guy’s option who numbers are in free fall, has likely declined defensively a bit, and isn’t a strong bet to even start 110 G next year.

  7. byosti

    August 27, 2012 09:50 AM

    where do you get those pretty heat maps from? I’ve seen plenty of different types, but that’s probably my favorite

  8. Dan K.

    August 27, 2012 10:28 AM

    Jeez Bill, decided to burn the silver linings for us today? Is Brown next?

    Really, though, I haven’t heard any rational person suggesting he starts for us next year, but he’s probably earned the utility role at this point. That said, Polanco doesn’t seem to be the answer, either, because of his health as others have stated.

    What’s the answer? There probably isn’t one. Not a reasonable one, anyways. Let’s see how creative RAJ can get.

  9. Pencilfish

    August 27, 2012 10:34 AM

    Don’t understand how you justify paying $5.5 million for a part-time player near the end of his career, when you don’t like the Papelbon (50 million for ~70 innings/year) or Kendrick’s deals (7.5 million for a BP pitcher/part-time 5th starter). While Frandsen may not be a Gold Glove 3B, he’s no Ty Wigginton either. Frandsen is better value for the money than Polanco in 2013.

    I hope RAJ doesn’t pick up Polanco’s option and instead spend the money on an OF with a RH power bat instead.

  10. Truth Police

    August 27, 2012 12:24 PM

    While your stats are correct, they do not take into account his extended achilles tear recovery and small cups of coffee mainly pinch hitting against closers… This is his first time playing every day since super early in his career. #latebloomer #persistence #hustle

  11. Dave

    August 27, 2012 01:11 PM

    Do Erik Kratz next. I’ve heard people wanting to move Chooch to 3rd, and you know they think Kratz is capable of doing next season what he did this year.

  12. Ryan

    August 27, 2012 01:51 PM

    If Ruiz is good enough defensively to spend some time at 3rd (to keep his bat in the lineup instead of resting him when he’s not catching), I’d be all for platooning him with Frandsen and/or Polanco. Keep Polanco and Frandsen–use Polanco as a super sub and Frandsen as a part time 3rd baseman. It’s probably better than the other available options and we’d be saving money for an outfield bat or two and maybe a reliever.

  13. LTG

    August 27, 2012 02:24 PM

    Playing 3B is not resting. He would still need days off and probably just as many.

    Anyway, fun fact about the 1991 Phils:
    Tommy Greene had the 5th most BATTING fWAR on that team.

  14. CRPhan

    August 27, 2012 02:32 PM

    I figure we’ve found a solid utility guy who can probably also hit off the bench. We still need a 3rd baseman tho.

  15. Steve

    August 27, 2012 02:49 PM

    I more or less agree with the general idea here. Wouldn’t mind keeping him around as a utility guy for very little but he’d probably fall off substantially if he started full-time.

    That said, anyone else been particularly impressed by his D? Maybe it’s just an Asdrubal Cabrera-type thing where he makes a bunch of flashy plays and I don’t notice him miss the easy ones, but he seems to be very on top of things in the field.

  16. JR

    August 27, 2012 05:46 PM

    I agree that Frandsen will not keep up this production and probably only deserves to be a platoon player. However, $5.5 million for Polanco in 2013 is not the answer and certainly not a no brainer. Polanco’s 2012 OPS of .631 is 26th out of 26 MLB 3rd baseman in OPS with a minimum of 300 plate appearances. His OPS since rejoining the Philies in 2010 is .685. His OPS has decreased five years in a row. He has been on the DL in 2010, 2011 and 2012 and is almost certain to make a trip to the DL next year. Does anyone believe that he can even play 100 games a year at this point. In my view, if Frandsen reverts offensively you will end up with the offensive equivalent of the current day Polanco. In addition, I do not beleive Frandsen is the butcher defensively that some have made him out to be. Long story short is that Polanco’s defense is not worth the extra $4.5 million + over what Frandsen would likely get paid especially since Polanco will most likely end up missing quite a few games with injuries.

  17. Bill Baer

    August 27, 2012 06:50 PM

    Polanco paid off his three-year, $18 million contract with his defense alone. He can certainly do that on a $5.5 million one-year salary.

  18. SF Ross

    August 27, 2012 08:31 PM

    The problem with this post is that you use too small of a sample and you lack context. I’ve been a Giant’s fan my whole life and was sorely disappointed when they let Kev go. To truly understand Frandsen’s potential, you need to go to the Pre-Achilles (PA) era. PA, Frandsen was THE hottest prospect in the Giant’s organization. He was not the hottest prospect because of his size, speed, or power, but because he dominated at all minor league levels right out the gate getting called up to the Bigs a year after being drafted. He batted .335 in 2005, .307 in 2006. He finally got regular playing time in 2007 when Ray Durham (like Polanco) was playing the last year of a injury-riddled season. Frandsen went into Spring Training as the starting 2nd basemen (oh yeah, when he wasn’t in the bigs in 2007, he hit .403 in 19 games in AAA). We know the rest. He blew out his achilles in the 2nd to last game of spring training and missed the whole year (though he was determined to come back and made it back for a pinch-hit ground out the last game of 2008). Now post-Achilles, 2009 was a terribly frustrating year for Giant’s fans and Frandsen. He returned to form, batting .295 in AAA with a .790 OPS. However, management kept bouncing him back and forth; sometimes calling him up and not playing him for several games and then having him pinch-hit against a closer. He got a handful of starts and failed to get any rhythm. There was bitterness; words were spoken; Frandsen was traded for essentially nothing. Then the “journey years.” Padres, Red Sox, Angels, Phillies. In those years: regular playing time in AAA=.297 average, .755OPS; regular playing time in the bigs: .287 average;
    He’s a second basemen who would probably bat anywhere from .275-.310 in any given year, with a lot of doubles and a few HRs. He’ll get hit by a ton of pitches (he was featured in a WSJ article his rookie year). In general, he’ll play his ass off every play of every game.
    No one wanted him after high school. He went to SJSU and broke the hits record. He wasn’t a high draft pick then made the Futures AllStar Game and the pros within a year.
    Personally, I’d let him stick around.

  19. Bill Baer

    August 27, 2012 08:58 PM

    @ SF Ross

    A .310 average against mostly-poor Minor League pitchers doesn’t translate to a .300+ average in the Majors. Even it did, he has zero power — he posted a .094 ISO in AAA before getting called up.

  20. nik

    August 27, 2012 08:58 PM

    Bill you’re not rational about Polanco. This season his fWAR is 0.6 0.2 bWAR. Do you really think he will be healthier and better next year after a 5 year trend saying he’s only getting worse? Who cares that his contract paid off in 2010 and 2011? We’re talking about 2013.

  21. Bill Baer

    August 27, 2012 09:00 PM

    Believe me, I’m only championing Polanco because of the dearth of other options. It’s overpay for Chase Headley, bring back Polanco, cross your fingers with Frandsen, or dumpster-dive for a Geoff Blum-type.

    I think acquiring Headley is unrealistic, and otherwise Polanco would give you the closest to a break-even return.

  22. JR

    August 27, 2012 09:03 PM

    Bill,

    His defense does not matter if he does not play. In addition, just like Ryan Howard, using career numbers in the face of a rather pronounced decline in overall production does not make much sense. Even his defensive numbers appear to be lower this year.

  23. SF Ross

    August 27, 2012 11:15 PM

    @Bill:
    “A .310 average against mostly-poor Minor League pitchers doesn’t translate to a .300+ average in the Majors. Even it did, he has zero power — he posted a .094 ISO in AAA before getting called up.”
    Thanks, I get it now. Polanco is probably the best bet. He’s hit 103 homers in 15 years; 13 homers with the Phillies the last 3 years. He’s a Beast! Not to mention, a model of fitness and good health. :)

    BTW, I never suggested Frandsen would be a power hitting 3rd baseman. He was about to break Utley’s doubles record at LHV before call up.

  24. Pencilfish

    August 28, 2012 09:45 AM

    Bill,

    It’s a 5.5 million one-year deal on paper only. Polanco’s recent health history suggests this is a 5.5 million deal for about 80 games only. This makes Frandsen an even more appealing solution, but I would be more inclined to agree with you if Polanco was a bridge to a more long-term solution (2014 and beyond) at 3B, which does not seem to exist right now.

  25. Chris S

    August 28, 2012 10:00 AM

    This might be a stretch, but what about Darin Ruf? Would he be able to make a move to 3rd, I know he has been starting in LF lately to make room for him on the MLB roster, so I am curious to see if he could handle the hot corner. Also I really just wanted to bring up his name to see where he fits in the Phillies future as he has hit a whopping 18 HR this month! :)

  26. Phillie697

    August 28, 2012 02:34 PM

    Picking up Polanco means his risk of injury, of which there is a significant one no doubt, outweighs the risks associated with all other options, i.e. overpaying for Headley, taking a chance on Frandsen, or going with a pu-pu platter combo. Don’t know about you, but 2/3 of Polanco (i.e. playing 100 games) is better than a full season of turn-back-into-pumpkin Frandsen (basically replacement level, i.e. worth NO WAR), and I’ve never seen a pu-pu platter combo work anywhere, and with RAJ at the helm I wouldn’t count on a pu-pu platter he put together worth more than 1 WAR. 2/3 of Polanco, on defense ALONE, is 2 WAR. Come on, how many of you think he’s going to pay ZERO game next year? So let’s not overhype your assessment of his injury-prone ways.

  27. Phillie697

    August 28, 2012 02:47 PM

    Just to add to the above, in case someone makes the argument that while Frandsen might not contribute any meaningful WAR, he also costs no meaningful money, so in essence, he’s as a cost-effective option as Polanco. While that analysis is somewhat dubious, I would even concede that point, but remind you that even if that is true, there are 25 roster spots through which we can spend the money to buy wins. Why would you willingly give up on a position and say it will contribute no wins for us when you can spend $5.5M to get 2 WAR? Do you have some idea where to spend that $5.5M elsewhere that we wouldn’t otherwise have money for to get 2 WAR? Where? In all likelihood we are going to pay decent money to sign a CF, and if you want to get 2 extra WAR out of a corner OF spot not played by Brown, you need to get a 3-WAR player, since what we have currently on the roster probably is capable of producing at least 1 WAR. I don’t know any 3-WAR OF out there who’s going to cost only $5.5M.

  28. JR

    August 28, 2012 02:55 PM

    What is Polanco’s WAR in 2012 – looks pretty much like replacement level to me. He is dead last in OPS among 3rd baseman with at least 300 plate appearances (26 players) and 24th in OBP. I do not see any other teams lining up to pay him $5.5 million. Wouldn’t it make more sence to decline the option and then try to sign him for a more reasonable amount like $2.75 million if it appears that other options do not open up.

  29. Phillie697

    August 28, 2012 03:26 PM

    @JR,

    Well, if your argument is that we shouldn’t pick up his option and then try to sign him for less than $5.5M, I can certainly get on board with that. I’m just saying, he as a 3B option is not a bad one; we can quibble about what he should cost, sure.

  30. Pencilfish

    August 28, 2012 04:45 PM

    Fangraphs says Frandsen is worth 0.9 WAR in 2012 over 103 PA (with the standard warning about small sample size), and Polanco is worth 0.6 WAR over 324 PA. Note that Polanco was worth 3.9 WAR over 602 PA in 2010 and 2.8 WAR over 523 PA in 2011. Essentially you can project Polly to be replacement level (or worse) in 2013, and I
    don’t see how Frandsen can be much worse.

    I agree one can’t get a 2-3 WAR OF for 5.5 million, but I hope RAJ adds the 5.5 million to the Victorino/Pence money to get one or two OF in 2013 that will get us the 2-3 WAR.

  31. JR

    August 28, 2012 05:17 PM

    Phillie697

    Yes, that is my point. I would think you could sign both Polanco and Frandsen for less then the $5.5 million under the Polanco option. Obviously, there is some risk that Polanco could walk, but I just do not see another team paying him something in the range of $5.5 million given his decline in production and injury history. In addition, this would free up some dollars paid over the 2012 amount.

  32. nik

    August 28, 2012 06:47 PM

    I wouldn’t give Polanco more than $1.5 Mil next season. Take it or leave it, noone else is going to pay him more than that.

  33. Richard

    August 29, 2012 07:54 AM

    Polanco’s defense is not worth 2 WAR all by itself. It’s valuable and makes him a legit part of the conversation, but don’t over-state the case.

  34. Phillie697

    August 29, 2012 11:18 AM

    “Fangraphs says Frandsen is worth 0.9 WAR in 2012 over 103 PA (with the standard warning about small sample size), and Polanco is worth 0.6 WAR over 324 PA. Note that Polanco was worth 3.9 WAR over 602 PA in 2010 and 2.8 WAR over 523 PA in 2011. Essentially you can project Polly to be replacement level (or worse) in 2013, and I don’t see how Frandsen can be much worse.”

    You don’t see how Frandsen can be much worse? Wut? And I love how you have just “proven” that linear regression is the correct way to project how someone will decline with age and injury. You just solved the problem that many smart people have been trying to figure out for the last 30 years. Bravo!

    The fact that someone who was worth almost 4 WARs two years ago and almost 3 as recently as LAST year is considered replacement level is patently absurd.

    @Richard,

    Polanco was worth 2.8 fWAR as recently as last year when he had a negative BsR rating and a 88 wRC+, i.e. his fWAR was entirely defensive value. And that’s only over 523 ABs. Projected over 700 AB, he would have been worth 3.75 fWAR. So yes, 2/3 of Polanco is worth 2 WAR. I didn’t over-state the case.

  35. LTG

    August 29, 2012 12:01 PM

    So, tonight we are going to finally be able to pass judgment on Cloyd. Tonight we will find out once and for all if he is the next staff ace or just a AAAA bum!

  36. Pencilfish

    August 29, 2012 01:05 PM

    Phillie697,

    More absurd is the idea that the
    Phillies will get 2/3 of Polanco in 2013 or projecting Polanco’s value over 700 AB, given his recent health history. That’s great for a fantasy baseball league!

  37. Phillie697

    August 29, 2012 01:21 PM

    When you want to calculate the 2/3 value of a player, you usually start with the full value of that player. Otherwise you’re essentially double-counting his injury risk. By saying we’ll get only 2/3 of Polanco I’m ALREADY acknowledging the injury risks. How many games do you think he’ll play? 80? That’s still 1.5 WAR, or 1.5 more than a replacement player, who I think Frandsen is. If you want to disagree that Frandsen is a replacement player, feel free. I have yet to see you make that argument.

  38. Pencilfish

    August 29, 2012 01:50 PM

    Phillie697,

    Yes, I agree we start with the full value of that player, but how did you calculate the full value of that player? Are you basing Polanco’s full value on his 2011 performance? I think that’s a mistake. Look at his WAR from 2010 to 2012, and you can see the typical precipitous decline in performance for players near the end of their careers. Polanco may be worth ~1 WAR for all of 2012 assuming ~90 games and 350 AB. Assuming ~80 games and ~300 AB in 2013 (optimistically in my view), it is reasonable to assume declining skills (more limited defensive range, fewer line drive hits, etc) will bring him to essentially 0 WAR.

  39. rich D

    August 30, 2012 04:51 PM

    He deserves a chance. How can a self professed stat guy hang his hat on such an unrepresentative sample size as Frandsen’s MLB Plate appearances. He is a career .300 hitter in the minors and it is at least plausible he could do same in the Bigs with an extended opportunity.

  40. judas_priest

    August 31, 2012 12:10 AM

    Frandsen’s gaudy BA may be a reflection of a small sample size and some luck – but maybe he really is a .280-.300 hitter. How well he does in the remaining games will give additional clues as to what we might expect from him as a regular next year. FWIW, I don’t think he will keep hitting at a high level, but it is possible. For his entire MLB career he had been averaging 2.5 PA per game played – this year it’s 4 per game. This suggests that those who think he can do better than his career record if he plays a lot have something to base that conclusion on.

  41. lorecore

    August 31, 2012 10:08 AM

    Its not rocket science to know that Fransden’s BABIP is lofty and driving a lot of his success so far, but he’s putting a up a +20% LD and a +55% GB rate, all awhile striking out under 10% of his PA.

    Saying that he’s truly a .270 BABIP player because of his one season in SFG with much worse batted ball numbers is offbase. If you can make contact at such a high rate(which he’s done at every level including MLB), keep the ball on the ground, and hit more LD than FB – welcome to a high BABIP, probably in the .330 range.

    Polanco for $5.5M, are you nuts? Cut him and get back on like a $1M deal if desired, and thats if bighead and stay healthy enough to stay out of retirement this offseason.

  42. imright

    October 04, 2012 11:56 AM

    He’s a keeper… at the very least he’s earned a chance. I’m right :)

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