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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.

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.

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.