This past weekend was the annual off-season Pirate Fest for the Pittsburgh Pirates. At Pirate Fest, manager Clint Hurdle made a comment that may shed light on the team’s infield plans for the 2018 season
One of the top priorities for general manager Neal Huntington and the Pittsburgh Pirates this off-season is to figure out third base. With Jung Ho Kang still stuck in South Korea with no new work visa in sight, the team needs to address the position.
In 2017 David Freese was the primary third baseman. However, while he is still a plus defender at the position, Freese proved to no longer be offensively capable of playing every day in the Major Leagues.
When looking in-house, the team’s options are not very strong. Josh Harrison can play third base, but that then creates a hole at second base. Sean Rodriguez and Max Moroff are options to play third base or second base, but neither has any business being an every day player.
The other in-house option is super utility man Adam Frazier. While Frazier proved last season he is not offensively capable of playing on a daily basis, and that his defense at second base is abysmal, it appears the Pirates might be laying the groundwork for Frazier to play every day in 2018.
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At Pirate Fest on Saturday, Clint Hurdle was asked about Frazier. The Pirates’ skipper said that Frazier’s best position is second base. Combine this statement with Hurdle’s fixation on playing Frazier as much as possible, the team’s need for a third baseman, and Josh Harrison’s ability to move to third base there may be some tea leaves to read here.
While, on paper, this fixes the Pirates’ third base issues having Adam Frazier start at second base would not be a wise decision by Hurdle and the Pirates. First and foremost, Frazier is a poor defensive second baseman. He has played 405 2/3 innings at second base in the Major Leagues and he owns a -45.5 UZR/150, his defensive runs saved (DRS) is zero, and his fielding percentage is a porous .948.
Adam Frazier’s glove is borderline unplayably bad at second base. Not only does he have poor range at second base, even when he gets to the ball him making the play is far from a given. He has proven that his best defensive position is the corner outfield spots, so from a defensive standpoint starting Frazier at second base is a train wreck waiting to happen.
The second issue with Frazier playing every day at second base is that offensively he is best suited to be a part-time player. Frazier finished the 2017 season with a .344 on-base percentage, he slugged .399, his wOBA was .322, and his wRC+ was 97. At best, he was a league average hitter last season.
When Frazier was at his best is when he was playing part-time. Before the All-Star Break Frazier started 53 of the team’s 89 games – he started just 18 of 89 after the All-Star Break – and he owned just a .333 on-base percentage, a .353 slugging percentage, a .303 wOBA, and a wRC+ of 85. He also hit groundballs at a 51.2 percent rate. Hitting that many groundballs is not a recipe for success for a hitter.
Following the All-Star Break when Adam Frazier moved back into a part-time/utility role his offensive numbers improved immensely. He got on base at a .360 clip, he slugged .462, his wOBA was .349, and his wRC+ was 115. Also, his groundball rate dropped to 43.3 percent.
Maybe saying that the Pirates appear to be laying the groundwork for Adam Frazier to play every day at second base in 2018 is reading too much into things. However, the Pirates have a tendency to begin to lay the gorundwork for moves like this and put their positive spin on it ahead of time.
While the Pirates may be laying the groundwork for Adam Frazier to be the every day second baseman in 2018, they would be best served not to. Frazier has proven he is a much better hitter when playing part-time, while he is a below average league hitter when starting. Additionally, his defense at second base is abysmal. Hopefully, the Pirates either add a third baseman to keep Josh Harrison at second base in 2018 or move Harrison to third base and go a different route than Frazier at second base.