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Todd Frazier looking to bounce back after a mediocre and injury-plagued 2018 season

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The pride of Toms River will likely have a different role in his second year with the Mets.

Miami Marlins v New York Mets - Game One Photo by Jim McIsaac/Getty Images

Todd Frazier has primarily played third base during his eight-year career. The New York Mets signed Frazier to a two-year contract prior to the 2018 season with the expectation that he would start at third in David Wright’s absence. In 2019, Frazier’s role with the team will be far less black-and-white.

Frazier will need to battle for playing time in a crowded infield that includes some notable offseason acquisitions and one highly-touted prospect in Pete Alonso. With the signing of Jed Lowrie — who will be the Opening Day third baseman if he is healthyFrazier will likely shift across the diamond to first base if the Mets don’t carry Alonso on the 25-man roster to start the season. If Alonso travels with the team to Washington D.C. on March 28 and Lowrie is healthy, Frazier could find himself coming off the bench.

First base is not an entirely new challenge for the 33 year old, as he played over 300 innings at the position in 2012 and in 2014 for the Cincinnati Reds. However, since the start of the 2015 season, the New Jersey native has only spent 78 total innings away from the hot corner. Last year, he provided average to above average defense, which is par for the course in his career. He finished 2018 with a 3.1 UZR/150 and 2 DRS at third base.

Offensively, Frazier put together an underwhelming season, and one that likely didn’t instill a tremendous amount of confidence in his team. He finished his first season in Flushing with numbers that fell below his career averages across the board, including a .213/.303/.390 slash line, 18 home runs, and a career-worst 93 wRC+ in just 115 games. Like the Mets, he got off to a solid start with a .769 OPS, a 117 wRC+, and a 15% walk rate in his first 32 games, but he couldn’t to maintain that level of production throughout the year.

It was at this point that injuries began to wreak havoc on Frazier’s season. After avoiding the disabled list during his first seven major league seasons, he landed on the DL twice last year — first for a strained hamstring in May, and then for a strained muscle in his left rib cage in July — which resulted in a total of just 24 and 21 at-bats in May and July, respectively. The starts and stops prevented Frazier from finding his groove, and his inconsistent numbers from month to month reflect that.

After his June return from his first DL trip, Frazier proceeded to hit just .204 with a .661 OPS during the rest of the season. His walk rate dropped to 8.1% in that span — his 10.2% walk rate on the season was the second-highest of his career, but fell short of his career-high 14.4% in 2017 — and he posted an 83 wRC+ over his final 83 games. He also continued to strike out a lot, which is to be expected given his career numbers, and finished 2018 with the third-highest strikeout rate (23.7%) among National League third basemen who registered at least 400 plate appearances.

Frazier’s 2019 is already off to an inauspicious start, as he was diagnosed with an oblique strain early in spring training. Given the lingering nature of oblique injuries and the fact that it has already required a cortisone injection, it’s fair to question whether he will be ready for Opening Day and whether this injury will continue to disrupt his season. When addressing the media following his latest setback, Frazier described himself as “very frustrated” , which is understandable given that he has never really had to deal with these types of injuries before.

The best laid plans of mice and men often go awry — a statement which always seems to ring true for the Mets — as injuries have already made the team’s infield depth seem thinner than they would have liked. It’s difficult to predict what 2019 will have in store for Frazier, as a number of factors beyond his control — his health, Lowrie’s health, Alonso’s eventual call-up, and the Jeff McNeil outfield experiment, for starters — could impact his playing time.

Frazier should still find plenty of at-bats during the season, regardless of all those factors. However, the Mets will need better production than the .693 OPS and 93 wRC+ that he posted in 2018. While he has often been identified as a great leader and fun clubhouse personality, the team will need him to hit far more than he did in 2018. If he can recapture some of the success he saw with the Chicago White Sox and New York Yankees in 2017 — specifically, his 14.4% walk rate and his .344 OBP — he can serve as a valuable asset for the Mets while bouncing between the corner infield positions