After a dismal and injury-delayed start to his season, 33-year-old Todd Frazier is quietly proving that reports of his demise have been greatly exaggerated.
Frazier missed nearly all of spring training with an oblique injury, finally returning to the lineup in mid-April after a very brief rehab stint in the minors. In his first 18 games back, he put up a brutal .148/.164/.259 batting line, good for just an 11 wRC+. That led to calls for him to lose his starting job and even suggestions that a DFA was in order. From May 8 to May 16, he started just one game.
While it certainly would have been hasty for the Mets to cut ties permanently with their presumptive starting third baseman on May 15, there was no ignoring the red flags. Frazier was coming off his worst professional season with just a .693 OPS and a 93 wRC+ in an injury-shortened 115 games. For a low batting average slugger entering his mid-thirties, it would not have been surprising if he faded quietly into retirement.
But Frazier didn’t get the memo that he was finished, and his performance over the past month has been all-around fantastic, anchoring an uneven Mets offense and providing much-needed reliability in the field.
Since knocking a pinch-hit double on May 16, Frazier has hit .321/.430/.548 with a 165 wRC+. His 13% walk rate would be the second-highest of his career, and his 17% strikeout rate would be the lowest. He’s pulling the ball consistently, with line drive power as well as well-struck fly balls, an ideal profile for a hitter like him in the current run environment.
So what changed for the resurgent Frazier? Though you can’t discount the psychological effect of knowing one’s career is on the brink, the simplest explanation is that obliques are tricky and spring training is important. It is nearly impossible to swing a bat with an oblique injury and getting the rhythm back after spending so much time essentially moving as little as possible is a long process. Frazier’s short rehab period at best got him back into offseason shape, which left him exposed in the majors as he struggled to get back up to speed.
It’s hardly the first time the Mets have been overly aggressive in bringing back a veteran player from an injury, as Robinson Cano can attest most recently. But with fellow infielder Jed Lowrie laid up indefinitely, the pressure was on Frazier to be present. Presence is not effectiveness, though, and Frazier’s lack of readiness was arguably a factor in the team’s struggles, as they went just 8-11 between his April 22 return and his May 15 nadir, at a time when the pitching was as strong as it’s been all season.
Having an effective Frazier in the lineup is a significant boon for the Mets, not only in filling out a lineup that is increasingly thin without the injured Cano and Brandon Nimmo, but also in the field. Frazier’s excellent defense at third base is vital given Amed Rosario’s unevenness at shortstop and a finicky bullpen that needs every out it can get.
On both sides of the ball, Frazier is back—and not a moment too soon.