As Time Goes By

 

 

Why isn’t Todd Frazier a bigger star in this city?

Now, I’m making some assumptions here that are going to be difficult to quantify. Frazier is certainly a popular guy in Cincinnati, an All-Star, a middle-of-the-order hitter with a good glove. Given his production over the last couple of years, however, doesn’t it seem like he should be the biggest star in town?

Think about it: Frazier is a Little League World Series star whose name has been known to the sporting public since he was twelve years old. He was drafted by the Reds, a home-grown player who came up through the system to win a starting role on the big league club. He hit 19 homers in each of his first two full seasons as Cincinnati’s regular third baseman, while displaying a solid glove at the hot corner. Last year, he was the best offensive player on the team, he made his first National League All-Star roster, and even made it to the finals of the Home Run Derby. When the dust settled on the season, Frazier’s 29 homers were fourth in the NL.

This year has been more of the same. Frazier leads the Reds in nearly every relevant offensive category. He’s hitting .287/.372/.624 with 16 homers and 31 RBI. His 3.0 WAR is third-best among all National League hitters, behind only Bryce Harper and Paul Goldschmidt. Frazier’s wRC+ is 170, the fifth-best mark in the NL; his .423 wOBA ranks fourth. It’s clear that Frazier has been among the Senior Circuit’s most productive hitters thus far in 2015.

When we look at his 3B peers, Frazier ranks above all other National Leaguers in stolen bases, WAR, wOBA, and wRC+. He leads all major league 3Bs in homers and slugging percentage. Only Toronto’s Josh Donaldson can claim to have had a better season among third basemen in the big leagues.

Okay, so you already knew Frazier has had a good season and a half (actually more than that, but you get the picture). But what you may not realize is that Frazier’s production has been historically good for a Reds third baseman. In fact, only three other 3Bs have ever had a better season (viewing through the lens of WAR) than Frazier did in 2014. You may know their names: Tony Perez, Pete Rose, Heinie Groh. Frazier’s 29 home runs were the fourth-highest total ever for a Reds 3B, as well.

If he can keep it up—and yes, I realize we’re barely a quarter of the way through the season, but bear with me on this one—this season could end up being the best season ever for a Reds third baseman. Frazier’s .996 OPS would be the best mark ever, higher even than Tony Perez’s remarkable 1970 campaign, when the Big Dog hit .317/.401/.589 with 40 homers and 129 RBI…only to watch a 22-year-old teammate, John Lee Bench, win the MVP award. Frazier is also on pace to break Perez’s 45-year-old mark for most home runs by a Reds third baseman.

Okay, I concede that I’m stretching a bit by leaning on the “on pace to” numbers. The point, of course, is that Frazier is doing things that we haven’t seen a Reds third baseman do in a long time. By the end of 2015, Frazier should easily move into third place on the Reds all-time list for 3B career WAR (among players who played at least half their games for Cincinnati at the hot corner). Sometime early next season, Frazier will move past Chris Sabo (17.2 career WAR) into the second spot on that list. (Heinie Groh’s total of 40.6 may be unreachable). With 15 more homers, Frazier will tie Sabo for the most career home runs by a Reds third baseman.

To be fair, that’s not quite telling the entire story. Tony Perez hit 289 homers as a third sacker for the Reds, and accumulated 49.5 WAR; he just didn’t qualify for the list above because he played fewer than 50% of his games at 3B. But think about what I’m saying here: at some point next year, there will be a good argument that Todd Frazier has put up numbers that make him better than any regular third baseman in Reds history other than Perez or Groh. Perez is a Hall of Famer, and Groh is in the Reds Hall of Fame. That’s not bad.

Todd Frazier is starting to look like a sure-fire future enshrinee in the Reds Hall of Fame, too. Be honest: had that thought ever crossed your mind? Certainly, I understand the arguments that are made against the idea that the Reds should hand Frazier a long-term contract (mostly centering around the fact that he didn’t play a full season in the big leagues until age 26, and he should be due to begin a decline any time), and I’m not advocating that. But by the end of next season, there’s an outside chance that Frazier could bump into the top twenty Reds hitters of all time (by WAR), at any position. Who knew?

Try listening to the radio. Read the papers. Take a look at the #Reds hashtag on Twitter. (Actually, on second thought, don’t look at that hashtag. It may be hazardous to your mental health.) All you will hear is Joey Votto or Johnny Cueto or Aroldis Chapman or Jay Bruce.

I know Votto is a former MVP, and he’s the straw that stirs the drink. I know, as well, that Cueto and Chapman are elite performers at their position.

It’s time to consider that Frazier is also among the very best in the big leagues at his position, and he’s doing things that many Reds fans have never seen a 3B do. Plus, he smiles at least as much as Brandon Phillips, and that’s hard to do. Which brings me back to my original question: why isn’t Frazier considered a bigger star in Cincinnati?

I don’t know the answer to that. But he should be.

Chad Dotson is a Nuxhall Way contributor. He is also the founder of Redleg Nation and a contributor to ESPN’s SweetSpot blog. You can follow him on Twitter at @dotsonc.

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