"Keep me off that bench, Dusty."
Todd Frazier has received considerable press as the media's attention shifts from the regular season towards the playoffs and post-season awards. CBS's Matt Snyder wrote that Frazier is a "pretty good bet" to win Rookie of the Year. ESPN's Jerry Crasnick thoughtful bio of the Toddfather is a must-read. But should Frazier be the ROY favorite?
As Crasnick points out, Frazier's main competition is Arizona SP Wade Miley. Comparing pitchers versus position players is inherently an apples-to-oranges exercise, but what initially struck me in reviewing the two is Frazier's relative lack of playing time. Through no fault of his own, Frazier started the year in Louisville and has spent stretches on the bench when the Reds have been at full strength. While Rolen and Votto's injuries have made Frazier a permanent fixture in the batting order since July, he still has less than 400 PAs with a month remaining. And with Joey Votto returning as early as today, there's a good chance that Frazier won't accumulate enough playing time to even qualify for the batting title.
Meanwhile, the relatively low-key ROY campaign for Wade Miley belie his excellence throughout the entire season. After three long relief appearances to start the year, Miley joined Arizona's rotation on April 23 and hasn't missed a start since. He's thrown 164.2 innings, and thrown them really well: 14-9, 2.90, and a 4:1 strikeout to walk ratio. Miley places third among NL starters in bWAR (4.0) and second in ERA+ (149), behind only Johnny Cueto. We're talking about a rookie who's been among the best starting pitchers in the league.
Frazier, as valuable as he's been, has been less dominant in less playing time than Miley. Frazier's .294/.349/.542 slash line is good for an adjusted OPS of 131, which, if he qualified, would place him just outside of the top ten. And there's the rub: with just 392 trips to the plate, Frazier's PAs are barely half of Miley's batters faced (671). The significant playing time delta accounts for considerable advantages for Miley in both bWAR (4.0 - 2.1) and fWAR (4.2 - 2.9).
The lack of playing time doesn't necessarily doom Frazier's ROY bid. Among the seven position players to win the award in the past six years, their games played have ranged from 108 to 158. Frazier should finish comfortably in the middle of that group with 125-130. The lack of games played certainly didn't hurt Ryan Howard, who won the 2005 ROY despite playing in just 88 games (with a 133 OPS+, no less), though he didn't compete with anyone as strong as Miley. Perhaps the best recent comp for Frazier is LF Chris Coghlan (128 games, 122 OPS+), who edged J.A. Happ (166 IP, 144 ERA+) to win the 2009 NL ROY.What Frazier lacks in playing time, he more than makes it up in narrative. Frazier is the LLWS Hero and a bona fide Great Clubhouse Guy. He hits one-handed homeruns. He saves over-zealous diners. He's the most interesting corner-utility player in the league. He's also benefited from the national attention accompanying the Reds' ascendancy to the top of the league. NBC Sports' Caught Looking prominently featured Frazier last week, showing him greeting fans on his walk to the ballpark and mixing it up with his teammates, opposing players, umpires, staff ... everybody. Reminded me a lot of Sean Casey. As for Todd's competition, I'm pretty sure "Wade Miley" is the name of a kid in my daughter's pre-school. He's a six-foot lefty who is incredibly average in both fastball velocity and strikeout rate. Where Miley excels is limiting walks and homeruns, an effective if not sexy strategy.
So if narrative means that much in terms of winning the hardware, Frazier should wrap this up pretty easily. Right? Right. Probably. After a nasty slump, wunderkid Bryce Harper has started to hit again and now stands at a perfectly cromulent .254/.324/.431 (103 OPS+) for a centerfielder. That's well below Frazier, but Harper adds speed (13 steals) and defense to render their WARs about equal. And the team success advantage Frazier enjoys over Miley doesn't apply here, as the Nationals have proven to be more than mere election year puffery. If Harper finishes the season on a high note, his well-documented chutzpah just might vault him over both Miley and Frazier. Time for Frazier to steal home.