How Todd Frazier Has Become One Of MLB’s Best Home Run Hitters

PITTSBURGH – After an 0-for-4, two strikeout performance in a 5-3 loss versus the Philadelphia Phillies on May 17, 2013, Todd Frazier’s slash line stood at .214/.300/.393.

Frazier had been without a home run in 19 straight games – a span of 66 at-bats – and would go 20 more games until he finally connected on a long ball. Later in the year, from July 26 until Aug. 7, Frazier endured an 0-for-31 stretch.

This certainly doesn’t sound like the same guy who currently holds a .292/.356/.636 slash line with 23 home runs through just 67 games.

So let’s examine how Todd Frazier went from this:

…to this:

While Frazier made no real significant changes to what MLB analyst Bill Ripken describes as a “violent swing” with “controlled aggression”, there are plenty of subtle changes that have led to this huge turnaround.

In Owen Watson’s piece on FanGraphs about Frazier, a reader notes the following:

“Frazier turns his upper body backwards in a coiling motion—something most easily seen by the closing of the right shoulder and the raising of the back elbow during the load phase. This coiling of the full upper body increases the length of the swing and also maintains the original angle between the arms and body set during the pre-load phase. This is not, in itself, poor mechanics provided one makes sure to set one’s arms on the desired plane before launching into one’s swing (which Frazier does); however, there are more efficient ways to create higher bat speed and Frazier’s new mechanics reflect an increase in efficiency.

Perhaps, Frazier’s increase in efficiency came from the work he put in prior to the 2014 season, as we see here during spring training.

In the video below Frazier is taking one-handed swings off a tee with a much smaller bat than he normally uses for live batting practice, or a regular game. He says the “idea of using a smaller bat is to help keep your hands inside during a pitch, so when I get in the game both hands can come through at the same time.”

Frazier says he uses the small bat “to work the hands and be ‘handsy’ with the bat”, finishing by saying, “when you use both hands with a regular bat, the bat path is going to be down and staying inside the pitch.”

The heat maps below show the fruits of Frazier’s labor.

Here is the 2013 version of Frazier:

Todd Frazier
Todd Frazier Heatmap, 2013 season

And here is the 2015 version:

Todd Frazier
Todd Frazier Heatmap, 2015 season

It’s clear Frazier has expanded his plate coverage to much higher point in the strike zone, in addition to crushing inside pitches.

As Sean O’Neill writes on Sons Of Sam Horn, “Frazier hasn’t become a one dimensional fastball pull hitter, it has simply been that when a pitcher has put a fastball on the inside of the plate, he has turned on the ball and annihilated it.The most impressive part of Frazier’s improvement? There’s no obvious counter that pitchers can take. He knows where he can do the most damage and where he does the least, and he has tailored his approach to those strengths and weaknesses.”

Frazier’s ascent into the elite of baseball has been a slow, steady climb, but one that has paid off in multiple ways. Next month, Frazier will be front and center as the spokesperson for the 2015 All-Star game at Great American Ballpark in Cincinnati, and certain participant in the Home Run Derby, after finishing as runner-up to Yoenis Cespedes last year.

But then again, this is the same guy who hit a ‘no-hands home run’ three years ago, so perhaps this shouldn’t come as a surprise.