To Adam Frazier, his goal is obvious.
The veteran second baseman knows what he is, and what he isn’t.
“I’m not a middle-of-the-order bat,” he said. “It’s about knowing your role.”
Frazier, one of the best hitters at making contact in the major leagues, wants to walk more times this season than he strikes out — a feat he’s never accomplished and one that only six qualified batters did in 2022. Despite the fact that he’s part of a small percentage of players capable of achieving that goal, he doesn’t view it as unusual.
“Well, why wouldn’t it be a goal?” Frazier quipped, noting that, of course, any player would want to walk more than he strikes out.
However, simply having that as a goal — one that no Oriole has achieved since Rafael Palmeiro in 2004 — exemplifies Frazier’s skill set and value in the Orioles’ lineup so far this season, his first in Baltimore.
“I’ve got a special contact ability, so yeah maybe it’s not possible for a lot of guys in the league, but it’s possible for me,” Frazier said. “It’s something I’ve set a goal out to do. If you’re able to do that, you look back at the end of the year, and your numbers should be halfway decent.”
Frazier is within striking distance of his goal with 17 walks and 21 strikeouts. The 31-year-old second baseman is far from a high-walk player with a below-average 8.5% walk rate this year — the highest of his eight-year career. But his elite contact ability is why he rarely strikes out. His 15.2% swing-and-miss rate ranks in the top 7% of major league hitters and is nearly 10 percentage points better than average, while his 10.5% strikeout rate (a career-best so far) is in the 97th percentile, according to Baseball Savant.
Frazier credits his contact ability to a combination of his perfect eyesight and the awful feeling he had as a little leaguer whenever he struck out.
“It’s god-given, I guess,” Frazier said. “But I remember being a kid, I struck out and I was embarrassed. You’re walking back to the dugout with the bat in your hand and that guy just got the better of you. Nowadays, the stuff’s ridiculous, so there’s still that sense where you say, ‘He got me there.’
“I don’t know, I just feel that sense of embarrassment, and I don’t like that.”
He was walking more than he struck out for most of May, but he failed to accept a free pass in the second half of the month. During that time, however, is when Frazier’s bat came to life after a slow start, as he hit .284 with a .787 OPS and three home runs. Frazier’s contact-focused approach is why he ranks in the bottom 10% of average exit velocity and hard-hit percentage, according to Baseball Savant, but his six homers are more than he’s had in any season since 2019, when he totaled a career-high 10.
On the season, Frazier is slashing .240/.310/.397 — good for a near-league-average .707 OPS. The numbers represent a half bounce back from his down 2022 campaign, in which he posted a .612 OPS for the Seattle Mariners, but not as good as his All-Star 2021, when he hit .305 with a .779 OPS with the Pittsburgh Pirates and San Diego Padres.
“I’ve felt like at times this year I’ve seen the ball really good and had some lineouts. The [batting] average isn’t really there. For me, average is a thing I take pride in, especially being a contact guy,” Frazier said. “It’s about putting a barrel on a mistake. If you can do that more than not and walk more times than you strike out, you should be at a good place at the end of the year.”
The difficult feat didn’t used to be all that difficult. For much of the 20th century, before pitchers regularly threw in the mid-to-upper 90s, it wasn’t rare for a batter to walk more than he struck out. In the Orioles’ first 50 years, it happened 52 times, including multiple times by Baltimore legends Eddie Murray, Cal Ripken Jr. and Brooks Robinson.
As velocity has gone through the roof, though, and pitch arsenals are sharper than ever, contact hitters have started to go extinct. In the past 10 seasons, only 30 times did a player achieve Frazier’s goal.
When asked for a player with a contact ability similar to Frazier’s, manager Brandon Hyde said former MLB utilityman Ben Zobrist, who Hyde overlapped with while coaching for the Chicago Cubs.
“Zobrist never struck out. Way different kind of profile — Ben was a lot bigger [than Frazier]. But the similar sort of balanced approach at the plate,” Hyde said. “Not afraid to get to two strikes because they’re not afraid to get beat, they’re short to the baseball, not trying to do too much, not looking to pull everything. Just trying to use the whole field and have a real good plan at the plate when they go up there.
“[Frazier] is a real pro. He does his homework. He knows how guys are gonna try to attack him, and he tries to take good at-bats, and normally he does.”
However, despite his success thus far, Frazier isn’t the most likely Oriole to achieve the feat. Adley Rutschman is one of four qualified hitters in 2023 with more walks than strikeouts, joining Houston Astros third baseman Alex Bregman, Cleveland Guardians third baseman José Ramírez and Miami Marlins second baseman Luis Arráez. In his second big league season, Rutschman is leading the American League with 43 walks versus 32 strikeouts.
Aside from Rutschman and Frazier, though, no other Oriole is close to an even strikeout-to-walk ratio. A hitter such as Ryan Mountcastle, whose purpose as a middle-of-the-order bat is to mash home runs (on pace for 31 this season), has 57 strikeouts versus 11 walks. But having a hitter like Frazier in the same lineup as one like Mountcastle gives the Orioles an interesting balance.
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“He’s always putting the bat on the ball, hitting low line drives all over the field,” Mountcastle said of Frazier. “That’s his game, and he’s really good at it.”
Frazier’s value, though, goes beyond the stat sheet, said Hyde, who has complimented the veteran for doing the “little things” such as taking command of popups on the infield and shallow outfield, being a smart base runner and a good bunter. Hyde tapped Frazier to pinch run in Baltimore’s walk-off win April 23 against the Detroit Tigers, with Frazier scoring the winning run on a wild pitch. Frazier then elected to lay down a crucial sacrifice bunt in an extra-inning win May 20 against the Toronto Blue Jays.
Frazier, whose 1.1 wins above replacement on Baseball-Reference ranks fourth among the team’s position players, has stepped up in big moments, too. He’s hitting .267 with a .749 OPS with runners in scoring position. In 38 high-leverage plate appearances, he’s hitting .344 with a .917 OPS.
Recently, Hyde has employed Frazier as Baltimore’s leadoff hitter against right-handed starting pitchers with Cedric Mullins on the injured list with a right groin strain.
“He’s doing a great job,” Hyde said. “I just like the quality of his at-bats.”
Hyde’s reasoning is similar to why Frazier has his goal.
“It just comes down to being a tough out,” Frazier said.