The contrasting volatility of Asdrubal Cabrera and Todd Frazier

Old habits die hard. We have an image in our mind of what a player at each position on the field should be like, both offensively and defensively. If you’re asked to think about a catcher, the image that comes to mind is significantly different than if you were asked to think about a shortstop. For the most part these images serve us well. But one area where they may be lacking is our image of a second baseman compared to that of a third baseman.

Most people will think of the second baseman as a scrappy-type of player, one who’s not afraid of getting his uniform dirty and one who may not have the greatest offensive talent but one who will do everything he can to be useful. Meanwhile, the image of the third baseman is one of the slugger. He may not be the most athletic player around but he’ll give you the power that, say, a second baseman simply does not have.

The reality is that last year in the NL, the league’s 2B had a .754 OPS while the league’s 3B had a .779 mark. And the results were even closer in 2016, when there were only two points of OPS separating 2B (.778) from 3B (.780) in the senior circuit. It’s a far cry from 1980, when 2B in the NL posted a .652 OPS while 3B notched a .730 mark.

The Mets head into 2018 with Asdrubal Cabrera as their second baseman and Todd Frazier holding down the fort over at third base. Over the past two seasons, Cabrera has produced a .798 OPS in 1,108 PA while Frazier has a .770 mark in 1,242 PA. Their individual marks line up with the recent trend of offensive interchangeability between the two positions.

Yet, my personal comfort level with Frazier is higher than mine with Cabrera, in terms of being a productive overall player in regards to their position. And that opinion is supported by the preseason projections of both Steamer and ZiPS. The two projection systems see very similar offensive seasons for both players. But the defensive expectations are greater for Frazier. That edge leads Steamer to project a 2.1 to 1.2 fWAR edge while ZiPS forecasts a 2.9 to 0.7 edge for Frazier, in reasonably similar playing time.

The two-win separation between the players predicted by ZiPS feels right to me. And it wouldn’t be a big shock if the difference was greater than that. In my opinion, Frazier has an offensive upside that Cabrera does not. Cabrera has been a better offensive player than Frazier the past two years and it’s possible he might not have that same edge in 2018.

Frazier’s offensive output took a tumble once he was traded away from Cincinnati. Now, the Great American Ball Park is a good place to hit and we should have expected some dropoff in performance. But his home marks have been significantly worse than his road marks the past two seasons and it’s not like the ballparks in the American League cities of Chicago and New York are poor offensive environments. Here are the breakdowns:

H – .611
R – .932

H – .715
R – .813

What if instead of losing triple digits worth of OPS in his home park, Frazier plays the same both home and away? By no means is that guaranteed to happen in 2018. But it has to be considered among the possibilities. Having played the last two seasons in Citi Field, Cabrera’s projection seems to be more “solid” than Frazier’s. There’s a touch more volatility in Frazier’s forecast, just because we have less of an idea how he’ll fare. Maybe it makes no difference at all and the typical computer model forecast is right on. Or maybe Frazier can be better in his home park than he has been recently, giving a boost to his offense.

Meanwhile, the volatility that exists for Frazier on offense exists for Cabrera on defense. Cabrera was pretty lousy on defense last year, forcing a move away from shortstop. He saw time at both 2B and 3B last year, playing more at the hot corner once Wilmer Flores suffered his season-ending injury. In 274.1 innings at 2B last year, Cabrera posted a (-6) DRS and a 0.9 UZR. That type of difference over this small of a sample size is pretty common. But if we look at his career numbers at 2B, over a total of 2,048 innings, a consensus seems to be forming. DRS has him at (-4) while UZR has him at (-2.7).

Cabrera’s best defensive work at 2B came in his largest sample, when in 776.2 innings he notched a + 11 DRS and a 5.3 UZR. But that came in 2008 when he was 22 years old. We know that defense peaks earlier than offense for most players and it seems overly optimistic to expect a 32-year-old Cabrera to be a win (or more) better than average defensively in 2018.

But Cabrera doesn’t have to be a plus defensive player; he just needs not to be awful. He needs to be the type of fielder at 2B that he was at SS in 2016 (-4.7 UZR/150) and not 2017 (-13.8 UZR/150 – and worse by DRS). And no one knows what he’ll be like defensively this coming year.

Which one seems more likely to you – that Frazier will have an even H/R offensive split or that Cabrera will be below average but not awful defensively?

Frazier got off to an awful start at the plate in Grapefruit League play but has been warming up as Spring Training winds down. After 52 ABs, he holds a .250/.298/.442 mark – slightly better than Cabrera’s .713 OPS in 45 ABs. It’s impossible to make any conclusions based on this but it’s another data point in the interchangeability offensively between the two players.

It seems Frazier is ready to hit. Is Cabrera ready to field?

11 comments for “The contrasting volatility of Asdrubal Cabrera and Todd Frazier

  1. Metsense
    March 25, 2018 at 1:15 pm

    I would expect both players to slightly regress offensively this season. Defensively we can get away with Cabrera because of the defensive shifts. Frasier is a positive defensive player which is something that the Mets didn’t have in the infield last year. Frazier will be the better all around War player but neither should be expected to have breakout years. They are just role players offering solid but unspectacular play.

  2. MattyMets
    March 25, 2018 at 1:53 pm

    I’m very excited to have a real third baseman for the first time in a long time. I also love Frazier’s enthusiasm. He’s a spark plug. I’m a Cabrera fan but I hope he can surprise at a second base. As we learned the hard way with Murphy, that’s an important position defensively.

  3. Eraff
    March 25, 2018 at 9:33 pm

    Frazier’s H/A Splits are different by 1 OPS point over almost 4000 plate appearances. He’s lifetrime 779 OPS with 767 and 761 over the past two years—he’s Practically a Clock!!!

    Asdrubal is a really good baseball player!….but he constantly looks broken. He played 135 games last year and lead the league in Combined Limps and Winces. I’ve been thinking that 135 games would boost his production—maybe 120-130 would work better.

    I’m distrustful of defensive stats, but both guys are professional with the glove—I believe Todd can give you a solid 145-155 games…a big plus. With defensive shifts, I believe Asdrubalk will find himself with a lot of balls hit right to him.

    These guys need to be low variable players with some impact.

    • March 26, 2018 at 1:00 am

      So given that Frazier’s H/R splits are even over his career, the expectation is that they should buck the trend of the last two years where they were significantly worse at home – so that there is a reasonable possibility for offensive improvement.

      This idea that the club can utilize defensive shifts to make a horrible defensive player an okay one is a thought that we need to get out of our collective heads immediately. It’s not that the club hasn’t shifted before and now they’re going to do it. They already shift and Cabrera was a miserable defensive player last year. If you want to be optimistic with him, the case is that 2B is easier than SS and he had time to prepare for the position this year that he didn’t have last year.

      And the idea that Cabrera and Frazier are somehow equal defensively is ludicrous.

  4. Eraff
    March 26, 2018 at 7:45 am

    Maybe He’s unhappy with his Wife and Family and relaxes more on the road.

    Seriously…how do You explain a small sample size versus 4000 PA’s? His lifetime OPS is .858 at Citi….. lousy in Philly and Yankees. Maybe the Family doesn’t come to Flushing.. Philly and the Bronx are easier from Tom’s River.

    Maybe He preps differently at Home— His wife is probably a Lousy Cook and one of the Kids Keeps them up at night. Or maybe he’s so darned distracted when they are around that He doesn’t prepare.

    Maybe it’s interesting and unexplainable.

    • March 26, 2018 at 8:15 am

      I’m not trying to explain it and the explanation is less interesting (to me, at least) than the implications.

      I’m saying that what happened in 2016-17 in his home park shouldn’t be our default assumption for what will happen in 2018. Now, it doesn’t mean that it won’t happen. And maybe he hits much better in his home park but turns around and hits much worse than 2017 in road parks. FWIW – my expectation is that he’ll hit significantly better at home and a little worse on the road.

  5. Eraff
    March 26, 2018 at 8:25 am

    I believe you’re arguing both ends of this issue… To Paraphrase:
    We shouldn’t assume that his near past results will carry to 2018 and beyond—-but we shouldn’t assume that they won’t. …what ??????

    And then you have an expectation that He will hit “significantly better at Home and a Little worse on the Road”… versus 16/17 I assume?

    So, we’re in some sort of Disagreeable Agreement??????? Nice! hahahaha!!!!!!!!!!!

    • March 26, 2018 at 9:16 am

      My opinion is that the change in home ballpark should count for something.

    • Chris F
      March 26, 2018 at 8:49 pm

      thanks for sharing Gus

      • TexasGusCC
        March 26, 2018 at 10:29 pm

        Always Chris!!

        Sharing is caring, or that’s what they tell my two year old nephew.

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