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The Orioles are Betting on a Bounce Back from Adam Frazier

The Orioles signed the versatile infielder with the hopes of seeing more hits fall on the grass while being a mentor.

The Baltimore Orioles signed infielder Adam Frazier to a Major League contract Thursday, giving him a one-year deal worth $8 million.  After a down season for Frazier, the team is hoping for better results from someone who was an All-Star as recently as 2021.

Frazier brings an extreme offensive profile that often tilts one way or the other.  He has elite contact and strikeout rates, but dismal exit velocities barrel rates, and hard-hit percentages.  His Baseball Savant page features some bright red, but also a lot of dark blue.  The Orioles cannot count on him for any home run power.

The Birds cannot count on a high batting average either, but that is what they are hoping for.  When Frazier was an All-Star last year, he hit a strong .324/.388/.448 in 98 games with the Pirates.  But after a deadline trade to the Padres, his line immediately dropped, and he hit just .267/.327/.335 in 57 games the rest of the way.  Following an offseason trade to the Mariners, his line fell even further, and Frazier hit a measly .238/.301/.311 in a career-high 156 games.

Reasons for Optimism

Frazier’s skill set and expected stats have hardly budged over the years, so there is no clear explanation for the overnight plummet: his batted balls stopped falling in.  In 2021 with the Pirates, Frazier’s BABIP was an unsustainably high .359.  It understandably came back to Earth soon after, and the figure was a normal .299 with the Padres.  But this year in Seattle, it fell to an unusually low .268.  Yes, his quality of contact was quite poor, but Frazier also ran into some bad luck.  When his batted balls find the grass, his results look much better.

Frazier should have better batted ball results in 2023, even if he does not get lucky again.  Hitting lots of grounders benefits few players, but Frazier pulls most of his.  With the new shift restrictions for 2023, some of those groundballs to the right side should sneak through without a defender in the way.

There is also a second reason the Orioles signed Adam Frazier, and it might be more important to them than a possible bounce back.  Frazier is an excellent defender at multiple positions.  He was in the 90th percentile for Outs Above Average this year with a good arm that plays at both second, third, and right field.  Statcast said he was worth 6 OAA, while DRS and UZR think he is around average.  For an organization that has put a greater emphasis on defense in recent years, Frazier will certainly help the cause.

As a seven-year veteran, Frazier also brings meaningful experience to the table, which the Orioles clearly value.  Robinson Chirinos and Rougned Odor did more to benefit the team in the clubhouse than on the field this past season.  Jordan Lyles mentored the pitching staff, a role that Kyle Gibson now carries.

How the Signing Fits on the Roster

I certainly understand why some Orioles fans are upset and/or underwhelmed by this signing.  The most likely outcome is that Frazier still hits below average, and second base continues to be the weakest spot in the lineup.  The seven-figure guarantee means he will definitely play, and that blocks some of the promising young players.

But I personally think this is a sneaky good move.  During the playoffs I viewed Frazier as a longshot acquisition for the Orioles, and it seems they share my hopes of a bounce back.  He will play second most days, with occasional appearances at third and the corner outfield spots.  With Gunnar Henderson penciled into the lineup, Ramon Urias likely loses his everyday role.  Jorge Mateo could instead, but his elite defense at short is too valuable to give up.

There is a good chance a trade is forthcoming.  As an average hitter and Gold Glover, Urias is overqualified in a utility role.  He could be on the way out, or the Orioles could be dealing second-year man Terrin Vavra, who has a very similar skill set to Frazier.  If the front office is looking to boost the rotation, Urias or Vavra could be the centerpiece in a trade.

Regardless of theoretical transactions, Adam Frazier is a nice insurance policy for the Orioles in 2023.  As a durable contact hitter, he gives the team more options for how to put a lineup together.  With the O’s aiming to reach the playoffs in a crowded American League, raising the floor is as important as raising the ceiling.

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