#28 / Third Base / Philadelphia Phillies
May 24, 1982
2012: .338/.383/.451 (.834 OPS, 127 wRC+) in 210 PA, .366 BABIP
ZiPS......... .273/.313/.363 (.676 OPS)
James...... .283/.321/.374 (.695 OPS)
Steamer.. .280/.320/.386 (.706 OPS)
Oliver...... .271/.320/.366 (.686 OPS)
Contract: 1-year, $850k; eligible for 2nd year of arbitration in 2014 (Cot's)
Kevin Frandsen was one of the few bright spots of 2012 for the Phillies. Called up on July 29th when Placido Polanco's back landed him on the disabled list, Frandsen started 49 of the Phillies' last 61 games at third base. His .338/.383/.451 line and wRC+ of 127 would have made him one of the best hitting third basemen in baseball (and with the highest batting average), had he qualified. Of course, if he had enough plate appearances to qualify, he almost certainly would not have maintained his .366 batting average on balls in play.
So where did Kevin Frandsen come from?
He was selected by San Francisco in the 12th round of the 2004 draft as a 22-year old out of San Jose State, where he had just broken the school's record for career hits. After a season in low A ball in 2004, he spent 2005 rocketing through the Giants' levels and finished the year in AAA at age 23. At end of that season he was ranked by Baseball America as the Giants' 9th best prospect, and the best defensive infielder in their system, playing primarily second base, and occasionally short. He spent time in the majors in 2006 filling in for the injured Ray Durham, and after that season he was ranked as the Giants' 6th best prospect.
Going into the 2007 season, Frandsen had hit .324/.385/.455 (.840 OPS) over the prior two seasons in the minors across A+/AA/AAA, but the Giants chose to re-sign 35-year old Durham, who had the best year of his career the year before, hitting .293 with 26 HRs and 93 RBI and compiling 3.9 fWAR in 2006 despite missing time to injury. Durham proceeded to bat .218/.295/.343 in 2007, with -0.5 fWAR. Frandsen got a good deal of playing time in 2007 at age 25, logging 296 plate appearances, but was only modestly successful, hitting .269/.331/.379, for an 83+ wRC+.
After Durham's rough 2007, Frandsen was competing for the starting second base job in March 2008 when he ruptured his Achilles near the end of spring training, causing him to miss virtually all of the 2008 season. His career can be viewed as "before Achilles", when he was the well-regarded prospect and potential starter, and "after Achilles", when he was 27 and older and a AAAA player.
In 2009 he was passed over for the second base job in favor of Emmanuel Burriss, and was demoted to AAA. Burriss went on to compile -0.4 fWAR. In March 2010 the Giants traded Frandsen to Boston, and since then he has bounced from the Red Sox to the Angels, to the Padres (who released him without playing him), and finally to the Phillies, who signed him as a free agent in March 2011.
His travails were not over yet, as he was suspended for 50 games in May-June 2011 after testing positive for Ritalinic acid. Then came 2012, when he was having a typical year, with an average around .300, relatively few walks, and not much power (.302/.337/.396) at the time of his call-up.
He made the most of his chance this time, aided as mentioned by a hefty .366 BABIP, but also hitting line drives in an impressive 24.3% of his balls in play. He also did this while playing through the pain of a stress fracture to his fibula suffered in early September.
There are those of us who would have been happy to see the Phils stick with Frandsen as the third baseman for 2013, and instead use the $7+ million that is being spent on Michael Young to improve the outfield or starting pitching.
Frandsen, who will turn 31 in May, should not be expected to hit .338 again, but a line around .280/.320/.380 would have served as a place holder until Cody Asche is ready and may not be much worse than what Young will provide. He was especially effective in his 68 PAs vs. lefties, hitting .400/.426/.554 (.980 OPS, 165 wRC+), including a .433 BABIP. His stats vs. righties were still respectable at .308/.362/.400 (.762 OPS, 109 wRC+), and appeared somewhat more sustainable with a .330 BABIP.
If the Giants didn't think they could contend in 2007 (they finished 18.5 games out of the wild card), or if they instead invested Ray Durham's $7 million to improve another position, or if they knew Durham would give them negative WAR, or if Frandsen had hit a little better when he got the chance, or if he hadn't missed the 2008 season, if, if, if... Kevin Frandsen is lucky to have played in the majors at all. But if any of a number of things had gone differently, he might be having a different kind of career.
Hopefully he will continue to make the most of his opportunity with the Phillies.