By Chris Emma–
CHICAGO (CBS) — Turn it up, White Sox third baseman Todd Frazier shouted back behind him as he turned away from the batting cage.
With the music now pumping through Guaranteed Rate Field on Wednesday afternoon, Frazier grasped his bat tightly and went back to work on his swing. He’s focusing on weight proportion from back foot to front, keeping his body aligned and making the motion slow and simple.
For Frazier, hitting isn’t just his trade but also a passion. He could talk hitting for hours at a time.
“You’re going to have to make changes along the way,” Frazier said, recalling the advice of former All-Star outfielder Eric Davis. “Bottom line is your stance and the way you swing might change, but there’s probably going to be other things you need to change.”
Frazier, 31, has applied advice he has received along the way in his career during a frustrating slump to start this season. Entering Wednesday’s series finale with the Red Sox, he’s hitting just .182 in 43 games. A career .247 hitter, Frazier saw his average drop to .255 in 2015 and a career-worst .225 last season.
Frazier has a strikeout rate of 21.6 percent but also a BABIP of .190 coupled with a 30.7 percent hard contact rate. That would indicate he has seen some bad luck at the plate.
“It’s still a work in progress for him,” manager Rick Renteria said. “I think he’s feeling a lot more comfortable in the box. I think he feels like his timing is coming around. Hopefully, it’s something that he continues to build on and continues to move with during the season.”
While working for those adjustments, Frazier recalled long conversations with the game’s hit king, Pete Rose. During his time in Cincinnati, Frazier would often discuss hitting with Rose, who offered up his secrets at the plate.
Rose told Frazier about adjusting to each pitcher within the box — moving up or back, on or off the plate. Adjust to the pitcher and gain the advantage, Rose would tell him.
Facing former teammate Chris Sale on Tuesday night, Frazier aligned himself to the back corner of the box to anticipate his foe’s best pitch, that trademark slider. Sale struck Frazier out with four off-speed pitches in the first at-bat. The next time up, Frazier hit a fastball at 97 to the warning track. Oh, so close.
Then in the fourth inning, Frazier remained in that back corner of the box and stepped into a Sale slider, crushing it 401 feet to the left-field bleachers. He rounded the bases with a brief grin.
“The power’s always there,” Frazier said. “I think it’s always going to be there. I’m just trying to square the ball up, try to get some hits and help this team out.”
Last season, Frazier posted career-highs with 40 home runs and 98 RBIs, but that came with the dip in average. So far this year, the power hasn’t been as frequent and the average is down, too.
So Frazier has applied the words of Rose and altered his approach. He waits in the on-deck and prepares himself carefully. Then he steps into the box and playfully banters with the catcher — throw a slider; hit me with the heater — anything to get the edge.
Mechanics remain the most important factor for Frazier, who’s trying to get his alignment back to form. That’s a work in progress.
“He’s not diving as much into the zone,” Renteria said. “I think he’s trying to carry his weight on his backside a little bit better, slowing everything down. That allows him to keep his hands back and give him that opportunity to recognize pitches a little bit better. I think it’s just something he’ll continue to work on, and hopefully will continue to propel him as the season progresses.”
What’s next for Frazier remains to be seen. Production could soon follow. As for his future with the White Sox? Well, that relates to what comes at the plate.
Frazier was traded to the White Sox in December 2015 to help a a team eyeing contention get over the top. The White Sox faltered in his first season and embarked on this new direction. Frazier is one of many trade chips in the White Sox clubhouse as the organization rebuilds. He returned to his locker after Tuesday’s game with texts from friends who are Red Sox fans back home.
To his credit, Frazier blocks out the trade talk and focuses on each day. That means extra work in the cages and studying those “feel-goods” — what has worked in the past. He’s tireless with perfecting this swing, which makes the early struggles difficult to explain.
Always upbeat, Frazier keeps a smile on his face as he goes about the usual pregame routine. He believes production will come with the work.
Frazier will do whatever it takes to hit his stride.