After missing nearly all of the 2008 season with an injured Achilles tendon, Giants infielder Kevin Frandsen is back healthy in 2009.
Prior to his injury, Frandsen was the favorite to beat out incumbent second baseman Ray Durham in 2008 before he got hurt. Now, after his recovery, he has to beat out fellow youngster Emmanuel Burris for the starting job.(Technically fellow infielder Eugenio Velez makes the competition for the starting second base job a three-way race, but Burriss and Frandsen are clearly the top dogs.)
In Frandsen's last six weeks of big league action in 2007 before his injury, the Giants infielder hit .367 (36-98) with an on-base percentage of .429, including the 15th best average of all hitters in the NL over the month of September, hitting an even .370.
Last year was supposed to be his breakout season. Incumbent Ray Durham was coming off a year in which is average dropped from .293 in 2006 to .218 in 2007 and Frandsen was quickly becoming a fan-favorite with his hard-nosed style of play.
However, Frandsen's injury paved the way for Emmanuel Burriss to show off his game. Seemingly out of nowhere, the Giants' infielder came onto the scene with no previous major league experience and hit a solid .283 with an on base percentage of .357.
Now, with both players competing for the starting job at second base, it is hard to decipher who deserves the spot more. The numbers that each of them put up in their last full seasons in the big league are nearly identical.
Frandsen drew walks in about eight percent of his at-bats, while Burriss drew a walk in about nine percent of his at-bats. Burriss struck out in exactly 10 percent of his at-bats while Frandsen struck out in about 9 percent of his. Frandsen's on-base and slugging were .331 and .379 respectively, while Burriss' on-base was .357 and slugging .329.
In 263 at-bats, Frandsen had five home runs, 12 doubles, 31 RBI and four stolen bases.
In 240 at-bats, Burriss had one home run, six doubles, 18 RBI and 13 stolen bases.
Fielding percentages for each of them (while at the second base position) are also nearly identical—Frandsen at .979 and Burriss at .973.
Now, while the statistics may be similar, the styles of Frandsen and Burriss are completely different. Burriss is more of a slap-hitter who likes to put the ball on the ground and beat out infield hits, while Frandsen is more of gap-to-gap, line-drive hitter.
That being the case, hopefully the Giants decide to give the job to Frandsen.
The Giants are going to see how Spring Training goes and hopefully one or the other will win the job out-right. However, assuming both players stay healthy, it is hard to imagine either one of them not having a solid spring with the bat and on the field.
Since there are no glaring stat categories that show why either Frandsen or Burriss deserve the starting job, it is vital to look at the role the Giants second baseman is going to need to fill.
Whoever wins the job is going to be hitting seventh or eighth in the order, most likely in the eighth spot. Now what that requires is similar to the role of a No. 2 hitter, who is a contact hitter that can do multiple things with the bat and understands where he is in the lineup.
Even though Burriss is quick and can beat out drag bunts and infield hits, those aren't nearly what the Giants need in front of their pitchers. If the Giants were looking for their starting second baseman to hit lead-off, it would be clear that Burriss would be the man for the job.
However, since that's not the case, Frandsen is the ideal fit.
Hitting eighth requires a bunch of different qualities from a batter that other spots in the lineup don't need to worry about,one of which is quality bat-control in terms of expanding the strike-zone.
The eighth place hitter needs to have the awareness that with two outs and men on base, the pitcher may pitch around them in order to bring the opposing pitcher to the plate. Because of this, younger hitters who are forced to hit in the eighth have a tendency to become frustrated that they aren't getting quality pitches to hit.
A veteran in the same situation knows that he may need to expand the strike-zone in order to drive in that two-out RBI.
But also, in the opposite sense, if there are two outs and nobody on base, the pitcher is going to want to make sure he gets the hitter in eighth spot out so he can face the opposing pitcher to lead-off the next inning.
In this scenario, the eighth place hitter needs to understand that getting on base (anyway he can) is the main goal—walk, a hit batsmen, a tweener, or a Texas-leaguer—either way, the goal is to get on base.
Even if the pitcher makes an out to end the inning, the eighth place hitter did his job by getting him to the plate.
Once again, younger hitters can get frustrated when they get on base but nobody drives them home.
However, the more veteran, savvy-type eighth place hitters are aware that they got their job done.
Because of this, Frandsen is the right-man for the job. Frandsen will be turning 27 this season and he will display that that veteran presence this season if given the starting job at second-base. He has great discipline as the plate as well as more pop than Burriss, which will come in handy when the Giants need a big two-out, extra-base hit from their eighth position hitter.
Lastly, Frandsen just looks the part of a professional. His uniform is almost never clean, he carries himself extremely well on the field, and plays the game the right way. In my honest opinion, he reminds me of a young Jeff Kent, and I think he can become that type of second-baseman for the Giants.
It's not the stats the make Frandsen the best candidate, it's the intangibles.