On Monday the Cardinals signed Eric Fryer to a minor league contract with an invitation to spring training.
At first glance, it seems like Fryer, the out-of-no-where backup who hit .368 for the Cardinals in 2016 during a 24 game stint, would immediately improve the Cardinals limited depth at catcher. But those 24 impressive games were just a hot streak, and the Cardinals should not rely on Fryer as a viable back-up catcher.
The 2016 season was a tale of two cities for Fryer. While in St. Louis, Fryer blew away fans, the team, and even the Cardinals management. But just as impressive as Fryer was for the Cardinals, he was equally unimpressive in Pittsburg during the second half of the year.
St. Louis, 2016
From April 9th through June 26th, Fryer appeared in 24 games for the Cardinals, 8 of which he started, while accumulating just 41 plate appearances. But Wow, he made the most of his time in St. Louis. He slashed .368/.415/.421 while striking out just 7 times. Of his 14 hits, he smacked 12 singles and 2 doubles, while scoring 7 times. His contribution helped the team immensely: the Cardinals went 14-10 in games featuring Fryer and 6-2 in games where he started.
Although his hot-streak was definitely a fluke, Fryer looked like he finally found the magic he needed to turn his minor-league production into big league results. Fryer recorded a wRC+ of 131 while in the Cardinal uniform, signifying that he was 31% more productive than the average batter. But just as quickly as Fryer got hot, his move up north to a division rival froze his bat.
During 36 games for the Pirates, Fryer got to the plate 92 times. But with 51 more at bats in the Pirates uniform than in Cardinal Red, Fryer recorded just 3 more hits. His strikeouts rose, his power decreased. He swung more frequently at balls and made less contact. Fryer slashed a mere .218/.300/.269, while watching his wRC+ drop all the way down to 59.
So why was this sub-par performance during the second half of the year such a shock? Well actually, it wasn’t. When you combine Fryer’s statistics from the Cardinals and the Pirates to look at his overall production in 2016, he was close in line with his historic big-league numbers.
From 2011 through 2015, Fryer saw 158 MLB plate appearances between the Pirates (2011-2012) and the Twins (2013-2015). Over those 5 years, Fryer slashed .243/.323/.336. Overall in 2016, between the phenomenal and horrific stints with the Cards and Bucs, Fryer slashed .267/.336/.319.
From the graph below plotting Fryer’s slash line to his two stints and yearly totals from 2016, as well as his pre-2016 career average, it becomes obvious what type of player Eric Fryer is. His time with the Cardinals was way above career average, while his time with the Pirates in 2016 was way below. But overall, 2016 saw just a little improvement for Fryer in AVG and OBP, while his SLG dropped.
Overall in 2016, Fryer did improve his lifetime numbers on two of the most important statistics: OBP and K’s%. Fryer went from pre-2016 career numbers of .323 OBP and 23.4% K’s to .336 OBP and 18.8% K’s in 2016. But those small improvements aren’t enough for him to make the Cardinals major-league team. The upward trend will have a tough time continuing, especially seeing as how Fryer is already 31 years-old. Fryer should do a fine job as a 3rd-string catcher working out of Triple-A, but for now it seems like the Cardinals should use Carson Kelly or find another option to back-up Yadier Molina, our cornerstone back-stop.
Photo Credit: Jeff Curry-USA Today Sports
Statistics Credit: Fangraphs.com