WASHINGTON (CBSDC) — The most overlooked players on winning baseball teams are always the utility men, the guys who grind out pinch-hit at-bats whenever they can get ’em.
With that, as we continue to parse how the Nationals have been able to string together a remarkable ten straight wins, let’s spotlight the dirty work put in by Nationals utility guy Kevin Frandsen, a late offseason addition to a Washington club very much primed for a playoff run.
Frandsen detailed the unique challenge of coming off the bench intermittently, and the preparation required to be successful in that role, in an interview Thursday with 106.7 The Fan’s Grant Paulsen and Danny Rouhier.
“I prepare myself every day like I’m gonna play every day,” Frandsen said. “I feel like that’s the way I work on this whole thing. My job, I mean I could easily talk for all the bench guys, is probably the toughest thing in baseball, is to be a bench guy.”
“And be a productive bench guy is tough to be,” he added. “You hear all the media guys talking about like, ‘Oh, he only hits like .230’ or whatever, and it’s like, ‘Well, not too many guys can do that getting one start a week or one start every four weeks,’ in many cases for us.”
To Frandsen’s point, he is among the elite utility men in Major League Baseball this season.
In 39 pinch-hit at-bats in 2014, his .270 average ranks fifth among players with 30 or more pinch-hit at-bats. His .308 on-base percentage ranks seventh.
“So I prepare, I get here early,” Frandsen said. “I lift, I run, I take my ground balls early so I can mimic a game-like situation, not having to avoid balls during BP being hit. So I take mine way before everyone just for the fact that like, for my personal needs, I need to make it as game-like as possible. And during batting practice you can’t really do that, because you’re always looking out for a ball being smoked right in your face. As far as the hitting stuff, I stick to my routine that I’ve had for years, and during the game, I’m always in the cage, starting about the fifth, sixth inning — you know, in the top half — trying to just get loose, get ready and get my mind right.”
Paulsen further outlined the challenge in preparation for Frandsen, who’s played all over the field for the Nationals, logging four games at first base, thirteen at second base, nine at third base and 19 in left field. His overall slash line at the plate is .259/.305/.316.
“For you, you don’t know if you’re playing second, if you’re moving over to third, if you’re playing left field,” Paulsen said. “That’s gotta further complicate it, because I’m guessing Matt Williams is not telling you at 3 o’clock before a 7:05 game, ‘Hey, in the eighth inning, you’re going in at third base tonight.’ There’s no way he knows that.”
“No, that’s why you gotta be prepared,” Fandsen said. “I always feel like the best teams are the most prepared teams. And to be a big part of our team, I feel like you need to be prepared. So that’s what I do. I go out every day, prepare myself for whatever is gonna be asked, whether it’s gonna be going to left field later on, going to first base, going to second, going to third. You know, doing whatever. And the most successful utility guys in this league have always been the most prepared, and I learned a little bit from Mark DeRosa just in spring training, in 2010, in San Francisco. And he’s obviously one of the best that’s played.”