During his eight seasons with the Toronto Blue Jays, Jason Frasor has made 453 appearances. While eleven other relievers have pitched in more games during that time, only one has appeared more for one team: the New York Yankees’ Mariano Rivera. That type of company is never a bad thing.
It almost seems strange that Jason Frasor should surpass Duane Ward, a prototypical closer type, for the franchise record for most appearances by a pitcher. The National Posts’ John Lott describes Frasor as “an improbable survivor, a reliever who is thoroughly reliable and rarely spectacular.” And that’s very apt.
The improbable tag applies well to a 5’9″ pitcher who regularly hits the mid nineties with his fastball, has never spent a day on the Disabled List, and exhibits a calm demeanor on the mound that many fans misinterpret as a lack of intensity. That, of course, is nonsense, but there is something to be said for the reaction of the Blue Jays fan base to Frasor, which has never been as warm as one might expect for a player who has pitched so effectively for as long as he has.
Frasor is most appreciated by those with a finer baseball palette. He’s not your stereotypical reliever who enters the game as the metal music flavour of the month blares over the stadium’s PA system and images of fire grace the scoreboard. He doesn’t have a blackened beard, a penchant for curse words or even very good television/radio sound bytes. He takes his time against batters, has a clean shaven, almost wholesome appearance, and supplies thoughtful responses to media questions. However, most importantly he gets batters out and he’s shown a rare ability to adapt when it becomes necessary to succeed.
Despite the velocity of his four seam fastball remaining virtually the same throughout his tenure in Toronto, the rest of Frasor’s arsenal has shown a very clear evolution. He’s settled into a three pitch routine that includes a four seam fastball, his celebrated change up and a sliding curve or curvy slider depending on how you look at things. And instead of directly challenging hitters with that consistent mid nineties heater, he stubbornly refuses to give his opposition anything to hit.
It can sometimes be frustrating to watch him work. Taking his time between pitches, working to break any sense of rhythm a hitter may attempt to gain. And even when he does throw, he nibbles at the strike zone. After his second year in the league, Frasor has thrown fewer and fewer pitches in the strike zone, all while increasing the amount of swings from batters on pitches outside the zone.
It doesn’t always bring the fans to the ballpark, but this strategy has been effective. Among the 42 relievers with 160 innings pitched over the last three years, Frasor ranks in the top fifteen in almost every category, often ahead of or directly behind Jonathan Papelbon. In some ways it’s a backhanded compliment, but his numbers over this period make an easy argument for suggesting that he’s one of the top five best non-closer relievers in the league.
It says a lot about his persona though, that Frasor is more prepared to compare himself to a pitcher relegated to a foreign league than the closers for the two premier franchises. When asked about his new franchise record, Frasor evokes Colby Lewis before Mariano Rivera or Jonathan Papelbon.
It is special. It does seem like pitchers bounce around, not only from league to league and team to team, but sometimes they go to Japan and come back. I’m just very, very proud. I just don’t know how many relievers have stuck with one team for that long. I can’t imagine there’s too many.
His modesty is right about one thing: There certainly aren’t too many like Jason Frasor.