Top Tigers Countdown #36: Travis Fryman

Leon Halip

Travis Fryman was one of the better players on some bad Tigers teams in the 1990s. After eight years in Detroit, he is one of the best third basemen (in an admittedly weak pool of candidates) in franchise history.

Thirty five players in to our countdown, the Decade of Doom has finally arrived. While Alan Trammell and Lou Whitaker both played through the better part of the 1990s, Travis Fryman is the first player on our countdown to have played the majority of his career during that decade. In eight seasons with the Tigers, he made four All-Star teams and accumulated more WAR than any third baseman in franchise history not named Miguel Cabrera.

Year PA HR RBI SB BA OBP SLG wOBA wRC+ WAR
1990 251 9 27 3 .297 .348 .470 .366 130 2.0
1991 612 21 91 12 .259 .309 .447 .335 106 3.4
1992 721 20 96 8 .266 .316 .416 .330 103 4.1
1993 695 22 97 9 .300 .379 .486 .382 132 4.5
1994 528 18 85 2 .263 .326 .474 .342 101 1.9
1995 640 15 81 4 .275 .347 .409 .335 96 3.5
1996 688 22 100 4 .268 .329 .437 .333 90 2.1
1997 657 22 102 16 .274 .326 .440 .331 95 3.1
1998* 608 28 96 10 .287 .340 .504 .364 115 2.6
1999* 350 10 48 2 .255 .309 .410 .314 78 0.7
2000* 658 22 106 1 .321 .392 .516 .391 126 4.6
2001* 370 3 38 1 .263 .327 .335 .296 77 -0.9
2002* 439 11 55 0 .217 .292 .350 .286 71 -0.8
Career 7217 223 1022 72 .274 .336 .443 .342 103 30.8

*Played for the Cleveland Indians from 1998 to 2002.

David Travis Fryman was born on March 25th, 1969 in Lexington, Kentucky. He was drafted out of high school in the first round by the Tigers in 1987. He progressed quickly through the minors despite some lackluster offensive numbers, especially during his first couple seasons. He made his big league debut on July 7th, 1990 as a 21 year old. After an uneventful debut, he hit a three run homer the next day in a 10-4 Tigers victory. Splitting time between shortstop and third base, Fryman hit .297/.348/.470 with nine home runs in 66 games. He finished sixth in the AL Rookie of the Year voting and was named the Tigers' Rookie of the Year.

Fryman continued his split duties at third base and shortstop in 1991, hitting .259/.309/.447. Between the two positions, Fangraphs rated him as 8.5 runs above average*, contributing nearly a full win to his 3.4 WAR that year. Regardless, Fryman hit 21 home runs and drove in 91 RBI that year, one of five 20/90 seasons he had in Detroit. The Tigers finished with an 84-78 record. This would be one of only two winning seasons the club had during Fryman's tenure. The other, an 85-77 season in 1993, would be the last until the club's 2006 World Series run.

*It's worth nothing that Jhonny Peralta was 8.3 runs above average last year, a significant step down from the 18.0 he contributed in 2012. Ergo, positional adjustments also play a role in this statistic.

With Trammell limited to playing in just 29 games in 1992, Fryman started 137 games at shortstop. His .731 OPS that season was his lowest OPS to date (and the lowest he would put up as a Tiger), but he won the Silver Slugger Award for AL shortstops that year. It was the only Silver Slugger of his career, a testament to the massive offensive numbers seen elsewhere throughout the league during his era. Fryman also made the All-Star team that year.

Speaking of those huge offensive numbers, Fryman's advanced offensive statistics may have been slightly skewed by the era in which he played. I'm not talking steroid-enhanced power numbers, but rather how his stats compared to those around the league. For instance, Fryman hit .263/.326/.474 (an .800 OPS) in the strike-shortened 1994 season. His weighted on-base average (wOBA) was .342, but his wRC+, a metric scaled against others around the league, was just 101. Meanwhile, Victor Martinez posted a .785 OPS and .340 wOBA in 2013, but his wRC+ of 112 was much higher.

Fryman's 1994 season wasn't even the best offensive campaign of his Tigers career. That distinction would belong to 1993 when he hit .300/.379/.486 with 22 home runs and 97 RBI. He made the All-Star team for the second year in a row, appearing in the game as a shortstop. His 22 home runs were the most he hit in a single season as a Tiger, though he matched the feat in 1996 and 1997.

Fryman made the transition to full-time third baseman in 1994, appearing in just 29 more games at shortstop over the next four years. While not as large as some of the stereotypical "big shortstops" in the modern game, he always seemed more comfortable defensively at short than the hot corner. Fryman worked to improve, however, and racked up 4.0 defensive rWAR from 1994 to 1997. He also continued to produce at the plate, hitting a combined .270/.332/.438 over those four years. He drove in 100 RBI in both 1996 and '97 and made the All-Star team in 1994 and '96.

After the 1997 season, Fryman was traded to the expansion Arizona Diamondbacks for Matt Drews, Gabe Alvarez, and Joe Randa. The Diamondbacks then flipped Fryman to the Cleveland Indians for third baseman Matt Williams, who finished his career in Arizona. Meanwhile, Fryman made the Tigers pay for their mistake. He hit .287/.340/.504 with 28 home runs and 96 RBI in his first season in Cleveland as the Indians won the AL Central and went to the ALCS, losing to the eventual world champion New York Yankees.

Injuries limited Fryman in 1999, but he returned in 2000 to have his best season of his career. He hit .321/.392/.516 with 22 home runs and 106 RBI, made the All-Star team, and finished 17th in the AL MVP voting. The Indians won 90 games for the second consecutive year, but missed the playoffs for the first time since 1994. The Tigers finished directly behind the Tribe that year, but at 79-83 were 11 games back of second place.

Unfortunately, the 2000 season would essentially be Fryman's swan song in the majors. He suffered through another injury-riddled season in 2001, playing in just 98 games. His throwing elbow had bothered him for most of the year, and this led to a shoulder injury that required surgery shortly after the season. The procedure didn't seem to help, as Fryman put up a .642 OPS in 439 plate appearances in 2002, his age 33 season. He chose to announce his retirement in August of that year while the Indians were playing in Detroit, saying "If I was not able to play at an acceptable level, I would walk away."

After retirement, Fryman went to work coaching in the Indians' organization. He managed the team's short season club in the New York-Penn League for few years and is now a roving hitting instructor in their minor league system.

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