If there is a silver lining to all these injuries the Yankees have suffered this season, it is Clint Frazier getting an opportunity to play every single game. His own injury problems (oblique in 2017, concussion in 2018) cost him big league time the last two years, and the Yankees initially planned to send him to Triple-A for regular at-bats this year, but injuries forced their hand and Frazier is now hitting in the middle of a their depleted lineup.
“(My confidence is) already high when I wake up in the morning,” Frazier told Brendan Kuty over the weekend. “But when we’re having results and the team is going out there and we’re fighting through things, hopefully it rubs off on everybody because everyone else’s confidence is rubbing off on me right now, too.”
Going into last night’s late West Coast game Frazier was hitting .339/.358/.661 (163 wRC+) with six home runs and a .341 BABIP that isn’t so high that we should expect a big crash at some point. Clint has always had a lightning quick bat and, right now, he is squaring the ball up on the regular:
(Statcast defines Sweet Spot as a batted ball with a launch angle between 8° and 32°. That launch angle range tends to produce the best results.)
Frazier has trimmed his overall strikeout rate from 30.6% with the Yankees in 2017-18 to 20.9% in the early going this year. He hasn’t walked a whole bunch yet (4.5%), but Frazier has a much better than league average 25.2% chase rate, so he’s swinging at the right pitches. Give it time and I expect his walk rate to tick up. It’s not unusual for a young player to sharpen his approach with experience.
“We’ve never questioned the ability or the talent,” Aaron Boone told Kuty. “… He’s come up here and obviously shown to be a really good Major League hitter. The way he controls the strike zone, the way he can impact the ball with his talent and his bat speed, he’s a dangerous man when he walks up to the plate.”
April is an awful time for baseball analysis because everything is a small sample and it’s close to impossible to know what’s legit and what’s noise. What we do know right now is Frazier is having much more success against breaking pitches in the early going this season than the last two years. Here are the numbers against curveballs and sliders:
|%||AVG (xAVG)||SLG (xSLG)||wOBA (xwOBA)||Whiff||Chase||EV||LA|
|2017-18||30.3||.231 (.235)||.431 (.457)||.294 (.309)||41.4%||28.6%||89.5||10.5|
|2019||38.2||.304 (.285)||.696 (.589)||.385 (.353)||38.8%||23.1%||93.7||20.0|
|MLB AVG||28.9||.217 (.215)||.375 (.362)||.278 (.276)||35.1%||30.1%||87.1||12.1|
In the early going Frazier’s actual results and expected results (based on exit velocity and launch angle and all that) against breaking balls are well above the MLB average. When he has swung, he has missed more than average, but he’s not chasing out of the zone and his contact is very good. I don’t buy Frazier (or any player) as a true talent .300 hitter and near .700 slugger against breaking balls. The underlying data is strong though.
Of course, we are not even four weeks into the new season, and this could all be small sample noise. I wish I could give you assurances it is not but I can’t do it. I do know Frazier looks very confident at the plate, and he seems very disciplined in that he is swinging at the right pitches, so that’s good. He is definitely passing the eye test. Clint also has the pedigree as a former high draft pick (fifth overall in 2013) and top prospect.
Another thing we know: Frazier adjusted his setup at the plate this season. Specifically, he worked with hitting coach Marcus Thames to widen his stance in Spring Training, which helps him see the ball longer and let it travel deeper in the zone. Clint’s bat speed allows him to still get those pitches. Here is Frazier’s stance over the years:
A new setup at the plate, as well as improved confidence and the fact Frazier was a slightly above-average producer against breaking balls in his limited big league time the last two years suggests this year’s performance may be for real. This isn’t a terrible hitter against breaking balls suddenly becoming a great hitter against breaking balls. It’s an already good hitter with talent and some mechanical adjustments becoming an even better one.
Because it’s still so early in the season, we have no choice but to take a wait and see approach. Eventually pitchers will adjust to Frazier and find a weakness, and try to exploit it, and it’ll be up to him to adjust back. Perhaps that adjustment will be even more breaking balls because damn, Clint is hammering fastballs (.353 AVG and .588 SLG), and breaking balls are generally more difficult to hit, this year’s results notwithstanding.
For now, Frazier has helped the Yankees stay afloat through all the injuries, and he’s giving the team a reason to keep him in the lineup once everyone gets healthy. Left field is wide open long-term and the Yankees have a highly regarded young player who sure seems to be breaking out. It’s exciting. It would be more exciting without all the injuries, but it is exciting nonetheless. Frazier looks like the impact player he was projected to be when he first joined the organization three years ago.
“He got pushed into a position where we’re counting on him and others, and he’s stepping up, and you have to give him real props. That’s the stuff he lives for,” Brian Cashman said during a recent radio interview. “He’s the one right now that I think people are gonna be careful to pitch around, because he’s got a good mojo going and he feels good about what he’s doing. He knows he’s impacting us, so his confidence is sky-high right now.”