Thinking About Clint Frazier
Photo Courtesy of Steven Ryan
Clint Frazier is one of the most divisive players in the Yankee organization. He appeared to be one of the key prizes of Cashman’s July 2016 Trade Deadline haul, clocking in as a consensus top-100 prospect in the entire sport at the time of the trade. Despite his status and relative proximity to the big leagues in 2016, Frazier’s ascent to MLB regular has stalled. While we can chalk this up to a number of factors, including significant injuries, personality clashes with the Yankee organization, and an overcrowded MLB outfield, there is little question but that the Yankees have not completely trusted Frazier. He has been the subject of trade speculation for at least the last year and change, and it appeared to be a certainty that he would be dealt at either last year’s deadline or during this off-season.
Yet, here we are on January 20th, and Clint Frazier remains a member of the New York Yankees organization. People are divided as to whether Frazier has a future with the Yankees, or if he is best used as a trade piece. Personally, I have always been a fan of Frazier’s, and despite some of his flaws as a ballplayer, I have always felt that he has been treated somewhat unfairly by the media in NY. However, I think my thoughts on Frazier are worth re-visiting. Before we make up our minds, I think it is important to understand who Clint Frazier is today, and who he is likely to be over the next few years. We finally got a chance to see Frazier across a larger sample size at the MLB level in 2019, and his performance tells us a lot about who Frazier is as a baseball player.
Frazier’s calling card as a ballplayer has always been his ability to perform at the plate. Scouting reports have always provided glowing descriptions and grades for Clint Frazier’s raw power and likely ability to impact the baseball at the MLB level. Brian Cashman even has publicly noted Frazier’s elite bat speed as a positive in discussing Frazier’s game. Despite the fact that Frazier has lost a lot of development time in the upper minors, his surface numbers last year seemed to validate the scouting reports.
In 246 MLB plate appearances, Frazier hit .267/.317/.489 with 12 HR and 108 wRC+. To his credit, Frazier also helped carried the Yankee offense for stretches in both April and June (posting OPS figures of .975 and .855 in those months, respectively), showing just what a force he is capable of being when he is at his best.
However, the underlying numbers are worrisome. Frazier’s plate discipline has never drawn rave reviews throughout his time in the minors, and that has remained true at the MLB level. Frazier’s walk rate remains below league average at 6.5% while his strikeout rate is high, though slightly improved at 28.5%. Those numbers are just barely playable for a regular in concert with one another, though Frazier is playing with fire unless he is able to either walk more and/or strikeout less.
Digging deeper into Frazier’s plate discipline numbers, I see some hope that his walk rate can improve. Frazier has consistently chased at balls out of the zone well below MLB averages throughout his MLB stints since 2017, despite his reputation for struggling with pitch recognition, which typically leads to chasing breaking balls outside the strike zone. However, there is one statistic that gives me more pause than anything else in Frazier’s profile: Frazier has consistently struggled to make contact on pitches inside the strike zone when compared to MLB average rates. Generally, most publicly available scouting reports credited Frazier with a roughly average hit tool at maturation, but his zone contact rates tell a very different story. Typically, we would expect to see chase rates improve with development, not contact rates on balls inside the strike zone. This flaw will limit Frazier’s ability to tap into his plus raw power consistently.
Truthfully, I’m beginning to question Frazier’s ability to translate raw power to game power. Looking at the average exit velocities that Frazier has posted each of the last three seasons, Frazier does not stand out among his peers. That said, Frazier does tend to hit the ball in the air, producing an average launch angle of 15.4%, meaning that he is likely to maximize the outcome when he does barrel up the ball.
Overall, I think that we need to temper projected ceilings for Frazier’s offensive profile. Unless he is able to make contact more consistently inside the strike zone and improve his plate discipline, I think Frazier will have trouble accessing his plus power in real games.
There is little question but that Frazier was awful in the outfield in 2019. Baseball Savant’s new defensive tools give us a wealth of knowledge on exactly how Frazier compared to his peers on balls hit in his vicinity. The results aren’t pretty:
Clint Frazier’s Catch Rates, Courtesy of Baseball Savant (Click To Enlarge)
The above chart shows all catches and hits to RF and LF while Frazier was out there with catch probabilities in the 40%-80% range. The numbers are staggeringly bad. Frazier made exactly one play on balls like that, ironically catching a ball with an 80% catch probability in RF, the position at which he is visually most uncomfortable. Everything else in that range fell in for a hit. Frazier’s feel for playing in either corner of the outfield is…not good.
Frazier did not have a negative reputation as a defender as a prospect. In fact, he even played some CF in the Cleveland minor league system. While he certainly is no longer a fit in CF, the tools for decent defense are there. Frazier ranks in the 62nd percentile in Sprint Speed according to Baseball Savant, and his arm is somewhere between average and above-average in the outfield. Frazier has lost a lot of development time in the outfield due to injuries in the last few seasons, so he may be able to gain feel and better performance with more time to develop. However, there is little question but that he is one of the worst defensive corner outfielders in the game until proven otherwise.
Despite Clint Frazier’s prospect pedigree, there are very real reasons to question his future. It is possible that Frazier’s defense can improve over time, there is little question but that defense will never be his carrying tool. At the end of the day, Frazier has to hit big to be valuable to a big league team. Based on the numbers, while I think that Frazier is and will be a good hitter, I think his ceiling is tempered by his strikeout rate and his apparently lacking hit tool. Looking at the total package, you have to really squint to see an everyday outfielder on a championship-caliber team.
This reality is likely why Frazier is still a Yankee. I think that if Cashman could have capitalized on Frazier’s prospect pedigree by now, he would have. I don’t think Frazier can be anything more than a secondary piece in a trade for an impact player or prospect at this point in time, no matter what some popular trade value simulators say.
Despite all of the aforementioned negatives, the Yankees remain lucky to have Frazier for depth. If last season showed us anything, it’s that you can never have too much depth. More importantly, there are always players that surpass even the most logical projections, capitalizing on raw tools to prove people like me wrong. I will always give Frazier credit for work ethic and the fact that he always seems to play with his hair on fire (sorry, I couldn’t help myself). Frazier may yet find a mechanical adjustment or gain enough experience to more fully utilize his raw tools. If that happens, the projection looks far different.
For now though, Frazier is at a crossroads. Yankee fans should temper their expectations for Frazier’s future performance, but they should not be surprised if he makes me eat my words. I hope he does – I remain an irrational Clint Frazier fan.