Weekly Mailbag: Is Clint Frazier For Real?
By Andy Singer
Photo Courtesy of Steven Ryan
I hope that last night was rock bottom. That was about as bad a baseball game for the Yankees as I could possibly imagine. The worst part? From the moment Happ came out for the 4th inning, I said to myself, “He’s gonna blow the lead.” It’s hard to have faith in the collection of guys the Yankees are putting on the field right now, despite my bullish projections for some of them. Even the guys who are supposed to get the job done (yes, I’m looking at you Chapman), seem to falter at the most inopportune moments. The Yankees are like my golf game: if it’s not one thing, it’s another. I told myself at the start of the year that any Yankee baseball was gravy considering the ramifications of the pandemic. Last night was the first time I let the losing get to me. I turned the game off right after Alonso made contact with the walk-off homer.
Now that I’m done venting about last night’s game, we can get to the mailbag! Thanks, as always, for writing in – keep it up, and send in your questions to SSTNReadermail@gmail.com. I’ll answer my favorites on Fridays.
This week, 4 of you asked a variation of the same question. Here it is:
Brian, Sam, Christian, and Ron ask: Is Clint Frazier for real?
This is going to be one of the most important questions for the Yankees to answer in the coming months, with wide-ranging implications for both this season and future seasons. Following the 2019 season, many of us expected Clint Frazier to be dealt as a secondary piece in a deal. His stock had fallen that far. I was surprised to see Frazier in camp with the Yankees, but I’d say I was pleasantly surprised. I’ve always felt that there was more in the tank for Frazier than we were seeing, despite the fact that I’ve written some less-than-rosy projections for Frazier in the past. Among the observations I’ve made in the past:
Frazier really didn’t chase bad pitches, consistently chasing below the MLB average.
Despite solid chase rates, Frazier struggled to make contact with pitches inside the strike zone, resulting in poor walk rates and high strike out rates.
Despite all of the talk of Frazier’s “legendary” bat speed, he really didn’t post eyebrow-raising exit velocity numbers.
Frazier’s mechanics at the plate did not seem conducive to hitting for power.
Frazier’s lost development time made him a defensive liability.
The raw tools were better than the MLB performance.
I’m cherry-picking a bit, but these were some of the things I have said about Frazier. We’ve seen him have hot months before, like early in 2019. However, I think this year is different, and Frazier is genuinely a different player.
First, we need to look at obvious mechanical changes that Frazier has made at the plate. Prior to this season, Frazier hit with his body slightly open to the pitcher. This led to his front foot getting down early, forcing Frazier to generate power primarily with his arms. With Frazier’s obviously strong forearms and hands, he got away with it some of the time, but it was clear that his power was occasionally sapped at the plate. Additionally, these mechanics would often force Frazier’s eyes off the plate early.
Fast-forward to 2020. Frazier has closed his stance at the plate and lifted his left heel, allowing him to coil on his backside for significantly longer. This also allows Frazier to utilize his legs more in the swing, while also keeping his head more level, allowing him to keep his eyes in the strike zone for longer.
I highly recommend listening to Frazier talk about this in his own words:
It is essential to understand the mechanical adjustments made before we look at the statistics. I am very inclined to believe the statistical improvements I’m about to show you because we have real, tangible mechanical changes we can see. Frazier has hovered around the league-average hard hit rate of 34.8% throughout his career. In 2020, Frazier’s hard hit rate is an elite 52.8%. His average exit velocity is 90.4 MPH (a number that recently deflated after he rolled over a couple of balls yesterday), up from the high-80s throughout his career to-date. His chase rate, already better than the league average, has dropped to elite levels, chasing just 16.3% of pitches outside of the strike zone. Most importantly, Frazier has drastically improved his ability to make contact with pitches inside the strike zone, displaying roughly average zone contact rates. Frazier has been much more selective inside the strike zone, swinging at 10% fewer pitches in the zone. The result? He’s swinging at mostly mistake pitches:
Clint Frazier Zone Swing % Map, Courtesy of Baseball Savant (Click to Enlarge)
There are so many good indicators for Frazier offensively, I can’t help but be bullish regarding the mechanical adjustments he’s made. Often times, mechanical adjustments you see in Spring Training are little more than eye wash, and players revert to their old habits. That hasn’t happened with Frazier. The changes are real, and the results match the mechanical adjustments. The sample size is small, but the mechanical adjustments Frazier’s made quiet my misgivings regarding small sample sizes.
Oh, and we haven’t even talked about Frazier’s defense. Everyone in the Yankee universe has knocked Frazier for his defense. Those calls have been quieted this season. Frazier is drastically better in both outfield corners this season. Every statistical measure publicly available rates Frazier positively in the outfield this season. Statcast credits Frazier’s outfield jump in the 92nd percentile across the league, allowing him to cover significant ground in combination with his above-average sprint speed.
Quite simply, Clint Frazier has become the complete package right before our eyes. Unless there is a physical ailment about which we are unaware, Frazier needs to start over Gardner and Tauchman every day, even when the big bats return. Frazier has earned it. The Yankees need to start planning future rosters with Frazier penciled into LF.
In short, yes, Frazier is for real.