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What is Going on With Clint Frazier?

What is Going on With Clint Frazier?

By Chris O’Connor

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Note – All stats courtesy of Fangraphs and Baseball Savant

Clint Frazier has had a whirlwind Yankees career. He came to the team in the Andrew Miller trade at the 2016 trade deadline and was instantly hyped as a top prospect, having been characterized by none other than Brian Cashman as having “legendary” bat speed. After an injury-plagued 2018 season, he appeared ready to have a role with the big league team in 2019, but he was sent to the minors to open the season with the team having so much outfield depth. When injuries hit the team hard in both 2019 and 2020, Frazier was able to play in 108 games. He slashed .267/.347/.497 with 20 homers during that stretch and even with up-and-down defensive performance, the team handed him the starting left field job for 2021 despite re-signing Brett Gardner.

Frazier, however, has really struggled out of the gate. In 18 games thus far, he has slashed .143/.311/.184 for a WRC+ of just 61. What has gone wrong? Let’s take a look.

First, the positives. Frazier’s walk rate has risen from as low as 6.5% in 2019 all the way to a career high 19.7% this year, which ranks in the 98th percentile of all players. Similarly, his chase rate on pitches outside of the zone has dropped from 21.1% in 2019 to 13.9% this year; that ranks in the 99th percentile. I do not want to say that his plate discipline is improving, however, as there is a reason that his walk rate and chase rate is so low: he has simply stopped swinging the bat. His swing rate on pitches inside the strike zone has fallen from a high of 67.8% in 2019 to 54.7% this year. That ranks 6th lowest among hitters with at least 50 plate appearances and his swing rate of 33% ranks 3rd lowest among those qualified hitters. There is good news and bad news here.

The bad news is that Frazier has been one of the worst hitters in the sport this year and appears to have adopted an incredibly passive approach in a seemingly conscious decision to draw more walks. I think that he either made this decision on his own or was pushed into this approach by the Yankees, a team that covets patient approaches at the plate. The good news is that there is an easy, simple solution: swing more. Frazier is a very talented player and it is very frustrating to see him struggle like this, especially when the solution seems so straightforward. I believe that a more aggressive approach at the plate would significantly boost his batted ball data (exit velocity, hard hit rate, etc.), all of which have cratered thus far in 2021. We have seen Frazier put it together as a hitter by combining his trademark bat speed with a patient approach: in 2020 he ranked in the 93rd percentile in walk rate and 100th percentile in chase rate, but he also had a .267/.394/.511 slash line with a 149 WRC+.

In short, he was great last year, and that is why many had him pegged as a breakout candidate entering this year. While he has struggled thus far, the very same thing that makes it very frustrating is also the reason for optimism: the solution is just to swing the bat more and the offense will return.

#ClintFrazier

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