The wait is over. Clint Frazier’s had a hard time sticking in the majors since the Yankees first brought him up in 2017, although not all of that was his fault. This season, Frazier left the Yankees with no choice but to play him everyday once he was called upon. Let’s take a look at Clint’s terrific season.
We’re not in Scranton anymore
Clint wasn’t free from Scranton to start the year, but once he made his way to the Bronx, there was no turning back. Frazier wasn’t brought up from the Alternate Site to the majors until August 11th, between the placement of Giancarlo Stanton (8/9) and Aaron Judge (8/14) on the injured list. It didn’t take long for Clint to make his presence felt. From his first game:
Frazier’s had opportunities with the Yankees a few times over the years — though some better than others — and has spent time at Triple-A each year since 2016. That’s a lot of time shuttling between the minors and majors over the past four years. Of course, a big part of that was the concussion he suffered in 2018 which undoubtedly threw off his trajectory.
Perhaps Clint deserved this shot sooner, but it’s better late than never. It was incredibly frustrating to watch a number of players go down due to injury this season, but the silver lining was Frazier’s breakout.
An offensive breakout
Only two other Yankees had better batting lines that Frazier this year: DJ LeMahieu (177 wRC+) and Luke Voit (152 wRC+). Red Thunder batted .267/.394/.511 (149 wRC+) in 160 plate appearances. He also belted 8 homers and walked 15.6 of the time. There’s no doubt that Frazier’s bat was a shot in the arm for an offense that missed some of its stars for extended periods of the regular season.
It’s not like this performance came as a huge surprise, by the way. Perhaps a 149 wRC+ is higher than one might have anticipated, but we’ve known for some time that his bat is full of potential. Now, I don’t think he can sustain a 149 wRC+ over 600 plate appearances, but I also don’t see why he can’t be a 20 to 30 percent above average hitter. He’s got that legendary bat speed, he’s got power, he’s shown improved patience, and he grades well per Statcast.
He did play a bit over his head per xwOBA (.348 vs. actual wOBA of .382). Still, his xwOBA was comfortably above the league average number of .312.
Batted ball stuff aside, it’s worth digging into Frazier’s approach at the plate. I think that it was the key to his monster performance during this short season. I already mentioned his walk rate, which ranked 17th-best in all of MLB. But it’s not just walk rate I’m talking about. His overall method of attack at the plate was better.
Before this year, Frazier has been relatively aggressive, swinging at 45.4 percent of pitches seen in the majors. This year, he dropped that mark to 35.2 percent even as pitchers were more careful to him (2.9 percent decrease in total pitches in the zone). Sometimes, we see hitters being too passive (I think Aaron Judge has been an example of this in the past), but that’s not the case here. To wit:
|Zone Swing %||67.6||59.4||66.1|
|Meatball Swing %||80.2||79.5||75.1|
There’s plenty of good here. Yes, he may be swinging at fewer strikes, but his swing rate against meatballs is virtually unchanged. In other words, he’s laying off more pitches in the zone that are not necessarily hittable. Further, he’s laying off junk far more often than before. All of this is pretty darn impressive. We often see young hitters expand as pitchers start pitching them more carefully. Instead, Frazier only honed in on his plan at the plate.
Now, Frazier’s always going to have some swing-and-miss in his game. He struck out 27.5 percent of the time this season, after all. That said, he entered 2020 with a 29.4 percent mark in the majors, so he exhibited some improvement here too. In any case, as long as he can maintain this sort of approach by punishing hittable pitches while spitting at balls out of the zone, he’ll have continued success even with the strikeouts.
A huge step forward defensively
Frazier raking wasn’t a total surprise. But his work in the outfield corners? Wow. Before this year, it was hard to imagine Frazier playing average defense, let along good defense. He had some adventures in the outfield in recent seasons, to put things nicely. Yet, Clint was good enough to be a finalist for a Gold Glove in right field. Joey Gallo won the award (which was determined by stats this year, by the way), but it was a good showing for Frazier nonetheless.
I wrote about Frazier’s glovework back in September in order to understand what had changed from previous seasons. Go read that for the details, but the short of it is: Frazier got better jumps on fly balls this year by going on first instinct even if it wasn’t a perfectly direct route. Take a look:
His overall route fell to below average, but his reaction and burst more than made up for it. In past seasons, his route to the ball was actually decent, but his initial hesitancy held him back. Now, he’s just letting his athleticism take over. To me, it sounds like a much more confident player.
Overall, Frazier finished in the 82nd percentile in outs above average and 58th percentile in outfielder jump. He was also above average per DRS and UZR. Look, defensive metrics are a bit of a black box, but I think the eye test is a good confirmation of them in this instance. Not only did Frazier not make ugly mistakes defensively this season, but he also made some difficult plays as well.
Clint’s earned the starting job in left field next season and a few more thereafter. But even though Frazier has played his way into next year’s lineup, it wouldn’t be an offseason without a trade rumor involving the outfielder. We’re sure to hear his name come up a few times this winter, whether it’s related to a potential Francisco Lindor swap or a deal for a starting pitcher.
There’s always a chance that Frazier gets dealt, particularly now that his trade value is probably at its highest, but I also hope that he’s here to stay. He made a ton of progress this year after a few difficult seasons. This was not a fun year for the Yankees in many different ways, but Clint was undoubtedly a bright spot.