Coming into the 2021 season, Yankees manager Aaron Boone stated that Clint Frazier would be the team’s starting left fielder. For many fans, this was a long time coming. In shorter stints, Frazier had proven himself worthy of a starting spot. Backing him up would be mainstay Brett Gardner, the longest-tenured Yankee, ready to slip into a backup role.
This set up seemed like a good situation, regardless of what happened. If Frazier were to pick up from 2020, that would be a huge boon for the Yankees. If he didn’t, they’d have a reliable veteran to take his place or fil in. However, while both have shown good spurts, neither has had any consistent success. That’s putting it lightly.
As of Friday when I’m writing this, these are their batting lines:
Frazier: .141/.282/.283; .264 wOBA/69 wRC+ (decidedly not nice)
Gardner: .182/.282/.227; .240 wOBA/53 wRC+ (yikes! SLG < OBP!)
Those are pitcher-like numbers from two guys who should be much, much better. Let’s get to the bottom of this, starting with Frazier, whose success (or future success) is likely a bit more pressing. After all, it’s possible that Gardner, who’s on the wrong side of the line with regards to age, might just be cooked.
At first glance, Clint’s statcast numbers are a veritable horror show. He ranks in the second (!) percentile in average exit velocity. Second. As a result of this, his expected stats don’t fare too much better in terms of rankings: 36th in xwOBA; 16th in xBA; 21st in xSLG. Even Frazier’s max exit velocity ranks in just the 56th percentile. On the bright side, he’s kept up his patient approach from 2020.
But, that’s really about it in terms of the positives for Frazier. His weak contact rate is at 7.8%, a career high. Predictably, his solid contact rate–3.1%. His launch angle is a career high, too, at 15.6%. Now, taken on its own, that’s not necessarily bad. However, it’s helped lead to a 17.2% pop up rate, also a career high. One silver lining is that his line drive rate is solid at 23.4%, but those pop ups are still very worrying.
Along with the aforementioned patience, Clint’s swing numbers–both in the zone and overall–are about where they should be based on last year. But despite that, there seems to be a selection problem, especially when we look at how he’s hit the ball in the zone.
Now, without getting into the horrendous numbers outside the zone, even the ones inside are troubling. Three spots under 90 and two under 80. That’s not good. The middle/in spot is also confounding because with Frazier’s quick hands and bat speed, that’s a ball he should demolish. For one reason or another, and despite the skills he has, he’s just not hitting the ball hard at all. The results don’t look much prettier.
Essentially, if it’s not in the middle of the zone, whether in or out, Crazier isn’t doing much with it. He’s even not doing too much with balls that end up middle/middle. The upper and lower parts of the zone are black holes–or blue with the graphic–and with his swing and speed, they shouldn’t be.
This also bears out in his swing/take data, which has him at -6 runs in the zone and -8 in the shadow of the zone. So while Clint may not be chasing pitches out of the zone and may be taking his walks, he’s not doing the right thing or striking the ball well enough or swinging at the right ones in and near the zone. While we can easily appreciate Clint taking his walks, at a certain point, he’s gotta bring more than that.
To his credit, Frazier is definitely one to make adjustments. He’s tinkered with his stance multiple times in his career and made a shift to a more closed off stance at the end of April. Maybe that can help him put better, more authoritative swings on the ball. All the tools are there for Frazier and he finally has the opportunity. Now’s the time to capitalize and leave no doubt.
For Brett Gardner, things aren’t much better. While his average exit velocity is in the 10th percentile rather than the 2nd, everything else is, well, trash. His hard hit percentage rank? 9th. xwOBA, BA, SLG? 3rd, 2nd, 1st.
He’s hitting a career high in terms of ground ball rate (54%) and has a .273 wOBA on such pitches. To boot, he’s got a career low 14% line drive rate, with an identical percentage of pop ups. 10% weak contact–also a career high. So he’s having a similar problem to Frazier’s; he’s just not hitting the ball hard enough. More or less the only time Gardner is doing any damage is on a pitch right down the middle:
Yeesh. Gardner now looks like, essentially, the worst version of his player self he could’ve been: a powerless threat who might work a walk every so often. As a back up outfielder, though, I suppose it’s not bad. But if he keeps getting consistent starting time, it’s a huge, huge problem. This, I suppose, is what the end of a career might look like.
While this might be the beginning of the end for Gardner, I still have faith in Frazier to get better. He can’t play much worse, obviously, and there’s always a chance that there’s some progression to the mean. Additionally, he is willing to change and alter things as he’s done previously. The Yankees have been able to weather the lack of production from left field; hopefully they won’t have to much longer.