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Mailbag: Florial vs. Frazier, lineup replacement, and Hicks’s future as a switch-hitter

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Happy Friday, everyone. I just got my second vaccine dose yesterday and am feeling good for the most part. Hoping all of you have been able to or will be fully vaccinated in the not so distant future.

Like every Friday, it’s mailbag day. We answer our favorites every week, including three today. Send us your questions to viewsfrom314 at gmail dot com for a chance to be included in a future edition. With that, let’s get to the questions.

Andrew asks: I love Clint, but if he keeps struggling, wouldn’t it be worth a shot to send him down for a month and give Estevan Florial a chance to invigorate this lineup?

Clint Frazier is down to .163/.265/.209 (44 wRC+) in 49 plate appearances after last night’s 0-for-3. The left fielder is still walking a good deal (12.2 percent), but he’s hitting for absolutely no power (.047 ISO) and striking out a ton (34.7 percent). It’s bad. Really bad. He does have one minor league option remaining, so theoretically, the team could option him to the Alternate Site. I don’t see that happening, though.

I wrote a defense of Frazier last week, but things haven’t gotten better since even with a little more playing time. He’s 1-for-13 with two walks since that post. Even so, does sending him down and replacing him with Estevan Florial really make sense? No.

Florial, 23, got into one major league game last year, but otherwise, has yet to reach Double-A (other than the 2017 postseason). He’s posted astronomical strikeout rates in the minors, and overall, hasn’t hit all that well since 2017. That’s a long time ago! Not to mention the injuries he’s dealt with since. This isn’t someone the Yankees can just plug and play to invigorate the lineup. He needs more time in the minors.

Now, Florial apparently has done well in Alternate Site exhibition games, but I don’t think it’s worth making too much of that. Let’s see him perform in the minors for an extended period before considering him. Florial’s development (really, getting him back on track) is more important than hoping to catch lightning in a bottle in the Bronx right now.

Clint’s been frustrating to watch, like many other Yankees, but a swap of him and Florial isn’t going to fix this lineup overnight even if Florial raked from the start. This lineup needs the likes of Gleyber Torres, Aaron Judge, and Giancarlo Stanton cooking in the heart of the order. That’s the bottom line.

If the Yankees had a surefire upgrade of Frazier, I’d be open to it. They don’t, though. Florial’s not it. Brett Gardner is in a rut himself: .212/.333/.273 (83 wRC+) in his last 40 plate appearances. I don’t really want to see Mike Tauchman play everyday. Look, Frazier’s at-bats have been dreadful, including taking hittable fastballs over the heart of the plate. I can’t really blame Aaron Boone for playing Gardner more at this point, but Frazier is the most talented of the bunch. Again, none of these guys are rescuing the lineup on their own — that’s the middle of the order’s job. But ultimately, now’s not the time to demote Frazier.

Arthur asks: Let’s assume that this lineup is the best possible for the Yankees, but you have to replace one player by trade or free agency, which one would you be willing to sacrifice to improve the team? Who do you choose as a replacement and why?

Here’s the lineup Arthur listed:

  1. DJ LeMahieu, 2B
  2. Aaron Judge, RF
  3. Aaron Hicks, CF
  4. Giancarlo Stanton, DH 
  5. Luke Voit, 1B
  6. Gleyber Torres, SS
  7. Gary Sánchez, C
  8. Clint Frazier, LF
  9. Gio Urshela, 3B 

Given the upcoming shortstop free agent class, I think an infield reshuffle would be the most sensible change. And given the parameters of the question, that basically boils down to either (1) moving Gleyber off short and dumping someone else, or (2) trading Torres.

I’m ruling out option two right off the bat. Look, I know Torres has been awful (hopefully last night was an indication of him turning things around), but he’s still just 24. His discipline is still very good and even though the overall numbers from 2020 are not great, we can’t disregard how well he hit in September and the postseason. Progression isn’t always linear and I just can’t give up on Torres’s bat already.

Now, defensively? Yeah, I’m ready to put Gleyber back at second base (or trying him at third). That means either trading Luke Voit, DJ LeMahieu, or Gio Urshela and rearranging things. And then, signing someone like Corey Seager in the winter.

If you’re forcing me to pick between Voit, LeMahieu, and Urshela, I think I’d move on from Gio. Pains me to say that, but I think Voit and LeMahieu are more vital to this offense than Urshela. Not to mention that the Yankees have control of Voit (free agent after 2024) and LeMahieu (free agent after 2026) for longer than Urshela (free agent after 2023).

In choosing to part with Urshela, I can either move LeMahieu to third and put Gleyber back at second or convert Torres to the hot corner.

Hear me out for a second though: why does anyone *have* to be replaced? Why can’t the Yankees turn Urshela/LeMahieu into roving super utility infielders while keeping everyone and sign someone like Seager? That’s a huge boost to the lineup and depth, especially considering the health track record for this team. I don’t think it’s unreasonable to assume that the Yankees could have five infielders getting 400 or more plate appearances in 2022 if they went that route. To me: the more, the merrier. No need to subtract.

Josh asks: At what point does a switch hitter realize he is no longer good at one side of the plate and they should be a full time righty or lefty? How hard do you think it would be for a switch hitter to switch to only one sided? Can Aaron Hicks just try to be a righty vs a righty and see how it goes?

Hicks has a 129 wRC+ as a right-handed hitter and a 20 wRC+ as a lefty so far this year, which prompted this question. No doubt, he’s been awful from the more frequent side of the plate. But it’s such a small sample of opportunities this year, and way too soon to even consider giving it up. Hicks has been an excellent left-handed hitter every year since 2017, and has been better or even from that side of the dish vs. as a righty in nearly all seasons since joining the Yankees.

YearwRC+ as LHB (PA)wRC+ as RHB (PA)
201687 (232)23 (129)
2017120 (235)141 (126)
2018133 (415)117 (166)
2019114 (171)77 (84)
2020123 (157)123 (54)
202120 (44)129 (21)

This isn’t a situation like Shane Victorino from almost ten years ago. He’s one of the more prominent players that I can recall giving up left-handed hitting. But he even tried to resume hitting lefty again, and went back-and-forth a few times.

The idea that Hicks, or any switch-hitter, is better off foregoing the platoon advantage is tenuous. We just don’t know how well Hicks would adjust to batting right-on-right. He’s never hit right-handed and faced breaking balls moving away from him. It’s harder to see the ball out of the hand of a same-sided pitcher.

Most importantly, this is simply too soon to even consider such a drastic chance. Again, Hicks has been pretty non-competitive as a lefty in 2021. But it’s just 20 plate appearances! Most of the lineup has been bad, as we all know. This just isn’t a viable solution right now.

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5 Comments

  1. Full-throated support for the 5 infielders proposal.
    It worked well in 2019. Depth is a strength they haven’t generally prioritized, but it’s clearly worthwhile. Watching the Dodgers and Braves and even now the Red Sox have good subs makes me jealous.

  2. dasit

    is the alternate site in siberia?
    that’s a grim landscape

    • kesheck

      That’s PNC Park, home of the Scranton Wilkes-Barre RaiRiders.

  3. Cary

    Nice article Derek. Totally agree with your points. Until the Trade Deadline approaches, the Yankees need to fix things using internal options & patience with proven players.

    The problem is the offense but the Defense is in fire need of improvement. 1B, 2B, SS, C & LF have been poor.

    The Yankees should just promote Chris Gittens on the merit of his strong defense and let him figure Major League pitching out as he goes along. There’s a good chance he could be productive and certainly his defense would drastically upgrade 1B and also restore DJ LeMahieu to 2B.

    The Yankees could then ease Luke Voit in at DH & move Stanton into the OF more. That way Gardy becomes more of a late game defensive replacement & Frazier doesn’t play much.

    There are three other things the Yankees could easily do. One is to play Higgy more. Higgy handles pitchers better & is a much better defender than Sanchez.

    They could also play Tauchman more in CF & bat him leadoff. Lastly, promoting Wade & using him as a late game defensive replacement and pinch runner could not only help scratch out a few more runs but it might prevent a few that are leaking through Torres’ glove at SS defensively.

    Doing all this lessens the negative drag that Frazier, Hicks, Gardy, Sanchez &now Ford are causing.

  4. JoeSchmo

    Can you fix this site when you click “view more” on an article, it doesn’t take me back to the very top of the article? Oftentimes I choose not to click into an extended article because I know I’m going to lose my spot in the story

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