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Down and Out in Left Field

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.


Thoughts on the catching situation, Jameson Taillon, Wandy Peralta, and more

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Good morning everyone. And it is indeed a good morning — the Yankees have won the first two of this week’s series against the Rays at Tropicana Field and go for the sweep tonight. It’s really nice to finally see the team win a couple of games at that awful excuse of a ballpark. With that out of the way, let’s get to some of my Yankees-related thoughts.

On the catcher situation. I understand why the Yankees turned to Kyle Higashioka more than Gary Sánchez toward the end of last month, but at this point, we’re starting to see Higgy’s limitations as a near-everyday player. Keep in mind that this is someone who hasn’t caught a significant workload since 2016, when he caught 102 games split between Double-A and Triple-A.

Hitting a Release Valve

Today seems like a good day to stop the slide. The Yankees have been pretty putrid for the last two games, two ugly losses against the Rays. As many fans–including many of you loyal readers–would tell it, this young season has been at least mildly frustrating to many and down right infuriating to others. For some, that boiled over on Friday night with fans throwing things onto the field.

As I wrote on Twitter Saturday morning, I’m much more frustrated with people who do that than with a struggling baseball team. The latter is to be expected, even with a team as talented as the Yankees. The former is unacceptable and dangerous. Please be better, Yankee fans.

While that’s not a good way to hit a release valve, we all need to at some point. That includes me despite the patience I’ve been preaching online and in real life. So here’s my release valve, my early airing of the grievances, so to speak.

On the micro level, I’m annoyed with Aaron Boone pulling his patented ‘get one more inning out of the starter’ act, which almost never works. He did it yesterday and it helped put the game out of reach. Of course, Jordan Montgomery shouldn’t be throwing five balls in a row, but there was no need for him to be in after the sixth inning.

I’m also frustrated with the team’s handling of Clint Frazier, which Derek detailed already, even before Frazier sat out on Saturday. The entire lineup seems to be slumping, save one or two guys, but only Frazier is the one who’s not allowed to work through his slump in game action. His replacement, veteran Brett Gardner, isn’t exactly lighting things on fire. He’s got two hits and three walks in his last 18 PA. Is this really an improvement?

The offense in general has been frustrating to watch, and Randy summed up why pretty easily yesterday:

When an offense isn’t getting breaks, it’s not too hard to watch. But when an offense is in between, as Randy noted, it’s awful. They seem to miss everything hittable and hit everything missable. That’s no good for anyone. But I still trust this team will hit and hit well.

The non-Gerrit Cole rotation has been disappointing to watch as a whole. Corey Kluber and Jameson Taillon haven’t lived up to their upside yet, but I’m willing to give them more time. Montgomery has been fine, but it would be nice to see him find a groove over the next few starts. Maybe not playing Tampa so much will help him and everyone.

Speaking of Cole, he’s the release valve today, right? He’s the guy the Yankees can turn to now after a losing streak and feel confident that he will stop it. With a win today, with a typical Cole outing, he can help us all head into the Yankees’ off day with confidence that things will turn around.

The Deep and Talented Outfield [2021 Season Preview]

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The Unquestioned Left Fielder

I hope that it feels as good to read that as it did to write it.

After three years of bouncing between the majors, the minors, and the injured list, Clint Frazier became a fixture in the middle of the Yankees lineup last August. It may have only happened because of injuries and under-performance by others — but it happened nevertheless, and it was fantastic. Frazier hit .267/.394/.511 (149 wRC+) with 8 home runs in 160 PA and played elite defense in right field. What more could you ask for?

Sure, there are caveats aplenty given the very nature of the 2020 season. There were bizarre performances throughout the majors, good and bad and everything in between, and that wasn’t solely the result of a significantly shortened season. That said, Frazier was a top prospect for several years for a reason, and he’ll be 26 for the vast majority of this season; that means there are plenty of reasons to buy in, too.

So what’re the projections thinking?

PECOTA50720.234/.321/.429 (104 DRC+)0.71.5
ZiPS47421.242/.325/.463 (106 wRC+)-8.21.2
Steamer52522.246/.324/.449 (103 wRC+)-9.71.0

PECOTA seems to think that Frazier’s a good defender now, that’s pretty neat. The rest? Not so much.

I find it rather interesting that all three systems are essentially ignoring 2020 entirely. His career slash line heading into 2020 was .254/.308/.463 (100 wRC+) with 16 HR in 429 PA. With the exception of an elevated walk rate, that’s really not that far off from the above chart. And I’m not buying it.

In my decidedly non-algorithmic opinion, I think a reasonable baseline for Frazier would essentially match his career to-date (which is conveniently exactly 162 games). That line? .258/.331/.475 (113 wRC+) with 24 HR in 589 PA. And I’d bet the over.

Now here’s hoping he stops running into walls.

Yankees Spring Training News & Notes: February 25, 2021


Another quiet day for the Yankees in Tampa. So it goes. Spring training is in full swing and we’re not too far away from game action (this Sunday! and it’s on TV!).

Before we get to the story of the day and a few other notes, take a look at the ups and downs of Mike Tauchman’s day:

Take it easy there! It’s not even March yet. Then again, Tauchman is fighting for a job this spring. With Kyle Higashioka, Tyler Wade, and Brett Gardner assured bench roles already, there’s just one open spot remaining. Could be Tauchman, but he’ll have to beat out Jay Bruce and Derek Dietrich. At least Tauchman redeemed himself later:

Similar to what Lindsey tweeted, it’s still a lengthy spring training to get through. A lot of players are eager to head north within a week or two of Opening Day, but Tauchman could still be fighting for a job at that point.

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