My favorite Todd Frazier moment came when the Yankees played a road game at Citi Field, a bizarre spectacle with just a few thousands present. No one even sat in the upper deck! I went with a friend, and we were lightheartedly assessing the various players.
Frazier came up and his opinion was that he was an awful player, a player that may once have been great but is barely acceptable today. I hedged just a little more, that he had some usefulness, but yes, there is no use for him on the Yankees longterm.
Just as we’re saying this, Frazier cranks a Jake Odorizzi slider into left field and the Yankees win the game, 5-1. That game ultimately became his rallying cry, funnier enough, and it spawned the Thumbs Down phenomenon that lasted the rest of the season.
Frazier defined his Yankees legacy in a cool way and wasn’t just a good clubhouse figure. He also provided some value; he had a 114 wRC+ with the Yankees and hit 11 home runs in 66 games. He was awful in the postseason, though, so while people had genuine fondness towards Thumbs Down and his Yankees spirit, they weren’t especially sad to see his tenure possibly end.
With the way the Yankees are structured, a run for Frazier seems unlikely, to say the least. MLB Trade Rumors predicts he gets three years and $33 million, and FanGraphs’ crowd source predicts three years and $42 million. With the Yankees itching to stay under the luxury tax, Frazier seems just like that — a luxury. They will have Chase Headley, another uninspiring and declining third baseman worth about the same salary, and they will likely have Gleyber Torres around the Super Two deadline, putting the infield tally at nearly six players.
There’s another reason to forgo on him, and it has nothing to do with the nominal value. Frazier is, has been, and will continue to decline at a precipitous rate. An interesting fact from that FanGraphs piece was that he has 109 popups over the last three years, and no player has more than 100 other than him. In these last three years, he has seen his offensive ability nearly tank:
You could look at that chart two ways. In one, he completely collapses and there is a blip in the final half-season. The other is that he collapsed and his showing signs of real improvement. One sign that it is real is that he has made an honest effort to improve his plate discipline...
...but he has seen no improvement in hard-hit rate:
While these are actually good things, it also makes his decline even more likely, ironically. These actions are a defensive mechanism against declining bat speed, evidenced by that declining hard-hit rate. To combat that, he tries to avoid swinging out of the zone and generating upward loft for power. That creates a lot of home runs, obviously, but it also creates a lot of flyouts and popups:
This year he had the eighth-highest fly ball rate, but he only had the 49th highest Isolated Power—about the same as Eddie Rosario or Nick Castellanos. So once that bat speed declines even more, it becomes even more difficult. Now fewer fly balls are leaving the park, and you’re forced to cheat a little bit on the fastball, allowing pitchers to expand the zone.
In a right-handed favoring ballpark with a team in desperate need for a third base bat, Frazier isn’t a bad option for three years. He’ll provide some power and will likely be a league average hitter; it’s not like teams don’t need that. With the Yankees’ needs filled in that regard, though, we’ll likely see him depart. Hey, maybe he’s playing in Citi Field next year, with the Thumbs Down guy on his side.