Six weeks ago I wrote about the opportunity that was in front of Clint Frazier in light of the dozen or so Yankees that have gone down with injury. Since then, he’s grabbed that opportunity by the horns, posting a 120 wRC+ sandwiched around an IL stint of his own for a sprained ankle. Frazier’s looking like the player we knew he could be, and the question is, how has he done it?
At first glance, Frazier’s become an awful lot more disciplined. This is something we could have expected - the Yankees have a team philosophy of “grinding” at-bats, seeing lots of pitches, and taking walks when they need to. A fully healthy Yankee lineup for the past three years has seen Brett Gardner and Aaron Judge in the first two slots, meaning pitchers have to throw a ton of pitches in the first inning and it’s very likely one of those two guys walks.
Now, Frazier hasn’t walked very much. His walk rate has actually declined from last year, a 3.2% BB% down from 12.2% in 2018. But discipline, at least in my mind, isn’t just about walks - it’s about knowing which pitches you can hit, and which pitches you can’t.
Frazier, more than anything else, has learned to make better contact on non-fastballs. I want to isolate one pitch in particular, though, and that’s how he’s worked against offspeed pitches, which Statcast defines as all manner of changeups.
He’s actually swinging more at changeups this year, a pitch that was an absolute nightmare for him last season. Nothing shows his evolution as a hitter more than the fact that he’s taking more hacks at offspeed pitches, but making more contact.
What was the memetic quality of Frazier’s that we all fell in love with? “Legendary bat speed.” It sure looks like Clint finally understands the value of that bat speed. Not only can he catch up to the hardest fastballs in baseball - you can see above that he’s also swinging and missing less at fastballs - but it allows him to wait longer on changeups, giving him a better view of any given pitch. Look how he approaches Chris Sale in April:
He gets two straight changeups from Sale to start the at-bat. The first one comes inside and he takes it, which in and of itself is a victory given how frequently he swung at pitches off the plate inside last year.
The second changeup is a mistake from Sale, but hoooo boy does Frazier make him pay for it. It cuts down and back over the plate, and this is where you can see Frazier trusting that bat speed. He knows that he can get the bat through the zone quick enough that it buys him a margin to watch the pitch come back over the plate. He’s content to whack the ball to right center field, after letting it travel enough that he knows it’s a strike.
Last year, these are the kind of pitches that hurt Frazier. He’d either be fooled by the movement and miss the pitch altogether, letting one of the best pitchers in baseball get away with a rare mistake, or he wouldn’t trust his bat speed and start swinging early, and doing so to that pitch would have had him rolling over a weak grounder to shortstop.
It can be really hard to trust yourself when hitting coaches, other players and team analysts are all giving tips on how to improve. Clint Frazier was unbelievably bad against changeups over the past two years - a 16 and -25 wRC+ in 2017 and 2018 respectively - and now he’s crushing them to the tune of a 235 wRC+. It all comes back to trusting that which got him to the majors in the first place: that legendary bat speed. It has let him wait longer on a pitch that was the bane of his existence, and he’s a much better player for it.