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Why Clint Frazier is struggling since his return from the injured list

Clint Frazier has been struggling since his return from an ankle injury, and there are a few reasons why.

MLB: Seattle Mariners at New York Yankees Adam Hunger-USA TODAY Sports

After missing nearly the entire 2018 season with a lingering concussion, Clint Frazier was ready to break out this season. As soon as he was given his opportunity, that’s exactly what Frazier did. The 24-year-old outfielder was unstoppable in April, slashing .324/.342/.632 in 18 games and working his way up to the middle of the Yankees’ batting order. It felt like Frazier was finally hitting his stride and turning his elite bat speed into elite production. Then he hurt his ankle and found himself back on the injured list. Since his return on May 6th, Frazier’s slash line is .105/.209/.175 in 12 games. So where did everything go wrong for him, and how does he get back to igniting the Yankees’ offense like he did early on?

During Frazier’s successful month of April, he was spraying the ball all over the yard. His batted ball profile was 37% pull, 37% center, and 26% opposite field, according to FanGraphs. Since he returned from the ankle injury on May 6th, his distribution is 40% pull, 48% center, and only 12% opposite field. This could have to do with some lingering effects of his ankle injury, or he could have just lost his timing during the two weeks he was on the injured list. Regardless, this is problematic because Frazier has a tendency to hit the ball on the ground to the pull side, as opposed to driving the ball with authority up the middle or to the opposite field.

In fact, this season Frazier possesses a 66.7% ground ball rate when he pulls the ball, compared to 31.3% when he goes up the middle and 5.9% when he drives the ball the other way. Only one of Frazier’s six home runs this season was pulled to left field, a hanging slider from Orioles’ relief pitcher Miguel Castro. In April, 42.6% of Frazier’s batted balls were fly-balls, and 26.1% of those went for home runs. For comparison, Aaron Judge hit home runs on 29% of fly balls last season. Frazier was getting the ball in the air and doing some serious damage. In 40 May at-bats, Frazier is only hitting fly balls in 32% of at-bats, and he has yet to leave the yard since his return from the injured list.

It’s not just the distribution of Frazier’s batted balls that are worrisome, it’s the quality of his contact. According to FanGraphs, Frazier made hard contact in 38.9% of his April at-bats, but only 24% in May. It’s at least a bit encouraging that Frazier’s soft contact percentage hasn’t changed. He’s just making a lot more medium contact and not getting the barrel on the ball. It’s not unusual to see a player lose their timing during a few weeks away, so the Yankees can be hopeful that he’ll catch his stride soon.

Frazier’s also been a bit unlucky at times. Since his return from the injured list, Frazier has hit three balls that Statcast considered barrels. Two of them were line drive outs and one was a 405-foot double off the deep center field wall in Tampa Bay. On May 15th alone, Frazier hit three balls with an exit velocity greater than 100 mph and had no hits to show for it. His .240 BABIP in May is indicative of some poor luck, and his .333 BABIP in April was never going to be completely sustainable.

Unfortunately, you can’t blame bad luck for striking out–at least in most cases–and Frazier’s been striking out a lot lately. His strikeout rate has spiked by 13% since his return on May 6th and opposing pitchers have been having a lot of success blowing high fastballs by him for strike three.

The good news for Frazier is that the Yankees are back at Camden Yards, a ballpark that he’s thrived at this season. The Yankees outfielder has six hits in 11 plate appearances in Baltimore this season and three of them are home runs. Frazier has maintained that he feels good physically, so all the Yankees can do is hope he stays healthy and gets back on track soon, because now they truly know what he’s capable of doing when given the opportunity.