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How the Yankees can fix Clint Frazier’s defense

We’ve talked a lot about the fact that Frazier has struggled, so let’s take a look at the how to try and figure out the why.

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

We’ve talked a lot about how bad Clint Frazier’s defense has been this year. We’ve talked about whether it outweighs his offensive production, how the team can minimize his defensive woes, and how this situation feels awfully like that of Miguel Andujar a year ago.

What has not been discussed, however, is the makeup of Frazier’s defense. There are many ways to be bad defensively: a player can have sure hands but no range, like the latter years of Derek Jeter, or can have all the range in the world but bricks for hands. Of course, it’s possible to be bad at both, like Hanley Ramirez in left field. Where does Frazier fit in?

Let’s start with traditional stats, flawed as they are. Baseball-Reference lists Frazier as having 50 chances in the outfield this season, including 42 put outs, 5 assists, and 3 errors. This gives him a .940 fielding percentage, well below the league average among outfielders of .983. Personally, I find that fielding percentage overestimates the skill of the defender, as there are numerous plays that should be made that are not counted as errors, such as this one:

This play was counted as a hit, although in my opinion both Brett Gardner and Clint Frazier were in the wrong here (this is why we need half-errors just like the NFL has half-sacks). Despite this play, and numerous others like it, not being counted as an error, Frazier is in the bottom-ten in fielding percentage among outfielders with at least one hundred innings in the field. There are numerous balls that Frazier gets to that he should catch, but does not.

Advanced metrics reinforce this view. Frazier comes in at -11 Total Zone Total Fielding Runs Above Average and -7 BIS Defense Runs Saved Above Average. His Range Factor per 9 innings of 1.47 is below the league average of 2.15. The only stat where Frazier comes in above average is his arm score, where FanGraphs gives him a 1.5.

These stats all paint a pretty clear picture: Clint Frazier has been bad across the board with his glove. Thanks to Statcast’s Directional Outs Above Average statistic, however, we are able to see just where Frazier has been bad, and to see both how the team can minimize his weaknesses and how he can work on his glove.

Frazier’s OAA score of -11, the worst in the league, can be broken down into six categories: Back Left, Back, Back Right, In Left, In, and In Right; in order, these scores are -1, -2, 0, -3, -3, -3, which gives him a total of -2 Back (OAA emphasizes that rounding occurs, so these numbers do not add up properly) and -9 In. None of these numbers are good, with the sole exception of Back Right...which is merely league average. But let’s break things down into some context.

Let’s start with Back. Logically speaking, these ought to be the more difficult plays, as it is harder to track a ball while you are moving away from it than when you are moving towards it. Frazier’s score, however, while below average, is not all that unimpressive. In fact, Bryce Harper, Andrew Benintendi, Starling Marte, and even Mookie Betts have the exact same score that Frazier does when they are heading backwards. Whether this is due to the difficulty of this action or smart positioning, this is not a massive area of concern for Frazier.

It is when heading in, however, that things get alarming for Frazier. His score of -9 is worst in all of baseball — and it is not particularly close either. He is more than four outs worse than Shin-Soo Choo and Dwight Smith, Jr, who are tied for the dishonor of being the second worst defenders in baseball when moving inwards. Furthermore, he has been equally bad moving forward in all directions, which suggests that it is the act of moving forward, not moving laterally, that gives him most of his difficulty.

Now, without the ability to break down the stats even further, it is hard to know how much Frazier has been penalized in the In category by his failed diving catches; I’d imagine it is a fair amount. However, what is interesting is that, in the first two years of his career, which amounts to 367 innings, he combined for 0 OAA moving inwards. This difficulty with these types of plays is a new phenomenon for 2019.

I cannot provide an explanation for the sharp decrease in his ability to play balls in front of him this season. Certainly, such a decline has occurred, and it has stood as the main reason for Clint Frazier’s struggles this year.