We’ve been hearing a lot about Clint Frazier’s defensive woes this season, and for good reason: the young outfielder has been nothing short of bad defensively. He has, in fact, been ranked as the worst defender in baseball, when ranked by Outs Above Average.
While defensive metrics are tricky and unreliable, all of them paint Frazier in a negative light. He has posted a season-wide -17.5 UZR/150 (which I prefer over regular UZR, as it standardizes the sample size), a -20 catch probability added, and a .930 fielding percentage (an imperfect stat, but considering how far below the .983 league average among outfielders, it’s good enough). No matter how you slice it, Frazier has been atrociously bad.
One thing, however, that I noticed both among the metrics and while watching games is that Frazier has played much worse in right field than in left field. Sure, he had his fair share of misplays in left, they did not seem to occur every play. And the metrics back up the eye test, as he has posted a 19.9 UZR/150, and in his career he has only made one error in left field (as opposed to three in right this year alone). Obviously these do not tell the whole story, and are a tad bit optimistic about his performance in left field, they do back up the notion that Frazier is more at home in left field than in right.
So that is exactly where the Yankees should put him. At the moment, Brett Gardner has been the starter in left and Aaron Hicks in center, due to the fact that they were intended to be the starting left and center fielders. Only a stubborn committal to this keeps Frazier in right field. While Gardner is definitively a better left fielder than center fielder, he still can man center field adequately — he has a 9.6 UZR/150 at the position, and still serves as the backup. Hicks, meanwhile, has the arm and range to play right field, although he has not played it on a meaningful basis since 2017. That year, he posted a -1.8 UZR/150 backing up Aaron Judge, but the year prior, in 2016, he posted 9.9 as the starter. There is no significant loss in defense by moving Gardner to center and Hicks to right, and any loss would likely be offset by Frazier’s better performance in left, so realistically, there is nothing stopping manager Aaron Boone from making this move.
Of course, the looming return of Giancarlo Stanton throws a wrench into this mix, and one that is hard to account for. He is expected to slot in as the starting right fielder while Judge continues his rehab, as he did last year. One of either Clint Frazier or Cameron Maybin will be sent packing as a result. Since of the two, only Frazier has options remaining, he will likely be headed back to Scranton to work on his defense unless he gets so hot at the plate that the team cannot afford to take his bat out of the lineup. In either case, Stanton’s return will end the need for Frazier to play significant innings in right field, regardless of whether Boone shuffles the outfield alignment beforehand.
Frazier’s defensive struggles have clearly been detrimental to the team. Ultimately, by moving guys around, the Yankees can put him in a position where he can help, rather than harm, his team.