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Offseason refinements have Clint Frazier reaching his potential for the Yankees

Slow is smooth, smooth is fast.

Boston Red Sox v New York Yankees Photo by Mike Stobe/Getty Images

In an instructional interview with SNY’s Todd Zeile in February of this year, Pete Alonso talked about the approach that helped guide him to his record-breaking Rookie of the Year campaign last season. When Zeile asked Alonso about his gameplan, Alonso replied with an anecdote about meeting Anthony Rendon at first base during a regular season game in 2019. In his retelling, Alonso sarcastically asked Rendon if he ever gets out, to which “Tony” replied, “Slow is smooth, smooth is fast.”

Though the expression is most commonly associated with the American military’s special forces, the sentiment is equally applicable to the modern professional hitter. Wasted movements during a hitter’s swing, also known as “noise,” tend to cause energy inefficiencies during the swing’s kinetic chain. For most hitters, especially the ones without the talent to compensate for unique mechanical quirks, less is more when it comes to their swing.

After the Yankees traded Andrew Miller for Clint Frazier all the way back in 2016, Brian Cashman raved about Red Thunder as a prospect, specifically praising his “legendary bat speed.” In his first 123 games, Frazier hit for .254 average with 16 homers, and a middling .771 OPS, along with subpar defense, rendering him effectively unplayable in the Yankees’ stacked outfield and DH slots.

In this swing and miss from 2019, Frazier starts his hands nearly fully extended out above his head. Then, as the pitcher rears back to throw, Frazier drops his hands as he coils his upper body, but subtly cocks his barrel towards the pitcher before beginning his swing. It’s something he likely developed as a timing mechanism, but this hitch actually makes Frazier’s swing less repeatable.

Though it helps many hitters load weight into their backside before exploding forwards, Frazier’s exaggerated leg kick was messing with his timing. His foot was too often still in the air as the pitch was nearly at the plate, preventing Frazier from starting his swing on time. A hitter’s front heel should strike the ground before he begins turning the barrel, in order to maximize the stretch between the lower and upper halves, and maximize the amount of time a hitter has to read the pitch. In his 2019 swing, Frazier would often land late, forcing himself to start his attack towards the ball on the ball of his front foot instead of his heel, therefore rushing through an uncomfortable looking swing.

Two days before Opening Day, our Joshua Diemert pinpointed a couple of mechanical adjustments Clint Frazier made this offseason, projecting Frazier to finally make good on his superior raw talent. To date, Frazier has Josh looking like a genius, as he’s dominated to the tune of a .444/.500/.944 triple-slash through his first 20 plate appearances. His blistering 95.7 mph average exit velocity would rank among the top five in baseball, had he recorded enough at-bats to qualify.

Though this small-sample pace is obviously unsustainable, at the very least it highlights the potential and legitimizes the pedigree that Frazier’s held since being drafted fifth overall in 2013. Like Alonso’s approach via Anthony Rendon, Frazier brought a quieter swing to training camp compared to previous seasons. This season, Frazier looks like this:

Frazier’s significantly reduced the pre-swing hand-wagging, foot-tapping, and leg kick, leading to a much “quieter,” more repeatable swing. Clint Frazier 2.0 drops his hands a few inches during his load, but his bat remains vertical as he’s eliminated the sudden forward tilt. Also, he’s reduced the leg kick to a mere toe-tap. His lower hands enable a cleaner hip-drive and a looser, less “handsy” swing. By coiling his hips before starting his load, all Frazier has to do is pick his foot up and replace it in order to generate timing, and then decide whether or not to swing. Frazier’s adjustments have made his life easier, allowing him to find the barrel with much greater consistency—i.e. slower, smoother, and henceforth, faster.

With more time, he’s done a much better job of trusting his hands as he approaches the ball, despite starting his swing in nearly identical places. Though it’s difficult to tell from the standard broadcast angle, check out freeze frames of a Frazier swing and miss from 2019 compared to the missile he hit off of Huascar Ynoa:

The only difference in these two photos is the distance between Frazier and the ball. In the swing on the right, Frazier plants his foot earlier, generating bat speed behind his body and then releasing the barrel towards the ball. In the swing on the left, his foot is down late so he has to force his hands ahead of his hip drive, leading to a rushed, clunky swing and miss.

I wouldn’t be surprised to see Frazier struggle again with his timing if he reverts to old habits, especially that late front-foot plant. However, the reduction of ancillary movements in Frazier’s load should help ward that off for the time being. Right now, for Clint Frazier, slow is in fact fast.