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Yankees Clint Frazier will try to prove that 2020 was no fluke

The young slugger dramatically improved as a player, most notably his walk rate and defense. Can he keep those gains in 2021 and beyond?

Division Series - New York Yankees v Tampa Bay Rays - Game Two Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images

For years now, the sabermetric community has considered the idea of sample size and its role in evaluating performance. We don’t go preaching about a player’s transformation if he went on a five-day tear at the plate. We shouldn’t, at least.

Depending on the size of the sample, we can get to the point at which different stats stabilize. By stabilization, we usually mean that, when a certain stat reaches that threshold, the performance starts to seem a little more trustworthy.

For Clint Frazier, the 2021 season will be about trying to prove that what he did in 2020 wasn’t a fluke. Last season, the Yankees’ outfielder made substantial gains on several fronts, at least in comparison to his play up to that date.

In the 2019 campaign, Frazier had 246 plate appearances and slashed .267/.317/.489 with a 6.5 BB%, a 28.5 K%, and a 108 wRC+. After changing his approach and stance in 2020, the redheaded slugger improved to a .267/.394/.511 line with a 15.6 BB%, a 27.5 K%, and a 149 wRC+ in 160 plate appearances.

On Monday, on an MLB Network appearance, Frazier talked about the refreshed stance and mechanics. Per NJ Advance Media:

“He explained the change in his batting stance in which he points the back of his left foot toward the pitcher, coiling his hips about as far as they can go before he explodes toward the pitch. He called it “pre-setting my hip.”

Frazier said that, at times, he felt like he was “trying to swing but my swing was on safety, and there were things that were preventing me from moving forward the way that I wanted to.” The adjustment was made to “limit the amount of movement” he had at the plate.

“It makes me feel like I have way more time in general... I definitely feel like it helped me use right field with more intent,” he said.

But back to Frazier’s profile. The statistic that raises the most eyebrows is the walk rate: it’s not often that a player increases his BB% by almost 10 percentage points between seasons. So, is it sustainable?

According to this article by the folks at FanGraphs about sample sizes, the threshold for stabilization of the walk rate is 140 plate appearances. In 2020, Frazier barely reached that mark, finishing at 160. Even during his ugly slump to finish the campaign, in which he went 1-for-25, he walked at a 16.0% rate.

So, apparently, Frazier went from being an OBP liability to being an on-base machine. However, he will get to show in 2021 that he can keep walking at that clip, or something relatively close to it. The season ahead represents a challenge for the talented slugger: he will likely get around 500 plate appearances, and if he keeps the gains he showed in 2020, he will silence the few remaining doubters.

What else did Frazier accomplish in 2020? He slashed 2.5 percentage points off his swinging strike rate (from 13.3 in 2019 to 10.8), he cut his chase rate from 25.0% to 17.8%, and saw career-highs in barrel percentage (12.5), average exit velocity (89.4 mph) and hard-hit rate (43.2.)

Additionally, he went from being a lousy defender to one of the best in the American League at the corners. He posted a -12 Outs Above Average (OAA) figure in 2019 to +2 in 2020, putting him in the 82nd percentile. He was a Gold Glove finalist, as incredible as it may sound.

All in all, it was clear that the kid worked his butt off before the 2020 season, and for him, 2021 won’t bring more major modifications. “I’m not making any changes this offseason,” he said on the MLB Network on Monday. “I’m just trying to familiarize myself with that movement more going forward and mash.” He will look to find consistency with his stance, his mechanics, and his body. This campaign, for Clint Frazier, is about solidifying his position as one of the best up-and-coming players in Major League Baseball.