During the shortened 2020 season, New York Yankees outfielder Clint Frazier showed an entirely different version of what we had grown accustomed to seeing. He maintained his legendary bat speed, but made some changes in his batting stance and altered his approach to unlock another level of offensive production and take advantage of his physical gifts.
Frazier decided to exercise more patience at the plate, and things really clicked for him. His on-base percentage jumped from .317 in 2019 all the way to .394 last year, and he hit eight homers with a healthy .244 isolated power.
The problem is that Frazier did it over just 39 games. That’s a small sample of plate appearances at 160, and most offensive stats take much more than that to stabilize. In reality, Frazier’s 2020 breakout could potentially be seen as a hot streak in a normal, 162-game season. It’s on him to prove that he can maintain a high level of play during a full slate of games.
Frazier talked about this challenge recently on a Zoom call with reporters:
“The goal is to be an impact player, one that shows what I can finally do over the course of 162 games. I have goals in my head of what I want to accomplish and I do think that they’re pretty fair goals. If I accomplish those, I do think that there’s a good chance that I could find myself on the All-Star ballot if I produce the way that I hope that I can.”
Frazier touched on an interesting point there. He knows that 40 games of excellent performance won’t fulfil his objective if he slumps through the rest of the season. He wants people to stop referring to his 2020 as “small sample size noise.”
Part of being a successful major league hitter is showing the ability to make adjustments. MLB pitchers are the best in the world, and they will quickly spot holes in hitters’ swings and attack them. They know when a batter is vulnerable to high heat, inside pitches, or breaking stuff down in the zone after seeing them several times.
In fact, given a closer look, pitchers appeared to have Frazier’s number down the stretch. Up until September 20th, Frazier was hitting .296/.410/.574 with a .415 wOBA and a 167 wRC+. Everything was going smoothly, but he had a rough final week, and his final stat suffered a lot thanks to — yes, you guessed it — small sample size noise.
After going 1-for-25 in the final week (.050/.240/.050, .176 wOBA, 4 wRC+, 44 K% if you are keeping score), Frazier finished at .267/.394/.511 with a .388 wOBA and a 149 wRC+. That is precisely why a longer season would help us determine Frazier’s ability to bounce back after rough stretches and give us a better idea of his true skill level at the plate.
A larger sample will also help us determine just how much he improved on the field. In 2020, he had 2 Outs Above Average (OAA), but in 2019, he finished at -13. How good of a defender is he now, after the improvements he made prior to last year? Is he really good enough to be a Gold Glove finalist?
Hopefully, there will be no injuries and Frazier will be able to keep his spot in the lineup as the everyday left fielder. That way, we’ll find out what the 26-year-old really has to offer.