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Addressing Clint Frazier’s Sophomore Slump

After a solid rookie campaign, Clint Frazier’s come out of the gates cold as ice to start 2021.

New York Yankees v Toronto Blue Jays Photo by Julio Aguilar/Getty Images

In August of last year, Clint Frazier was in the midst of his best stretch of major league hitting to date. In that first month of last season’s odd schedule, Clint homered three times, posting a 1.006 OPS and homering three times across 14 games. While he cooled off a bit through the remainder of the season, he maintained above average offensive production and seemed to be finally proving himself as a legitimate candidate to hold down the Yankees’ starting left field slot for the foreseeable future.

Instead, Frazier’s limped out of the gate to just a .513 OPS, opening the door for Brett Gardner to hang on as Aaron Boone’s preferred option in the outfield corner opposite Aaron Judge. In the past five games, Clint’s sat twice, going 2 for his last 24 with 12 strikeouts.

Before heating up at the beginning of last season, Clint made a couple of adjustments that helped clean up his mechanical consistency at the plate. In 2019, Frazier utilized a sharp leg kick to generate momentum, causing a relatively drastic counter-move of his hands going down, and then back up again before attacking the baseball.

While he’s plenty strong enough to get the barrel through the zone quickly, he often looked out of rhythm as the collection of moving parts on the front-end of his swing rarely worked in concert with each other, undermining his ability to consistently make solid contact.

Coming into 2020, Frazier began his stance with his left hip already coiled, and his left heel off the ground. Instead of lifting the leg all the way off the ground and replacing it, Frazier just had to stomp that front heel into the ground, setting off the kinetic chain of his swing.

With a subtler setup, Frazier was able to replicate his A-swing more frequently, leading to more consistently solid contact.

This year, however, after setting a career-high hard-hit rate of 43.2% in 2020, Frazier’s fallen into the league’s bottom 10 percent, with just a quarter of his batted balls exceeding an exit velocity of 95 mph. While Frazier’s struck out often even at his best, a 50% clip is an untenable level, especially when the other half does little to make up for it.

While Frazier’s pre-load may have helped simplify his swing mechanics, it seems to have undermined his ability to generate any rhythm at the plate.

With an even more extreme coil of his front hip, Frazier’s almost frozen still, turned away from the ball until he begins his swing. Instead of slowly coiling to uncoil like all great hitters, Frazier’s reduced his swing to a 0 to 100 approach. Incredibly, Frazier’s hands are quick enough to catch up with most pitches even starting from a standstill. However, without a negative move during his load to time up the pitcher, Frazier’s bat arrives at the ball almost always at the wrong time.

Against offspeed pitches, like the one above, Frazier’s swinging and missing at the highest rate of his career. So far, he’s whiffed at more than half of the breaking pitches he’s gone after, and over 40 percent of the offspeed ones he’s offered at.

While he’s rarely wholly missing fastballs, as only three of his 16 swings and misses have come against the pitch, he’s not hitting them particularly well either. So far, he’s posted an average exit velocity of 77.1 mph against fastballs this season.

When looking at just four-seamers, Clint’s fared relatively well, recording a 60% hard-hit rate and a .499 xSLG against them. It seems as though Frazier’s approach at the plate is like that of a fixed-gear bicycle; solid when going at a single speed, but entirely incapable of adapting to a change of circumstance due to his mechanical inflexibility. By addressing every pitch with his four-seam swing, Frazier’s is only on time 32.7% of the time, the frequency with which he sees four-seamers. Against cutters or sinkers, he fails to predict the break, making poor contact. Against pitches with a more significant reduction in speed, he usually ends up like Lil Wayne and Drake: right above it.

While it may have helped him clean up his bat path to simplify his load last season, he’s gone too far with the reductive mechanics in this campaign. If Frazier wants to figure it out at the dish, he needs to find a way to reincorporate some balance and rhythm into the early portion of his swing. A balanced, even weight distribution between both legs before the pitch, and a more conventional lower body load (i.e. a toe-tap, leg kick, or stride) could potentially create some reverberating noise in his hands as it has in the past, but at least he might have a chance at picking up a variety of pitches and stringing together some more competitive at-bats. If the Yankees are to make the most of their potential this season, which they’re obviously lightyears away from at this early stage, Clint Frazier needs to be a stabilizing, productive presence in the lineup, and not the black hole that he is right now.