Clint Frazier has been taking an awful lot of strikes. So far this season, Clint has swung at pitches in the zone less frequently than almost any other batter in the league. Headed into Saturday night’s game against Cleveland, Clint had swung at 54.5% of pitches he’s seen in the strike zone. More than discerning, that zone swing % puts him in the bottom five percent among players with at least 25 plate appearances in 2021. There are just a dozen players who have swung at strikes at a lower rate.
Frazier’s resistance to swinging stems from indecision, Yankees hitting coach Marcus Thames explained to the team’s beat reporters before Friday’s game. Thames added that Frazier needs to get “more aggressive” with fastballs. “He’s getting pitches to hit, he just can’t pull the trigger,” Thames told the writers.
When he first broke into the big leagues in 2019, scouting reports described Clint Frazier as a free swinger. To his credit, Frazier worked hard last year to improve his discipline at the plate. With the help of a few mechanical tweaks in 2020, he began to make contact more consistently and demonstrated more restraint in his at-bats. In 2021, his approach at the plate seems to have swung too far in the other direction:
- Overall swing rate: 34.3% (7th lowest in MLB)
- In-zone swing rate: 54.5% (13th lowest in MLB)
- Out-of-zone swing rate: 15.4% (14th lowest in MLB)
So, why is Frazier taking so many pitches? Why is he so hesitant to swing the bat? At the plate in 2020, Frazier made two drastic improvements at the plate: he increased his walk rate and became more selective when swinging at pitches within the strike zone. That is, he refrained from swinging at strikes on the outer edges of the zone that are harder to hit. In other words, Frazier was selective last year, too—his swing rate in 2020 was 35.2%, one of the lowest in baseball—but this year he’s taken it to the extreme. So, while his selectiveness isn’t new, Clint’s emphasis on taking pitches seems like it has detracted from his aggressive bat speed, which is his most valuable tool. And by taking this approach too far, he’s gotten into a funk.
For a batter, not swinging tends to result in a lot of deep counts and a lot of walks. Clint is averaging 4.3 pitches per plate appearance, well above the league average of 3.97. Not swinging also makes Frazier vulnerable to striking out, since taking pitches makes it more likely for him to fall behind in the count. And that gives the pitcher an advantage (Frazier has a 33.9% strikeout rate after Saturday’s win).
Frazier’s strongest asset as a ballplayer is his excellent bat speed. But, if he’s not making use of that tool and looking off-balance in his at-bats, he becomes a nonfactor in the lineup. He doesn’t provide a defensive upgrade over Brett Gardner or Mike Tauchman in the outfield. His current approach at the plate is obviously not working, and something needs to change because he’s too passive at the plate. There’s a difference between being selective with pitches and just refusing to pull the trigger. This isn’t to say Frazier should start chasing every pitch close to the zone, but could definitely benefit from loosening up his approach and offering at fastballs over the plate more often.