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Clint Frazier figured it out, but is another backslide around the corner?

By taking the advice proffered here, Clint Frazier has turned around his rough start to the 2021 campaign.

New York Yankees v Cleveland Indians Photo by Jason Miller/Getty Images

After submitting my article dissecting the limitations of Clint Frazier’s new stance a couple of weeks ago, I placed a call to my close personal friend and the hitting coach of the New York Yankees, Marcus Thames. In our brief, intimate chat, Thames told me he’d read my article, thanked me for my unique insights, and mentioned he’d been working with Clint on addressing the lack of rhythm in his swing.

This past Wednesday, Clint seemed to have finally been able to actualize my advice by way of Thames as he timed up a couple of fastballs. In the fourth inning of the Yankees’ contest against the Orioles, Frazier gashed this meatball for a double:

Then, in the eighth, he launched his first dinger of the year on another hearty heater:

While all big leaguers should be capable of doing damage on a four-seamer straight down the chute, many of the Yankees, especially whoever’s been stationed in left field, have failed to do so.

However, in Clint’s last three starts, he’s hunted fastballs, delivering, short, powerful, and most importantly, on-time swings to the baseball. In those games, he has put nine balls in play, eight of them against fastballs. Of those nine, he’s hit five of them over 100 mph, including the aforementioned pair of laser beams and another bomb from last night’s contest.

The obvious change in Frazier’s stance is that instead of placing his feet in a straight line towards the pitcher, with the heel of his left foot cocked at the pitcher, he’s now opened his left foot up towards the third baseline, with his heel more comfortably angled at the third baseman. Also, instead of simply slamming down his heel to start his swing, he’s added in a more traditional stride, picking his left foot up from his open stance and bringing it back to parallel with his right.

While more movement is often a bad thing, as has been the case in Clint’s past, this particular adjustment has allowed him to time the onset of his swing to the pitcher’s delivery. In order to get his hands through the zone, his foot has to be down. In order to get his foot down, he has to start moving earlier than he had to without a stride at all. With an earlier start, Frazier gives himself more breathing room to get timed up with the pitcher.

Imagine a train-hopper trying to board a boxcar. Instead of standing completely still and lunging at the open car as it passes, they’d run alongside the car so that their own speed would more closely match that of the car, making the transition aboard more manageable.

In a sense, this is exactly what Frazier’s adjustment has done for his swing. Before, Frazier would stand statuesque, awaiting the pitch’s arrival, only to start his swing once the ball neared the zone. While Red Thunder’s lightning-quick hands would occasionally forgive a tardy start, he was often late to fastballs, and ill-equipped to adjust to breaking pitches. By starting his biomechanical chain earlier, Frazier has effectively started to run alongside the boxcar, readying himself to accelerate his swing towards the pitch from a non-zero starting speed.

So far, this adjustment has done wonders for him, as he’s clobbered literally half of the pitches he’s put in play, and only struck out once, far superior rates to those of his season on the whole (30.0 HardHit%, 28.7 K%).

All major league batters have at least one special skill. Whether it’s their ability to hit for power, an elite contact tool, or an understanding of the strike zone, they wouldn’t be in the majors if they didn’t have talent. The one thing that separates great hitters from the good ones is the ability to avoid deep slumps by making adjustments to their swings game by game, at-bat by at-bat, and pitch by pitch.

The greatest adjuster in the major leagues is easily Mike Trout. The man rarely, if ever, goes on an extended slump. Last season, which he referred to as “frustrating,” concluded with a fifth-place AL MVP finish and a measly .993 OPS. During spring training, on his 2020 season Trout said, “I was cutting off my swing really bad,” a mechanical error he recognized in himself and ameliorated before Opening Day. Through 23 games, the 29-year-old Mike Trout is second to only Byron Buxton in major league wOBA, and is again playing some of the best baseball of his, or just about anyone’s career.

Undoubtedly it is a relief to see the youngest Yankees starter get back on track, making optimal use of his warp-speed hands. However, it’s taken him almost an entire month to implement an adjustment that’s positively impacted his freezing cold start to the season. His up-and-down, hot-and-cold track record is concerning from a long-term perspective. Inevitably, Frazier will cool off again, and need another adjustment to right the ship.

Specifically, this new stride could lead to more instances of Frazier stepping too far towards the dish, cutting off his lower half from a full turn, and inhibiting his ability to stay inside the baseball. Even after Wednesday’s laser show, on Thursday, Clint did just that, rolling over on a fastball for a rally-crippling double play, much to the extremely visible ire of my close personal friend, Marcus Thames.

There’s no doubt in anyone’s mind involved with the Yankees organization that Clint Frazier has the offensive talent to produce in the majors for a very long time. The question that will continue to present itself until Frazier proves otherwise remains: can he shorten his slumps, and stretch out his streaks by implementing the necessary micro-mechanical swing adjustments? If he does, he’ll consistently be in the conversation for All-Star Games. If he doesn’t, he’ll continue being one of the more tantalizing, yet frustrating players to don a Yankee uniform in recent memory.