Clint Frazier has run hot and cold at the plate so far this season — mostly leaning toward the latter. After a good opening series, Frazier promptly fell into a deep slump for most of April, inspiring him to make several adjustments to his batting stance to help improve his timing and initiate his swing earlier. My fellow writer, Cooper Halpern, detailed how Frazier’s new foot placement and stride allowed him to accelerate his swing and correct the problem catching up to fastballs that he was experiencing earlier in the season.
Changing his approach and tweaking his mechanics allowed Frazier to be more productive at the very end of April, though he’s fallen to just 3-for-28 in the month of May. In order to become a reliable contributor in the Yankees’ lineup and reach a place of offensive consistency, Frazier needs to improve the quality of the contact he’s making with the ball. The drop in his average exit velocity from 2020 to 2021 is concerning. He’s popping up and rolling over the ball more often, and his batting average on balls in play is .164, reflecting the overall dip in Frazier’s power.
Several weeks ago, I discussed the possibility that Clint’s penchant this year for taking pitches might be impeding his ability to leverage his aggressive bat speed, which is his most valuable tool. For a batter, not swinging tends to result in a lot of deep counts and a lot of walks. Indeed, Frazier has been taking bases on balls a lot — so far in 2021, he has walked 16.4 percent of the time, which put him in the top six percent of the league entering Thursday. Walks are great, but not swinging also makes Frazier vulnerable to striking out, as taking pitches makes it more likely for him to fall behind in the count. Letting too many pitches go by puts him in situations where he has to protect the plate.
The Yankees value Frazier’s bat speed — it’s often referred to as “legendary” — but his bat speed isn’t producing solid contact. Nobody wants to tell a guy to stop getting on base, but Frazier stepping into the batter’s box hoping to walk is a recipe for falling behind in the count. This approach forces Frazier to take emergency swings that don’t produce good contact. Good walk rates are nice, but they don’t mean as much when the batter is not actually hitting enough to be even a remotely league-average contributor (as noted by his 69 wRC+).
Hitting seems to be very mental for Clint, so if he can produce more consistently and avoid falling behind in the count, he will gain more confidence. And if he can approach his at-bats with more confidence, he will feel more comfortable being aggressive with pitches in the strike zone. It’s a chain reaction.
The good news is that measures of Frazier’s power over the last 20 games are trending upward and in the right direction. Hopefully, the tweaks he made in April to his batting stance and timing will translate into him taking better swings and making better contact in the batter’s box. He’s shown glimpses of his power in some of his recent at-bats, so there is no doubt that his ability to drive the ball is still there.
Across his 92 at-bats this season, Frazier has three home runs and six RBIs, batting .141 with a .565 OPS and 28 strikeouts. His slash line over his last 30 games is even worse. Obviously, the Yankees were not picturing these ongoing troubles at the plate when Boone announced Frazier as the team’s starting left fielder prior to the 2021 season. Having a spot in the starting lineup is a huge opportunity for Clint, but he is still trying to figure it out. Why didn’t he iron out his hitting mechanics during spring training? At a .664 OPS, he wasn’t exactly lighting up camp, either.
It’ll be interesting to see how much patience the Yankees will extend toward Frazier. Brett Gardner’s struggles and the Mike Tauchman trade at least lent him some latitude. (With Aaron Hicks banged up a bit recently, both Frazier and Gardner have been playing anyway.) During the Yankees’ two series with Houston and Washington, Frazier also had a couple of unlucky line drives with an exit velocity over 100 mph, so hopefully he’ll be able to right the ship.
The Yankees believe in Frazier’s bat. But the team can only wait so long if the results aren’t there. If his offensive woes and inconsistency continue, the Yankees will reach the end of the rope at some point.