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How can the Yankees keep Miguel Andújar’s bat in the lineup?

Andújar has recaptured his form from 2018, and the Yankees cannot afford to let it slip away.

New York Yankees v Minnesota Twins Photo by David Berding/Getty Images

It’s no secret the Yankees offense is in big trouble. The one area that was supposed to buoy the team is in fact dragging them down, with no clear way to fix things other than guys “flipping the switch” and all of a sudden start hitting. Though the unit as a whole has failed, there are a few bright spots, the most surprising of which is Miguel Andújar.

Andújar took the Yankees and the league by storm in his rookie campaign. He batted .297/.328/.527 with 27 home runs en route to a runner-up finish in AL Rookie of the Year balloting. His 47 doubles broke the Yankees franchise record for most doubles by a rookie held by Joe DiMaggio, tied the AL rookie record, and earned him the nickname Miggy two-bags.

Just when it seemed the Yankees had their third baseman of the future, Andújar missed most of the 2019 season to a torn labrum. Thanks to the injury and Gio Urshela’s emergence as a star third baseman, Andújar now had to fight to earn back a role on the major league team. There were times it looked like it would never happen, but he is now finally showing the ability that made him such a dynamic offensive weapon for the Yankees in 2018.

Since May 18th, Andújar has been the Yankees best hitter with a 137 wRC+. His recovery in quality of contact is reminiscent of his 2018 season and a major factor to this success. His 90 mph average exit velocity is a career-best, up from 89.1 in 2018 and just under 85 between 2019 and 2020. He sports a career-best nine percent barrel rate and expected wOBA on contact (.419). He is launching balls at an ideal launch angle, with his 34.6 percent sweet spot rate finally back in line with his 2018 average. Almost half his batted balls are classified as hard hit. These are all ingredients in the recipe for sustained success at the plate.

The man he has displaced from the starting lineup, Clint Frazier, is having an opposite 2021 campaign in almost every respect. Andújar is the definition of a bat-to-ball free swinger, his 1.9 percent walk rate and 39 percent chase rate mitigated by his team-leading 94.3 zone contact rate. Meanwhile, Frazier could not be more different, his uber-patience at the plate verging at times on indecision. He is among the team leaders in walk rate and chase rate, but lets too many hittable pitches go by, falling into a two-strike hole without offering much resistance.

All of this is to say that Andújar won the starting job in left field from Frazier fair and square. As patient as the Yankees have been with Frazier, his production at the plate is not enough to justify starting him game after game. At the end of the day, if you hit, you’ll play, and right now Andújar is hitting while Frazier is not.

Now that Andújar’s bat is hot, the Yankees cannot afford to lose him from the lineup. During this stretch of sustained success, he has been asked repeatedly what the key to his resurgence has been. The answer is always the same: the key for him at the plate is consistent playing time. So the Yankees’ task becomes simple, who sits to keep him in the batting order?

Well, as we’ve seen, Frazier is the odd man out to accommodate Andújar’s bat. I’m perfectly OK with this decision, Andújar has flat-out outhit Frazier this season and is a marginally better fielder in left. Frazier’s -3 DRS, -2.5 UZR, and -3 OAA put him a tick behind Andújar’s -1, 0.8, and -2 in those respective categories. Some might argue that Frazier was never given a fair shot to establish himself in left and at the plate, but the fact of the matter is that Andújar was given playing time as spotty as Frazier and while the latter struggled, the former seized the opportunity and never looked back.

If the Yankees wanted to give Frazier another shot in left, there is an avenue to keep Andújar in the lineup. They could play him at first, moving DJ LeMahieu back to his natural position at second and booting Odor from the lineup. I would totally be on board with this option — Odor has been pretty terrible at the plate outside of a handful of key hits in big spots that bought him more playing time. However, the fact the Yankees have not chosen this route is probably a reflection of how reluctant they are to play him at first despite it being a “safer” option than left field to hide the glove.

I have long been a Frazier supporter, to the point of turning a deaf ear to the media narrative about his maturity and a blind eye to his gaffes in the field. I was always enamored with his lightning-fast bat speed, and the glimpses he flashed in 2020 got me excited that he was finally fulfilling his top prospect pedigree. That’s why it pains me to say that Andújar has rightfully won the starting left field job from Frazier’s hands.