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Clint Frazier will have to be perfect if he wants to beat out Jacoby Ellsbury

The rookie has been a sensation in his first 18 games, but is it enough to earn the last spot in the outfield?

Cincinnati Reds v New York Yankees Photo by Elsa/Getty Images

Back in July of 2016 is when the first resemblance of a thunder crack could be heard in the faint distance from New York City. Months went on and the ominous noises grew louder. The storm was slowly rolling in. Then, on July 1st, nearly a year later, the storm hit. Red Thunder.

In Clint Frazier’s major league debut, he hit a home run against the best team in the league. Over the next few games, he failed to conjure up that much noise, but his presence was still announced with a bang. The kid with the bright red locks, fiery attitude, and “legendary bat speed” that we’ve heard so much about was finally here. His call up to the major league was premature—coming out of necessity to fill a lineup card decimated by injury—but the excitement was still palpable.

Now, 18 games into his career, there is a movement behind Frazier. At just 22 years old, the young rookie has taken the Bronx by storm with this fast bat, faster baserunning, and penchant for hitting in the clutch.

Red Thunder has been a lightning rod for the Yankees, a team who started the year as the hottest in baseball and came into July as one of the coldest. But, over the last few games, that tailspin has begun to level out. Frazier has provided that much-needed spark.

In his short time in the league, he is batting .290/.306/.565 with three home runs, 13 RBI, and a 124 wRC+. Most impressively, 11 of his 20 hits have been for extra bases—many of which were singles that he legged into doubles with his out-of-the-box aggressive base running style. The timeliness of his hitting has also been a big lift for the Yankee offense. Frazier is batting .429/.438/.929 and has 10 RBI with runners in scoring position, sitting high above the team’s average of .256/.330/.460.

But to the dismay of Yankees fans, the writing’s on the wall and this summer fling may be coming to an end. Even though Joe Girardi said that he’s going with “the hot hand” and has been starting Frazier over Jacoby Ellsbury, the announcement was made beforehand that upon Aaron Hicks’ return from injury, Frazier will be sent back down to Scranton. This is, of course, an unpopular decision.

The Ellsbury contract has been disastrous for the Yankees. In December of 2013, the Yankees signed Boston’s center fielder to a seven-year, $153 million contract, with a team option in 2021. Coming off some strong performances for the Red Sox, the positives for Ellsbury were visible, even if the contract was bloated for a player past his best years. But, since joining the Yankees, he has consistently underperformed, putting stress on the front office to make some decisions.

When you come to the Yankees from Boston, it’s assumed that you already have somewhat of a target on your back. No Yankee fan is going to openly embrace a former Red Sox player unless they put on a show. That is something that Ellsbury has yet to do. Every game that Yankees fans have to endure.244/.318/.353, 82 wRC+ baseball from a player who also seems to get hurt if a child sneezes in a different stadium, the cloud above his head grows larger.

This is the trouble for the Yankees. Two outfield spots are solidified in Aaron Judge and Brett Gardner. With Hicks beginning rehab, that bring the fourth outfielder spot into focus. There is no arguing that Hicks has earned his keep. In the 60 games before his injury, he was hitting .290/.398/.515 with 10 home runs and a 145 wRC+. Now that his eventual return is looming, the pressure mounts on the front office and Clint Frazier.

It’s easy to say that Ellsbury has been bad and Frazier has been good, so Frazier should win the last spot. But, an Ellsbury trade seems unlikely and the Yankees aren’t going to just designate a $21 million per year veteran for assignment in light of solid performance from a 22-year old rookie over 18 games. Frazier has been really fun to watch, but he’s still relatively unproven, and that makes for a bad business deal for the Yankee brass.

Midnight has not yet struck for Frazier, though. If he can improve some aspects of his game and tout his staying power, the Yankees might be more tempted to swallow their pride, their wallets, and Pablo Sandoval this thing. So what can Frazier improve upon to boost his favorability?

The first thing to tackle is his on base percentage. Frazier has an unsightly .306 OBP, stemming from an abysmal 2.8% walk rate. In 72 plate appearances, he has only walked two times. That’s most definitely not what you want. To top it off, he owns a 27.8% strikeout rate. If he wants to stick around, evening out those numbers closer to something like Hicks’ 15.3% walk rate and 17.4% strikeout rate is a good place to start.

Next is his defense. Frazier has made some flashy plays in the outfield, but he still produces a -0.6 UZR. Compare that to his contemporaries, and he looks like the odd man out. Aaron Hicks has a 5.0 UZR, Aaron Judge, 3.4, and Brett Gardner, 3.7. What Red Thunder does have going for him is that Ellsbury is the lame duck at -1.5 UZR. However, proving to be better than Ellsbury isn’t enough.

Frazier earning the fourth spot in the outfield isn’t a case of who is the best player. He’s not just going up against another outfielder; he’s going up against a bad business deal, a proud front office, and a giant pile of money. As much as we’d all love to see him stick around and continue to light up Yankee Stadium with clutch hits and lightning, it’s easier said than done.

Unfortunately for him, good doesn’t cut it. For Clint Frazier to stick around, he might have to be damn near perfect.