It hasn't been a good week for Clint Frazier. The rookie just hit the disabled list with a strained oblique, and prior to that, he sustained the first slump of his major league career. He hit just .152/.222/.273 over his last 36 plate appearances before hitting the shelf.
Growing pains are to be expected. Aaron Judge struggled mightily in his first brush with the bigs, and Luis Severino had to endure a disastrous sophomore season before breaking out this year. That being said, Frazier has still given the Yankees plenty to be excited about despite his recent slump.
Frazier's calling card as he progressed through the minors was his elite bat speed. That bat speed is the first thing that has stuck out so far during his first stint with the Yankees:
Frazier clearly can get the bat to the ball with lightning quickness, allowing him to drive extra-base hits and show off his plus power. Indeed, his power was the best thing about his game; he posted a .477 slugging percentage and .234 isolated slugging figure in the majors.
Moreover, that bat speed and raw power showed up in Frazier's batted ball profile. His hard contact rate, per FanGraphs, was well above average at 41%. Likewise, according to Baseball Savant, 41% of his batted balls left the bat in excess of 95 mph, the same rate as Josh Donaldson and Mike Trout.
Frazier's power played at the big league level, but at first glance, his plate discipline didn't. Frazier grew progressively more aggressive at the plate, ultimately ending up with a 4.3% walk rate and a 29.1% strikeout rate. Whatever power he may have, that lack of on-base ability will drag down his overall effectiveness on offense.
Yet just looking at Frazier's eagerness at the plate and his paltry walk rate isn't entirely fair. Look closer, and Frazier has the profile of a very selectively aggressive hitter. Frazier's swing rate was quite high at 50%, but the vast majority of his swings came at strikes.
According to FanGraphs plate discipline data, Frazier swung at pitches in the zone a huge 78% of the time. He swung at pitches outside the strike zone just 27% of the time, below the league average. Perhaps Frazier would do well in the future to curtail his swing rate somewhat, but he already has the look of a hitter with selective aggression. Swinging at strikes and avoiding balls should help unlock the potential his bat speed entails.
Frazier flashed potential in the field as well. He was never renowned for his fielding ability, as he was forced to move off of center field and into a corner in the minors. His arm was regarded was merely fine, as was his overall ability to man left or right field.
Perhaps there's a plus outfielder somewhere in there for Frazier. He flashed real top-end speed on the base paths, topping out at an average of 28.6 feet per second per Statcast, making him one of the fastest left fielders in the game. That puts him ahead of teammate and strong defender Brett Gardner, and alongside noted speedsters and defensive aces like Jarrod Dyson and Lorenzo Cain.
There's more to outfield defense than pure speed. The ability to make accurate reads off the bat and take efficient routes is crucial to an effective defensive outfielder. Yet the ability to be a true asset in the field is clearly there, at least while Frazier remains this fast. There's absolutely potential for a plus defender should Frazier develop his route-taking skills.
Now, Frazier's injury isn't a good thing, but it might be good news that his injury may have impacted his play. If Frazier’s slump could be at least partially explained by his ailment, then it would be more reasonable to expect to him to perform better and shake off his slump once he regains health.
Indeed, Frazier's batted ball profile has noticeably worsened lately. Here's his 15-game rolling average of hard contact rate and overall contact rate:
Frazier has clearly had a harder time striking the ball with authority and simply putting bat to ball in his most recent games, the games in which he may have been struggling with his ailing oblique. Moreover, Frazier's selectively aggressive approach remained intact as time wore on. Here's his rolling average swing rates on pitches in and out of the zone:
Frazier was still doing a good job being aggressive on strikes and letting balls go by. So the bulk of his slump may be attributed to his worse batted ball profile, which may be attributed to his injury. Nothing is certain, but if it was the injury holding down Frazier’s production before he hit the DL, then his overall numbers are probably harsher than they seem.
Overall, Frazier has been more impressive than his numbers indicate. He has shown the ability to be an asset in the field, and he has flashed a potentially strong approach at the plate. His total production may not have been perfect, but going forward, there's plenty to be excited about with the Yankees’ next big rookie contributor.