It is to the New York Yankees' eternal shame that they forced young cloutsman Clint Frazier -- on pain of imprisonment deep within the innards of Yankee Stadium -- to cut his plunging scarlet locks. For this, they can never be forgiven. Because Frazier is a gentleman of mercy, though, he has decided to repay his meddlesome employer by quite possibly saving the season.
The Yankees of course have at this writing 13 players on the injured list, and the majority of those players are core contributors. You can, without exaggeration, assemble a contending lineup using presently laid-up Yanks:
That, of course, doesn't even include lockdown reliever Dellin Betances, who's out with shoulder problems. Even so, Aaron Boone's club at this writing has eked out a winning record (13-12) and a run differential of plus-27. Given the roster carnage, that's an achievement.
Know who's got a lot to do with that? Victim of shears Clint Frazier, that's who. Check out what Frazier has done thus far in his age-24 campaign:
That slash line above comes to an impressiveof 162, and that SLG is presently good for eighth in the American League. Those six home runs, by the way, have come in just 62 at-bats. Here's his latest from Sunday:
In related matters, Frazier's been hitting the ball hard this season. His average exit velocity thus far in 2019 (89.4) is a full two ticks higher than the MLB average, and he's also upped his launch angle and fly-ball rate. Those are all good things for a power hitter.
Frazier, of course, was once a decorated prospect. The Indians made him the fifth overall pick back in 2013, and he was a regular on overall top-100 prospect lists -- almost always in the upper half -- coming up through the system. He wound up being a key piece in the July 2016 blockbuster that sent Andrew Miller to Cleveland from the Yankees. Frazier combined that pedigree with strong power numbers in the minors, so the Yankees probably expected that he'd eventually find his level.
He might have found that level in 2018 if not for a jammed Yankee outfield and major post-concussion problems that for a time seemed like they might imperil his career. Thankfully, he's recovered and, as you see above, is keeping the Yankees afloat with production befitting, say, peak Giancarlo Stanton.
It's too much to expect Frazier to continue slugging north of .600 while contending for a batting title, but there is cause to think he's tapped into his talents in a sustainable manner. This spring, Frazier struggled in big-league camp and was eventually dispatched to the minor-league side of the fence. Brendan Kuty of NJ.com explains what happened there:
When Frazier arrived at minor-league spring training across the street, he said Triple-A hitting coach Phil Plantier hit him with simple advice immediately. Plantier had been watching Frazier's spring swings.
"Pull your hands back," Plantier told Frazier before Frazier's first minor-league game. Frazier heeded Plantier's instruction and promptly went 5-for-5.
Frazier stuck with those adjustments. Have a look at how Frazier set up at the plate in 2017 and 2018 and then compare it to what he's doing this season:
Because this is a straight-on angle, we can't really tell if Frazier's hands are back relative to those earlier seasons, but we'll take everyone involved at their word. What we can tell is that Frazier in 2019 is setting up with arms more extended, and they indeed appear to be angled back a bit more. He's also on the toes of his front foot, which makes him more "stride-ready." The hands are the thing, though.
Like many big-league hitters, Frazier loads by pointing the knob of the bat at the catcher, and his current hand position already has the knob working in that direction. Now go look at that home run again. Frazier doesn't need much movement to get into that loaded position, which in turn allows him to react more quickly. If Frazier were, say, a 10-year-old you might worry that starting out with his elbows so extended might lead him to cast his hands, but, well, guys who make the bigs don't cast their hands. Indeed:
Frazier gets that back elbow slotted quite nicely just prior to contact, which gets the whip action going. As that Jorge Lopez fastball will surely attest, it's working for him.
Look, if the Yankees don't get measurably more healthy and remain that way for a good chunk of the season, then they're going to wind up falling well short of expectations. Not even a leveled-up Clint Frazier can change that. When it comes to remaining above the waterline until guys like Stanton and Aaron Judge and Gary Sanchez and Luis Severino and so many others return to the fold, Frazier has been the prime mover. His willingness to adjust raises hopes that he can keep it going and perhaps even position himself as a lineup fixture even after the fallen begin to rise.