The New York Yankees’ sparkplug outfielder has played great baseball early on and needs to send Brett Gardner to the bench.
The New York Yankees may be going through a rough patch, but don’t tell that to Clint Frazier.
Since coming up from the minors when Giancarlo Stanton hit the injured list, the young outfielder has done excellent work. Entering Saturday’s game versus the Kansas City Royals, Frazier is batting .327 with four home runs and 12 RBI across 15 games.
With another three-hit performance against the Royals, Frazier added another home run to his tally and bumped that average to .351, by far the highest on this depleted team.
Frazier has also proven reliable defensively in the outfield. On Friday, he helped quell a Kansas City rally with a great throw following a putout to nail Martin Maldonado at the plate for a double play.
.@clintfrazier’s cannon. pic.twitter.com/3QjCBfdp3R
— MLB (@MLB) April 19, 2019
Simply put, Frazier has to be part of this team for the rest of the season. He has played far too well to just be sent down via the Scranton Shuttle once the injuries subside.
It doesn’t matter if he’s a starter or a reserve. Clint Frazier is an important part of the team and needs to be kept around.
Oh, one more thing. If Frazier sticks around, it means sending Brett Gardner to the bench and at this point, that may be the right move.
Reclaiming lost time
Frazier didn’t do too well in Spring Training, batting just .143 across 18 games. This wasn’t exactly a surprise. He played in 69 total games across the main roster and minors after never fully recovering from a concussion.
Still, Frazier hit .305 with 11 home runs and 24 RBI across the minors. Considering he hit just .256 with 12 homers and 42 RBI at Triple-A Scranton the year before, this was a notable step up.
Frazier also proved, in 2017, he could keep up with elite pitching. He hit a home run in his MLB debut versus the Houston Astros. A week later, he hit a walk-off homer against the Milwaukee Brewers.
Frazier was in a good position to be New York’s fourth outfielder this year, but the rust in Spring Training put that on hold. Manager Aaron Boone, thankfully, had a good reason and explained it to reporters, including Kristie Ackert of The New York Daily News.
“He needs to play every day,’’ Yankee manager Aaron Boone said Thursday. “That doesn’t necessarily mean they don’t come here. We expect him to impact our club this year.”
“But, especially with the time he missed last year, regular at-bats, especially early, are important,’’ Boone said. “So it will be determining will he get that here? We will make that determination as the picture becomes a little more clear in the next few weeks.”
Cut to Stanton straining his biceps muscle early in the season, and Clint Frazier has proven he is more than ready for the majors.
That brings the conversation to Brett Gardner, the longest-tenured Yankee. The veteran outfielder has been flashing the power with five home runs and ten RBI.
There’s just one problem. Gardner has posted a meager line of .200/.309/.457 and is 3 for his last 18, albeit with two home runs. These numbers are subpar, especially since Boone often pencils Gardner in as the leadoff man against right-handed pitching. This is also despite Gardner batting a lowly .236 last year, and his line-drive rate (LD%) dropped to 17.9 percent from 22.3 percent, per Fangraphs.
It’s still early, sure, but 2019 has been more of the same. Gardner’s LD% is only 6.9 percent. His soft contact is at 22.4 percent, up three points from last year. His hard contact, meanwhile, has dipped to 20.7 percent from 27.5 percent in 2018.
Worst of all, Gardner has played an awful defensive center field while Aaron Hicks recovers from a sore back. Gardner’s DRS at the position sits at -4 while his UZR is -2.3 and his UZR/150 is a frightening -32.5.
Again, it’s still early, but Gardner’s production so far has been extremely feast or famine. His bat speed isn’t what it used to be, and it shows.
Clint Frazier, meanwhile, appears more than ready to be the lightning rod in this depleted Yankees lineup.
And soon, the Yankees will have to make some tough decisions on both players. Stanton is doing some hitting drills now and could be back by the upcoming West Coast trip, according to Bryan Hoch of MLB.com. Clubhouse reporter Meredith Marakovits reported this week Hicks is upping his baseball activities.
Throw in Aaron Judge having right field locked down upon his return and Stanton the same with the DH spot, and things are looking a little crowded. Hicks will take back over in center and left field will go to one of two men: Brett Gardner or Clint Frazier.
Boone could easily platoon both players, with Frazier taking the field versus lefties, but he needs more consistent playing time. This is because on numbers alone, at least this year, he is leagues ahead of Gardner. His LD% is 22.5 percent. His hard-to-soft contact ratio is 35 to 15. He has a -2 DRS in the outfield, but his UZR and UZR/150 are at 0.7 and 9.5 and should improve with more playing time.
The only real knock against Frazier is patience. For his .327 batting average, his OBP is only .351. His walk rate (BB%) is an anemic 3.8 percent which, if he qualified, would tie for 182nd in baseball. Seriously, the man swings more than John Favreau and Vince Vaughn in Las Vegas circa 1996.
Despite that flaw, his results thus far are better than Gardner’s. With too many key players injured, Frazier should be getting more at-bats.
Mind you, this isn’t to say Brett Gardner should be thrown out like an All About Steve DVD. He still has enough speed to make an impact on the base paths and also is a strong clubhouse leader.
The sad truth is being a nice guy isn’t a reason to keep a struggling bat in the lineup. Once Stanton and Hicks are back, a hard decision has to be made. It means making Frazier the everyday left fielder and relegating Gardner into a bench role.
And for all we know, Frazier’s hot streak could end tomorrow. If that happens, Gardner stays in the lineup and everyone hopes he finds his swing again.
But with the Yankees banged up and the Tampa Bay Rays off to a hot start, every game counts now. If Boone wants to give his team the best chance to win, Frazier will remain a permanent fixture in the lineup.
Otherwise, the Yankees are only cheating themselves in hoping an aging veteran’s hitting suddenly returns.