Down Goes Frazier When it Comes to Defensive Metrics

Clint Frazier has made significant contributions to a banged-up Yankees team that sits atop the AL East with a hefty 38-20 record, but his performance in Sunday night’s game against the Red Sox in the Bronx was the stuff of which nightmares are made. You know, the kind in which you not only can’t stop doing that thing you’re not supposed to do, but you’re doing it in directly in front of 40,000 people emotionally invested in your success or failure, not to mention the millions more watching on television all around the world. The 24-year-old right fielder misplayed three balls in the late innings that helped to blow open a close game, the latest manifestations of his ongoing defensive woes.

Frazier’s misadventures began in the seventh, with the score 3-2 in favor of the Red Sox following a battle between former Cy Young-winning southpaws David Price and CC Sabathia. With reliever Luis Cessa on the mound, one out, and Michael Chavis on first base following a forceout, Frazier failed to keep Eduardo Nunez’s single in front of him. The ball rolled all the way to the wall, resulting in a two-base error that scored Chavis:

Oof. Nunez subsequently scored on Brock Holt‘s routine bloop to right field, on which Frazier had no chance, running the score to 5-2. After Mookie Betts popped out, Frazier dove for Andrew Benintendi’s flare, but to no avail. The ball deflected off his glove, and Frazier’s desperate throw home to try to nab Holt was nearly halfway up the first base line as Benintendi took second. No error was charged on the play, but it was worth multiple groans as the Red Sox expanded their lead to 6-2:

Cessa proceeded to allow two hits and a run to start the eighth before manager Aaron Boone summoned reliever David Hale. With one out and Rafael Devers on second base, Chavis hit a fly into the right field corner. Frazier got a late jump and again let the ball get past him, this time for an RBI triple and an 8-2 lead:

Good grief, Charlie Brown. The Yankees mounted a comeback, scoring three in the bottom of the eighth, and Frazier led off the ninth by taking second after an infield single and a throwing error by shortstop Xander Bogaerts, but he never scored. The Yankees’ 8-5 loss was their first in five contests against the Red Sox (30-29) this season.

From a Win Probability Added standpoint, the Nunez hit was the biggest play of the game, with a .160 WPA — well ahead of the second-biggest, J.D. Martinez’s second-inning solo homer off Sabathia (.099). By Statcast’s xBA (expected batting average) metric, which is based upon exit velocity and launch angle, it was the only one of the three plays in question that was likely to be a hit; its 94.5 mph exit velo and nine-degree angle yielded a .570 xBA, which is to say that balls like that usually aren’t caught. The Benintendi hit, on the other hand, had an 83.8 mph velo and a 24-degree angle for a .220 xBA. Balls like that generally are caught, but as MLB.com’s Mike Petriello noted, Frazier’s jump was quite subpar:

That seems… not great. As for the Chavis hit, with its 76.0 mph exit velo and 41-degree launch angle, the xBA was .070, making it the least likely of the game’s 21 hits. Now, it’s important to note that xBA doesn’t account for directionality and thus, the distance of the fielder from a particular ball’s location; on that one, Frazier, who has above-average sprint speed (68th percentile according to Statcast) had to travel a ways. As best I can tell, Statcast’s Catch Probability, which includes the directional/distance aspect, isn’t publicly available on a play-by-play basis, but for Frazier, this isn’t an isolated incident. Per the system’s Outs Above Average metric, which measures “the cumulative effect of all individual Catch Probability plays a fielder has been credited or debited with,” Frazier is last in the majors at -11 OOA, that despite being eight opportunities short of officially qualifying for the leaderboard. One has to lower the threshold to 50 opportunities, so he’s last out of 107 outfielders:

Statcast Outs Above Average, 2019
Rk Player Team OAA Expected Catch % Actual Catch % Catch % Added
107 Clint Frazier Yankees -11 85 65 -20
106 Domingo Santana Mariners -8 86 79 -7
103T Shin-Soo Choo Rangers -6 87 78 -9
103T Eloy Jimenez White Sox -6 86 79 -7
103T Ramon Laureano A’s -6 88 84 -4
98T Christin Stewart Tigers -5 89 80 -9
98T Jake Bauers Indians -5 86 77 -9
98T Jose Martinez Cardinals -5 81 74 -7
98T Billy McKinney Blue Jays -5 85 80 -5
98T Dwight Smith Jr Orioles -5 86 81 -5
SOURCE: Baseball Savant
Minimum 50 opportunities.

Mercy. At the other end of the spectrum, the Brewers’ Lorenzo Cain and the Twins’ Byron Buxton are tied for the major league-lead with nine outs above average, with the Rays’ Kevin Kiermaier third with eight.

Other defensive metrics reflect Frazier’s woes as well. Among the 91 outfielders with at least 250 defensive innings (Frazier has 263, the equivalent of just over 29 full games), his -8 Defensive Runs Saved is tied with Martinez for 89th, ahead of only the Angels’ Brian Goodwin (-10). More charitably, his -2.9 UZR is only 76th out of 91, though if you separate his work in right field (-6 DRS and -3.7 UZR in 171.2 innings) using a 150-inning cutoff, he’s tied for 36th in the latter category out of 38. Boone often replaces him in the late innings with the more adept Cameron Maybin.

Small-sample size caveats apply to all of this, but even when we include Frazier’s full body of major league work going back to 2017 (80 games and 72 starts, about half a season), his -7.3 UZR and -13 DRS stick out like sore thumbs, and he’s been in the red as far as OAA and Catch Percentage Added in each of the past two seasons as well. This year’s troubles have largely offset the value of his bat, which has produced some big hits during a stretch of more than two months in which the team’s hardest-hitting outfield configuration — Giancarlo Stanton, Aaron Hicks and Aaron Judge — hasn’t played a single game together. While Frazier has hit a somewhat lopsided but respectable .272/.319/.517 (116 wRC+) with 10 homers in 160 PA, he’s been worth just 0.4 WAR by our measure (which uses UZR) and 0.0 by Baseball-Reference’s (which uses DRS).

In his days as a prospect, Frazier was generally considered to be an average-or-better fielder thanks to his speed, arm, and athleticism. Chosen by the Indians as the fifth pick of the 2013 draft, he spent most of his first three professional seasons playing center field but has rarely done so since being acquired in the 2016 Andrew Miller deal. In 2016, MLB Pipeline graded his fielding at 50 (average) and his arm at 55 (above average), calling him “a capable center fielder… the best equipped of New York’s top outfield prospects to play center, though he also has a strong arm and easily could shift over to right field if needed.” In 2017, our prospect team, which ranked him 34th overall, graded his fielding at 45 present value and 50 future value, with 60 for his arm; Eric Longenhagen wrote, “Frazier’s speed and feel for playing center field are good enough that I think he’d be passable there in an emergency, but I wouldn’t advocate him playing there every day… His arm strength should allow him to play in either outfield corner, where I believe he’ll be an average defender at maturity.” That same year, Baseball America noted, “His range could be helpful in left field, which evaluators have noted is more challenging than right field in Yankee Stadium,” a reference to the ballpark’s asymmetry (318 feet down the left field line and 399 to left center, as compared to 385 to right center and 314 down the right field line) and the reason why the team retained the still fleet-footed Brett Gardner even given their Stanton-Hicks-Judge logjam.

While even Frazier’s 2017 metrics were ugly (-4 DRS and -4.0 UZR in 289 outfield innings), it’s unfair to harp upon his fielding mishaps without noting that he was limited to just 69 games last year (15 in the majors) due to a concussion he suffered while diving for a ball early in spring training; he missed the season’s first 37 days and then played just three games after the All-Star break due to ongoing complications. His vision, reaction time, appetite for diving and contact, and overall defensive approach may all bear the effects of his injury.

After Sunday night’s game, Frazier chose not to shed any light on his troubles, as he did not make himself available to the media, a move that generally doesn’t sit well on a team that has long cultivated accountability, and one that predictably leads to overwrought reactions in city tabloids (to say nothing of social media). For his part, Boone had Frazier’s back. Via NJ.com’s Brendan Kuty:

“Just maybe pressing a little bit out there,” manager Aaron Boone said. “He’s working his tail off. As we talked about, he’s making strides out there, but obviously there’s been some mistakes along the way, too. That’s part of continuing to develop as a young player and that’s an area of his game that isn’t as far along necessarily as his offensive game. But he’s working hard at it. He’s got the athleticism and the tools to be really good out there and we’ve just got to keep getting after it with him and champion the small success.”

Notably, teammate Luke Voit stood up for Frazier as well, telling reporters, “You’ve got to stay positive. The guys have got his back. Everyone’s going to make those mistakes. … It’s part of the game. The hard part is obviously you’re playing here. The fans want you to play mistake-free baseball.”

Unfortunately for Frazier, the story will linger since the Yankees don’t play again until Tuesday. The team will have to bear his mistakes for awhile longer given that both Judge and Stanton are weeks away from returning to the lineup. Judge, who strained his left oblique on April 20, has only just resumed indoor batting practice. Stanton, who since his last appearance on March 31 has dealt with left biceps and shoulder strains as well as tightness in his left calf, is a bit further along as far as baseball activity goes, but has yet to face live pitching. At some point, the Yankees lineup may be whole again, but in the meantime, the team can only hope that Frazier’s adventures in the outfield are kept to a minimum.

We hoped you liked reading Down Goes Frazier When it Comes to Defensive Metrics by Jay Jaffe!

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Brooklyn-based Jay Jaffe is a senior writer for FanGraphs, the author of The Cooperstown Casebook (Thomas Dunne Books, 2017) and the creator of the JAWS (Jaffe WAR Score) metric for Hall of Fame analysis. He founded the Futility Infielder website (2001), was a columnist for Baseball Prospectus (2005-2012) and a contributing writer for Sports Illustrated (2012-2018). He has been a recurring guest on MLB Network and a member of the BBWAA since 2011. Follow him on Twitter @jay_jaffe.

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DDD
Member
DDD

I’m amazed to see Laureano tied for third on this list at -6. I thought he was suppose to be a great defensive player.

vslyke
Member

His arm is an incredible weapon, but both DRS and UZR also think his range is well below-average this year. He’s still pretty fast, even for CF (21st among 54 CFers in Sprint Speed, so it could just be bad positioning.

DDD
Member
DDD

Thanks vslyke!

Joe Joe
Member
Member
Joe Joe

OAA is positioning neutral in that he’s made six outs less than the hypothetical average OF playing where he played would have made. His route running is less than ideal.

vslyke
Member

Thanks – that’s a good point which I missed when reading the original article.

DDD
Member
DDD

Thanks Joe Joe. I’d think it (his route running) would have to be pure crap to rank this low on the totem pole. Maybe he’s misjudging the EV off the bat. I hope it’s only a short-term issue.