Were you one of the folks who worried that the Yankees’ re-signing of Brett Gardner in February would block Clint Frazier’s development?
Don’t feel bad. I’m one of the folks who praised the Yankees for signing Aaron Hicks to a seven-year, $70 million extension in 2019.
Now Hicks is sidelined with a torn tendon sheath in his left wrist, an ailment that could sideline him for an extended period, unless the center fielder responds positively to medication and rest. Such an absence, as well as the Friday scratching of Giancarlo Stanton with left quad tightness, would intensity a reality that already existed concerning the Yankees’ odd outfield couple of Frazier and Gardner:
They are providing the Yankees with neither an embarrassment of riches nor a playing-time dilemma. To the contrary, the 26-year-old redhead and 37-year-old shaved-head have teamed to create an outfield offensive sinkhole.
“Hopefully we get both of those guys rolling for us [in] a little bit,” Aaron Boone said Friday, before the Yankees opened a series with the Orioles in Baltimore.
Frazier, starting in left field, took a .141/.282/.283 slash line into Friday’s action; Orioles Park at Camden Yards stands as his favorite ballpark in which to hit, offering optimism to those who seek it. Gardner, starting in center field, spiritually matched his protege at .182/.282/.227. Hence the Yankees’ outfield, widely viewed as a strength when the team broke camp, turned into not that. As per Baseball-Reference.com, the Yankees’ left fielders had combined for a .580 OPS through Thursday, 12th out of 15 in the American League, while their center fielders (Hicks was at .194/.294/.333) grouped for a .587, 14th out of 15.
And if you want to complain about the Yankees trading Mike Tauchman, well, it’s a free country, although you should know that after Tauchman tallied three hits in his Giants debut April 28, generating some headlines, he went .182/.265/.318 in his next 12 games.
A look under the hood shows both Frazier and Gardner suffering from a similar affliction: They weren’t striking the ball as effectively as they had in the past, when they attained far better results. Frazier’s average exit velocity stood at 84.2 miles per hour, the worst of his career by a wide margin; his previous low was 88.1 in 2018, the year he suffered a concussion. Gardner’s 86.2 mph ranked a couple ticks below the 86.4 mph he averaged in 2017 (these numbers go back to only 2015, so they don’t include Gardner’s first seven seasons).
“I think in Fraz’s DNA, which is a tremendous trait he has, is he does have really good strike-zone knowledge and doesn’t chase typically,” Boone said. “But there’s that fine line between not firing and not being aggressive, especially in the strike zone, and finding that quality of contact.”
Frazier had swung at 60.4 percent of pitches he saw in the strike zone, as per Baseball Savant, in line with last year’s 59.7 percent, which led to very good results. His percentage in that department dropped steadily, prior to this year’s slight increase, from 75.5 percent in his rookie year 2017.
“A lot of times that’s just timing that leads to sound mechanics that puts you in a position to square the ball up,” Boone continued. “So I feel like he’s had days where it’s started to show up a little bit where the at-bat quality’s been there, then he’s kind of taken a step back. So we know it’s there. Hopefully it starts to happen.”
Gardner, in a Zoom media session Friday, cited a similar root cause: “I spent some time recently looking at a lot of video. Could just be a timing thing. So just a matter of the at-bats that I do get, trying to have good at-bats and stay positive and continuing to work.”
The duo’s terribleness must discontinue, all the more so if the resurgent Stanton requires an injured-list stay. There are plenty of at-bats available for both Frazier and Gardner, and it bodes poorly for the Yankees if that reality remains a worry.
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