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Is it time the Yankees completely free Clint Frazier?

Going into the 2020 season, Clint Frazier was still mostly hope and potential for the Yankees and their fans. A year later, after an impressive shortened season, it looks as if Frazier will finally be a regular in the New York lineup. Frazier had a .394 OBP% and an OPS+ of 149 in the short sample size and seems poised to make good on all that hope and potential this season.

Aaron Boone will do all he can to get Frazier’s bat in the lineup in 2021, especially after Frazier showed a marked improvement on defense last season. Where does Boone slot Frazier into the lineup is the bigger question, however. Do Boone and the Yankees let Frazier fly and hit him in the middle of their potent lineup?

The Yankees have the top lineup in baseball when everybody is healthy and playing at their best. Frazier could theoretically be the ninth hitter in a lineup that includes LeMahieu, Judge, Voit, Stanton, Hicks, Torres, Sanchez and Urshela. With injuries and streaky play, however, that lineup has not been in play too often the last two years.

Frazier only had 166 plate appearances in 2020, all as a starter. But out of necessity, and because of his own hot streak, Frazier was used in the 3, 4, or 5 holes for 77 of those PAs. Most of those appearances came as the cleanup hitter, as he took 66 PAs there. His .268 average from the 4-hole was on par with his season average and he still produced a respectable .364 OBP. His power was not as potent in the middle of the lineup, however, as evidenced by just two home runs and a sub-par .429 SLG%, which was a far cry from his .511 for the season.

Now of course these are small sample numbers and you can’t blame Frazier if he struggled a bit in 16 games as the cleanup hitter. Without a steady presence around him, he could have been pressing as a youngster in such a prominent spot in the lineup. He could have been on a bit of a cold streak at the time. And overall he filled in more than admirably for the team as a whole.

If the Yankees have healthy seasons from Judge, Stanton and Hicks and bounce backs from Torres and Sanchez, they don’t need to hit Frazier in the middle of the lineup just yet. In his young and sporadic career, Frazier has taken at least 40 PAs in each spot of the lineup besides leadoff and the 3-hole. Those will more often than not be filled by LeMahieu and Voit in 2021, so Frazier won’t see much time there if all goes to plan.

Frazier has proven a versatile hitter that can do damage at any point of the lineup. And Boone likes to mix and match his lineups even when the team is healthy. The fact that Frazier hardly ever makes soft contact (13.6%) and is a good line-drive hitter (25%) means he can fit in between any two hitters the Yankees have.

He may not have the power of Judge, Stanton or Voit, but most projections have Frazier hitting about 24 home runs and driving in 72 runs. That would be great production from a ninth batter, and there’s a chance he does hit there throughout the season. It wouldn’t be surprising to see him approach 30 home runs if he has close to 600 PAs and there’s a chance he hits in the 6th or 7th holes on a consistent basis.

Though 2021 might not be the year Frazier is a middle of the lineup mainstay, he has proven he can fill in there if the Yankees are hurting or need to shuffle things around. Either way, it should be a fun season to watch as Yankee fans hope the potential is fully recognized by Frazier.