Sunday Notes: Clint Frazier Sees More Than the Fence

When I first spoke to Clint Frazier, he was 18 years old and playing in the rookie-level Arizona Summer League. A few months removed from being selected fifth-overall by the Cleveland Indians, he had a sky-high ceiling and a lot to learn. He also had — as I wrote in the introduction to the interview — “as much power as any player who was taken in the 2013 draft.”

The Loganville, Georgia native is now a Yankee, having gone to the Big Apple as the centerpiece of last year’s trade-deadline deal that sent Andrew Miller to Cleveland. He made his big-league debut thirteen days ago.

On Friday, I asked the colorful outfielder if he is essentially the same guy I interviewed four years ago.

“I’m a more experienced guy,” answered Frazier. “When I was younger, I was seeing beyond the fence — I was trying to hit a lot of home runs. Now it’s more of just being a hitter, trying to square up the baseball and letting the tools that I have play.”

I reminded the rookie that he’d talked about the importance of using the whole field in our earlier conversation.

“That sounded like the right thing to say at the time, but I hadn’t figured out how to do it,” responded Frazier. “I’d focus on the right things in BP, but at game speed, I was still taking a big swing and trying to hit the ball a long way. If I hit a ball 450 feet, I wanted to do that every time. At 19-20 years old, I didn’t know how to not try to do that. At 22, I’m figuring out that I can just try to hit a line drive, and it can go out of the park.”

Frazier retains a simple approach when it comes to the technical side of hitting. In 2013, he told me that he doesn’t think about things like putting backspin on the baseball — he simply tried to hit the ball hard, and “whatever happens, happens.” He offered a similar take a few days ago.

“I’ve never looked at launch angle, or exit velocity,” Frazier told me. “For me, it’s just about squaring it up. A home run is a home run. As long as it goes out, I don’t care what the launch angle was, or what the exit velocity was.”

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The Red Sox designated Pablo Sandoval for assignment earlier this week, opting to eat money rather than retain a player they felt was more of a detriment than an asset. If you happened to miss it, Travis Sawchik weighed in on the Panda-shedding on Friday.

Later that same day, Dave Dombrowski addressed a large contingent of Boston media. One of his comments was especially interesting.

“He did what he could do to get himself in good physical condition,” opined the Red Sox president of baseball operations. “He worked nutritionally. He worked from a psychological perspective. He worked from an offensive perspective. He worked from a defensive perspective. We just didn’t see the skills quite there.”

Dombrowski’s citing of a “psychological perspective” was later followed by a mention of “issues he was dealing with… private type of issues.” He wouldn’t elaborate on what they might have been.

Nor was he forthcoming when asked about his evaluation of Sandoval when he was Detroit’s GM, and The Panda was a free agent. “We weren’t looking for a third baseman at that time,” said Dombrowski. “We weren’t involved at all in those conversations.”

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Francisco Lindor didn’t perform up to his usual standards over the first half of the season. Going into the break, the Indians shortstop was slashing an atypically-mundane .252/.312/.456. Team president Chris Antonetti sees a light at the end of the tunnel for the 23-year-old All-Star.

“Performing at the major league level is really hard, and to do it consistently is difficult,” Antonetti told reporters recently. “With Francisco, we’ve talked about using the middle of the field — focusing on hitting hard line drives up the middle. It’s one thing to be able to do that in batting practice, but when things speed up in the game, and there are other factors at play, it becomes more difficult to execute. He’s not the first player who has to continue to work on things. I know he’s relentless to get there, and I believe results are right around the corner.”

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Ben Lively is having a reasonably successful rookie season for the Philadelphia Phillies. The 25-year-old right-hander has averaged six innings per start, and his ERA is a solid 3.80. What he doesn’t have is a lot of punch outs. Of the 209 pitchers to have thrown at least 40 innings this year, Lively (3.59) is the only one averaging fewer than four strikeouts per nine innings.

His minor league numbers weren’t as extreme — he fanned 143 in 180 Triple-A frames — but missing bats is clearly not his M.O. Not that he wouldn’t mind doing so more often — and truth be told, he probably needs to — but that’s not his goal when he steps on the mound.

“I know I don’t have anything overpowering,” Lively told me last month. “But I’m always going be that bulldog on the mound. I’m going to be aggressive and go after people, and at the same time, I need to pitch.”

A few years ago, his mindset was different. Upon reaching Double-A, he learned a valuable lesson.

“My first year in Reading (2015), I was pretty much just throwing,” admitted Lively. “I wasn’t really pitching. I was trying to strike everybody out, which was immature on my part. I’d been doing that in A-Ball, but that was A-ball. Lundy (minor-league pitching coach Dave Lundquist) sat me down before the 2016 season, and gave me a difference perspective. Ever since we talked — ever since we squashed that out — it’s been rolling pretty good. I’m happy with how things have progressed.”

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Gary Jones is the third base coach for the Chicago Cubs. Once upon a time, he was an accomplished table-setter. In eight minor league seasons, from 1982-1989, the speedy second baseman-outfielder slashed .283/.437/.370. His on-base percentage wasn’t a lower-level aberration. In 1,035 Triple-A plate appearances, he had a .402 OBP. Despite the bona fides — Jones also had 225 stolen bases — he never received a big-league call-up.

I asked Jones why he thinks the opportunity didn’t come.

“I can’t answer that,” said Jones. “But it was a different era. I spent a couple of years with the Cubs, but most of my time was with Oakland, and those were the bash years. It was all about the home run. Plus, guys like Tony Phillips, Walt Weiss, and Mike Gallego were already on the club. Maybe that had something to do with it. I just know I tried to play good baseball, which for me was getting on base any way I could. That was kind of my forte, my kind of my thing.”

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JULY TIDBITS

Bryce Harper recorded the 14th multi-home run game of his career on Friday. Only six players in MLB history had more prior to their 25th birthday: Eddie Mathews (19), Hal Trosky (18), Mel Ott (17), Bob Horner (17), Willie Mays (15), and Boog Powell (15).

Also on Friday, Josh Bell became the first Pittsburgh Pirates rookie ever to hit a walk-off home run against the St. Louis Cardinals.

Delino DeShields and Dee Gordon lead MLB with seven bunt hits apiece.

Dominic Smith leads all minor league players with 120 base hits. The 22-year-old New York Mets first base prospect is slashing .331/.383/.503 for Triple-A Las Vegas.

Wes Rogers leads all minor league player with 50 stolen bases (in 58 attempts). The 23-year-old Colorado Rockies outfield prospect is sashing .311/.374/.489 for high-A Lancaster.

The Los Angeles Dodgers’ plus-163 run differential at the All-Star break is a National League record.

The Houston Astros have held a lead in 78 of their 90 games this season (87%).

The Seattle Mariner have lost 25 consecutive games when scoring three-or-fewer runs.

With five more wins, Bob Melvin will become the 64th manager to reach the 1,000 mark. He has 501 wins with his current team, the Oakland Athletics.

If you’d like to help name the donkey Joey Votto is buying for Zack Cozart, fans are invited to send suggestions to donkey@reds. com. More information can be found here.

This play in last night’s Red Sox-Yankee’s game was bizarre. Equally bizarre is the fact that it wasn’t ruled interference.

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Last Sunday, it was reported by the Associated Press that Clayton Kershaw became “the first pitcher in major league history to strike out at least (13) in a complete game with fewer than 100 pitches.” That is certainly possible, but I’m skeptical that it’s actually true. Before pitch counts were routinely logged, batters took fewer pitches, and while they were uncommon, high-strikeout games did exist. Here is one example:

In 1924, Walter Johnson fanned 14, and allowed just two baserunners. “The Big Train” faced 28, one over the minimum, and time of game was 1:36. Did he throw fewer than 100 pitches? We don’t know, but I think it’s likely.

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Paul Molitor slashed .323/.365/.476 in 494 career plate appearances at Fenway Park. He was asked about the venerable old ballpark when the Twins visited Boston in late June.

“As a kid, when you watched games, you remembered old Tiger Stadium, and Yankee Stadium, and Fenway,” said the Minnesota manager. “The Wall was a memory for every kid who knew baseball. You get a chance to come here for the first time… for me, it was as a collegiate player. I got to watch Carl Yastrzemski take batting practice. It’s a great place to play. It’s unique. The angles are unique. It’s 105 years old, so for guys coming through here for the first time, it’s always a special occurrence.”

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LINKS YOU’LL LIKE

Captain Earthman, a longtime beer vendor at Coors Field, succumbed to brain cancer earlier this week. Benjamin Arthur has the story at The Denver Post.

Ron Wright struck out, and hit into both a double play and a triple play in his only MLB game. He did so with the Mariners, in 2002, and Larry Stone wrote about it at The Seattle Times.

At The Tampa Bay Times, Roger Mooney told us about the sometimes jaw-dropping, sometimes head-scratching but never dull world of Steven Souza Jr.

Jim Allen of the The Kyodo News wrote about how Toshiharu Ueda’s passing marks the end of an era in NPB.

Over at Crooked Scoreboard, Geoff Young mused about what happened, and what we imagined, when Matt Davidson fouled off a pitch from Jharel Cotton.

This article is two years old, but well worth re-visiting. Alex Speier of The Boston Globe scientifically explored the likelihood that Ted Williams reached Fenway Park’s famous “red seat,” 502 feet from home plate, in 1946.

RANDOM FACTS AND STATS

Nicholas Castellanos is eight days younger than Aaron Judge and has 555 more total bases.

Aaron Judge has 34 career home runs and 5.1 WAR. Joe Judge had 71 home runs and 45.6 WAR.

On July 17, 1990, the Twins turned two 5-4-3 triple plays in a 1-0 win against the Red Sox at Fenway Park. The following day, the teams combined to turn 10 double plays — six by Minnesota, and four by Boston — in a 5-4 Red Sox win.

Steve Carlton made his MLB debut for the St. Louis Cardinals on April 12, 1965 against the Chicago Cubs. The game was called after 11 innings due to darkness and ended in a 10-10 tie.

On this date in 1920, the New York Giants scored seven runs in the 17th inning in a 7-0 win over the Pittsburgh Pirates. Giants first baseman High Pockets Kelly was credited with 28 putouts.

Walter Johnson hit 41 triples, the most of any pitcher in history.

Eddie Plank was hit by a pitch 24 times, the most of any pitcher in history.

George Mullin had 410 hits and struck out 21 times. Dean Chance had 44 hits and struck out 420 times.

Per Baseball Digest, Lou Gehrig had five-or-more RBIs in a game 41 times, the most of any player. Manny Ramirez ranks second, with 34 such games.

In May, 1952, Ron Necciai threw a nine-inning no-hitter, with 27 strikeouts, for the Bristol Twins of the class D Appalachian League. The 19-year-old righty from Monongahela, Pennsylvania was subsequently called up by the Pittsburgh Pirates, for whom he went 1-6, with a 7.18 ERA. “Necktie” hurt his arm the next year — he also suffered from a bleeding ulcer — and never returned to the big leagues.

We hoped you liked reading Sunday Notes: Clint Frazier Sees More Than the Fence by David Laurila!

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David Laurila grew up in Michigan's Upper Peninsula and now writes about baseball from his home in Cambridge, Mass. He authored the Prospectus Q&A series at Baseball Prospectus from February 2006-May 2011 before being claimed off waivers by FanGraphs. He can be followed on Twitter @DavidLaurilaQA.

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Was it intentional when you used the words “weighed in” regarding Panda’s release?

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Or “eat money” ?