A couple of weeks ago, I discussed the eventual tough decision that the Yankees would have to make in regards to who would get the reps at first base in the postseason. At the time, I discounted Mike Ford and didn’t see him making the roster at all. With Edwin Encarnacion, DJ LeMahieu, and Luke Voit, I figured there was no way Ford could make a case for a spot.
Well, I was wrong.
He was red-hot in the month of September. Voit on the other hand, has not been, and Encarnacion hasn't played since September 12. Things somehow got murkier instead of clearer.
Ford has been a familiar face in the lineup since the beginning of August. However, he hasn’t just been a “fill-in” type of player. He finished the season with a .350 OBP, .372 wOBA, and 134 wRC+, which are all well above-average numbers. His defense is decent, but nothing spectacular. Is it better than Voit’s glove? Yes, and that could be a huge factor in making the decision between the two.
Another case for Ford is how hot his bat has been of late. In the 15 games he played in September, he slashed a .353/.436/.706 with an OPS of 1.142. Putting up numbers like those, Ford basically turned into Mike Trout for the final month of the regular season. Being a lefty bat in a right-handed heavy lineup could bode well for him too. Believe it or not, his 0.8 fWAR is the same as Edwin Encarnacion’s. We’ll have to wait and see, but Ford has developed a great case to get the nod and play in October.
Out of all the qualified players on the Yankees’ roster, Voit led the team in OBP with a .378. With the MVP-caliber season that LeMahieu has put together, Voit was still able to get on base more often. So how could a player who gets on base more than everyone else not make the postseason roster? Just like how Ford’s recent play may get him on the team, Voit’s recent slide may push him off.
Playing 22 games in the month of September, hit a .194 with 23 strikeouts and just two home runs. To his credit, he was still able to do what he does best and get on base. During this rough stretch at the plate, he drew three walks and had an OBP that was slightly above average. Some people think that Voit could be playing through an injury that kept him sidelined for a month.
The other knock on Voit is his defensive play. This year, he led all Yankees first basemen with seven errors, had the worst UZR/150 at an -11.9, and even has the least amount of defensive runs saved with -6. With recent poor play and his glove being a liability, it’s a possibility he doesn’t make the ALDS roster, an inconceivable thought just a couple weeks ago.
Having been out with an oblique injury since mid-September, Encarnacion is scheduled to return just in time for the ALDS. Because of the time he’s missed, he could get a majority of his reps at DH. If the Yankees do believe he’s good to go, they’ll let him play first. The way to beat the Twins will probably have to be to out-slug them. They now own the record for the most home runs in a season by one team, with the Yanks on their tail.
Encarnacion finished the year with 34 bombs in 109 games. That’s the fewest amount of games he’s played since 2010, but that’s two more homers than he hit last season in 28 more games. His power is obviously valued and his defense is good as well. Plus, he’s had playoff experience in the past. Remember his walk-off home run in 2016 against the Orioles in the Wild Card Game? If healthy, he could be a frontrunner to start at first base.
He’s put up MVP-type numbers at the plate and can flash the leather in the field too. Wherever the Yankees decide to put him, he’ll perform. It all depends on what they want the infield to look like. LeMahieu has had innings at first base, second base, and third. There’s a good chance he plays all three of those at some point in the postseason, so that opens up first for the other three previously mentioned.
If the Yankees decide to play Gleyber Torres at second, Didi Gregorius at short, and Gio Urshela at third, LeMahieu will without a doubt be on first. Realistically, it’s up to where LeMahieu plays that will dictate when Encarnacion, Ford, or Voit get in.
All four of these players have good cases to play first in the playoffs. We’ll find out in the coming days who it will be. Luckily Yankees are not in the Wild Card Game this year, so each player may get playing time if they make the roster.