October baseball is (almost) upon us. The Yankees have many decisions to make in terms of who makes the postseason roster and who plays where. Of all the permutations, arguably the most challenging decision for manager Aaron Boone is who fields first base.
The good news for the Yankees is that—barring disaster—they won’t be playing in the Wild Card Game this year, so everyone that they want to play in a series can. Three different guys in Luke Voit, DJ LeMahieu, and Edwin Encarnacion have taken the bulk of the reps at first, but obviously, not all of them will get the playing time they are used to right now.
Since every single run in a playoff game is meaningful, there is little to no room for errors or mental mistakes. It’s worth breaking down their defensive numbers to see who would be the better fit to patrol first base come October.
While Voit started on Opening Day, it wasn’t in the field. He was the designated hitter. Who started at first base that day you may ask? The answer is Gregory Paul Bird. He’s been on the injured list for the most of the season, essentially out of the equation since April.
Voit has never exactly played Gold Glove defense, and out of the three options, he is the worst fielder. In 645+ innings, he has seven errors, -6 defensive runs saved, and a -17.2 UZR/150. Those numbers are not too pretty. His revised zone rating is a .690, and according to FanGraphs, that number is, well, awful. Based on this, Voit will probably not be defending first in a close game unless it is necessary.
LeMahieu was originally sought out to be the Yankees version of Ben Zobrist: a utility guy who can play almost every position and has a decent bat. How ridiculous does that look now? He has turned is a potential top-five MVP candidate and has been good with the leather.
Prior to signing with New York, he was awarded three Gold Gloves, so he’s no stranger to good defense. What’s more amazing, however, is how he played just 13 career innings at first, and hasn’t been there in five years!
In 240+ innings at first base this year, he has three errors, zero defensive runs saved (the average), and a UZR of -0.7. This is not his natural position, but it’s quite doable. If he were to be used at first in October, that should be fine, but he is a better defender at his more natural infield positions. If Gleyber Torres plays second, Didi Gregorius at short, and Gio Urshela at the hot corner, that’s a situation where he would have to play first, assuming Giancarlo Stanton, Encarnacion or Voit occupy the DH spot.
Acquired in mid-June from the Seattle Mariners, Encarnacion has been yet another productive and powerful bat in the Yankees’ lineup. He has rotated from DH to first base all year long. As a defender, he’s in the same realm as LeMahieu at first, just alright. Encarnacion has made two errors, -1 DRS, a UZR of -0.8, and his RZR is .761 in 489 total innings. He will most likely be used as a DH, splitting time with a few others. However, he is currently injured with an oblique injury, which is tough to come back from so quickly. Hopefully he is able to recover to the fullest and continue to contribute to the team ASAP.
Whichever way the Yankees decide to go, there’s no “wrong” answer. Voit is the weakest link out of the three. His bat would have to outperform Encarnacion’s in order to fly over the parrot. Let’s just say that Boone and his team have a lot to decide over the next couple of weeks.