2019 ended unceremoniously for Luke Voit. After a stellar first half that had him knocking on the door of an All-Star Game nomination, the Yankees’ first baseman struggled with injuries, only playing 40 games after the Midsummer Classic and slashing a meager .228/.348/.368. After three games on the bench in the ALDS, Voit was left off the ALCS roster entirely, a fate that didn’t seem possible after his rapid rise from late 2018 and into the early part of the next season.
This perceived lack of confidence in Voit has caused some to speculate that the Yankees need a more firm first base solution. However, the Yankees’ best offense in 2020 is the one that involves Voit holding down the fort at first.
For one, the options behind him aren’t better. Mike Ford certainly flashed last year, but is unproven and a 27-year-old rookie, Edwin Encarnacion is gone, and moving DJ LeMahieu to first base would involve one of Thairo Estrada or Tyler Wade regularly manning second. In that way, it’s pretty clear that first base is Voit’s job, and that’s the way it should be.
Even though I wrote that Ford is unproven, some might argue that Voit is fairly green himself. The man only has played 227 MLB games (157 as a Yankee), and is entering his age-29 season. However, I think we’ve seen enough improvement in those games, particularly those 157 as a Yankee, to make a valid assessment that Voit is the right man for the job.
Voit’s best attributes are his raw power and his excellent batter’s eye. When Voit hit 14 home runs in 39 games as a Yankee in 2018, his brute strength wowed Yankees fans. Although Voit’s power production declined slightly in 2019 to a still-good .464 SLG on 43 extra-base hits, his plate discipline grew to be his most impressive trait.
He draws a lot of walks – Voit’s 13.9 percent BB rate was in the top six percent leaguewide. There’s more to it than just drawing walks, though. Voit is an aggressive swinger, swinging slightly more than MLB average (particularly at the first pitch), but he does an excellent job of only swinging at strikes. Voit’s chase rate improved to 22.4 percent last year, which is six points better than MLB average. On the other hand, when Voit sees a strike, he’s going to swing. Only 45.9 percent of pitches thrown his way were in the zone, but Voit swung at 76.6 percent of those 45.9 percent – an “in-zone swing rate” 10 points higher than the average ballplayer.
It’s simple – if you throw a strike to Voit, he’s going to hit it. And if he hits it, he’s going to hit it hard. Voit’s hard-hit rate is slightly above league average, and he has fully embraced the fly ball revolution. Voit only hits grounders about 39 percent of the time, which is a good thing given that sprint speed surely isn’t his strong suit. Voit is an old-school wallbanger, hitting more line drives than he does fly balls, which is a rare trait.
Baseball Savant’s Affinity rating, which finds the closest comparisons between hitters’ batted-ball profiles and plate discipline, deduced that 2019 Voit was most similar to Max Muncy and Bryce Harper, with hints of Mitch Haniger and Eugenio Suarez mixed in there. Those are all consistently above-average hitters, and Voit could definitely be in their class if he can just stay healthy.
First base around MLB has gotten weaker. It used to be the position where by far your best hitter, your Albert Pujols or Miguel Cabrera would go, but that’s no longer the case, as the other corner positions on the field have closed that gap. Consequently, Voit’s production ranks him as one of the top 10 first basemen in baseball if he can put together a full season. Assuming Voit will bounce back from his core injury, there’s no reason for the Yankees to bring in anymore help at first base. Luke Voit is the guy.