The Yankees’ offensive approach is pretty refined at this point – wait out the pitcher, get into a good count, and mash. The team had some of the best chase and walk rates in the majors this past season, evidence that belies the popular assertion that they strike out too much.
However, Luke Voit defied that standard in 2020. The hulking first baseman was far more aggressive in the box, and while the results were sensational this year, it will be interesting to see which Voit will emerge in 2021 and beyond.
A quick examination of Voit’s metrics might suggest a player who began to “sell out for power.” Voit swung more than ever, over 52 percent of the time. He also offered at the first pitch in more than half of his plate appearances, which is almost double MLB average. He pulled the ball the majority of the time, and although his hard contact rate stayed about the same, he saw a slight rise in pop-ups and weak contact.
All of these signs point to a big hitter taking big swings in an effort to hit big home runs. In kind, Voit led the league in long balls and slugged an incredible .610. However, a deeper look shows that Voit isn’t truly “selling out” for the rise in power. As Josh pointed out in September, Voit’s contact rate rose, too. He swung and missed far less, which led to a decline in strikeouts. So, even while swinging far more often, Voit made enough contact and had enough power to make it a worthwhile change.
It’s an interesting trade-off: Voit’s new approach led to a decline in on-base percentage, but a rise in power production. The question is: will it last?
Voit’s average in 2020 was higher than his BABIP, which indicates that if you take away the home runs, Voit’s average would have been far lower than the .277 mark he had at season’s end. He’ll also be entering his age-30 season, and could see a decline in bat speed as he gets older. This aggressive approach worked great in 2020 when he was locked in; it was a shortened season, and he was getting sky-high power production. But a return to normalcy in 2021 may expose a hitter who was swinging at more than half of his first pitches and saw a career-worst chase rate.
Luckily, Voit didn’t just have a good batter’s eye in past years — he had a great one. He averaged 4.22 pitches per plate appearances in 2018 and 3.95 in 2019. His chase rate, even at its worst this season, has always been better than MLB average. That indicates that even if pitchers figure out how to attack Voit’s newfound aggressiveness in 2021, he should have some excellent plate discipline, contact skills and raw power to fall back on.
On a team loaded with good hitters, Voit might be the Yankees’ best. He has the ability to quick-strike with an aggressive approach, or wait pitchers out for just the right offering. Voit’s 2020 was special, but could be hard to duplicate over 162 games (though projections indicated that he’d have had a good shot in 2020). Getting into good counts is the best way to generate power, so Voit should still be able to expect a 30-homer season in 2021, no matter how it comes.