The Yankees’ offense has had several excellent performers in the start of the season — which isn’t so young anymore, to be fair. Aaron Judge has nine homers and was a force before hurting his calf, DJ LeMahieu is hitting over .400 points of batting average, Gio Urshela has proved that last year was no fluke and so on. The Bombers have also gotten some underrated production from their first baseman.
Luke Voit was running a 150 wRC+ entering Friday night’s game. He has managed to put up a very impressive line of .275/.339/.588 with a .389 wOBA. He has five home runs in 15 games so far, and has hit the ball just as hard as last year: 89.8 mph in 2019 and 89.9 in 2020.
After a core issue clearly affected his play last year, sports hernia surgery was performed on him in October 2019. He is now back to normal, and even worked to lose weight. Not only did his power and ability to drive the ball return, but he also adjusted his approach and is now a more aggressive hitter.
The thing with aggressiveness at the plate is that it isn’t good to fall into the extremes. When a player is too aggressive at the plate, he tends to swing at pitches he shouldn’t swing (even outside of the zone) and fall behind in the count with ease via swinging strikes, increasing the odds of being an easy out via strikeout or bad contact. To the contrary, when a batter is too passive at the plate, he will let too many hittable pitches pass by and will also fall behind in the count via called strikes. For each hitter, the trick is finding the ideal middle ground, which will differ from player to player.
For now, in the extremely small sample size that the 2020 season has given us, we can say that Luke Voit is a more aggressive hitter than in years past.
What’s under the hood?
For one, Voit is taking fewer walks. After running a 13.9 BB% in 2019 and having a career mark of 11.5, Voit is walking at a 5.4% rate. That is more than half off of his usual pace.
Another sign that he is a more aggressive hitter is that his strikeouts are up. He is at 32.1%, after finishing last year with 27.8% and having a 27.5% career mark. It may not be sustainable for him to keep producing a 150 wRC+ with such a high strikeout rate, but it isn’t unheard of. He will, most likely, settle in the 28-30% neighborhood.
Overall, we can say that Luke Voit has been swinging more often. Last year he had a 47.4 swing percentage, and he has upped that to 53.2 this year. If we look closer, he is swinging at pitches outside of the strike zone at a 31.0% rate, after doing it 26.6% of the time in 2019. The most meaningful change, however, has been evident in the frequency he swings at offerings inside the strike zone.
Last season, he did that at a 78.6% rate, and so far in 2020, he is showing a more aggressive approach with 82.0% of swings in pitches in the zone. He decided not to let too many “hittable” pitches pass by.
One of the numbers that needs to go down if Voit wants to remain a comfortably above-average performer in the offensive side of things is his swinging strike rate (SwStrk%.) Since he came to the Yankees, he has always been around the 15% range, but this year, he is at 18.5%.
There are still a lot of games to be played this year, even if it doesn’t feel like that. Baseball is a game of daily adjustments, and maybe Voit is working on things we don’t know as we speak. But this aggressive approach seems to be suiting him even if it isn’t perfect.