After a scorching start to the season, the Yankees’ bats have cooled during their current three-out-of-four-game skid. Their home run hitters have been tamed and they are not getting enough out of the supporting cast to make up the difference. And what these recent games have shown us is that the Yankees are still a major work in progress in several departments. The one I will focus on today is lineup construction.
The template for the different spots in the batting order has changed drastically over the last 20 years. The traditional leadoff and two-hole hitters of yesteryear were of the speedy, spray-hitting variety. Batting third and fourth were the team’s best hitters, responsible for slugging in the speedsters ahead of them.
Under the new philosophy of batting order configuration, many teams are now batting their high-contact guys in the leadoff spot. Following them in the two-hole nowadays is the team’s best hitter. Analytics have shown that more value can be derived from increasing the number of plate appearances for one’s best hitter rather than batting them in a high-RBI spot.
The ideal three-hole batter is a hybrid, retaining the on-base skills of the two batters ahead of him while also possessing the power to drive them in. Of the Yankees’ current number-threes, Aaron Hicks has not been slugging while Gleyber Torres has offered neither as we approach the one-quarter mark of the season.
Enter Luke Voit. Since joining the Yankees, Luke Voit has sported a truly elite on-base percentage of .380, the highest of anyone on the team. He is fourth on the team in walk rate at 12.7% as well as slugging (.522) and ISO (.244). These results epitomize the production you look for out of you number three hitter.
Voit is no stranger to batting in the top-third of the lineup. Last season, with both Giancarlo Stanton and Aaron Judge on the shelf, Voit saw the majority of his at-bats from the two-hole early on. From that second spot in the lineup, Voit was arguably the Yankees most consistent contributor. He got on base at a clip of .403 thanks largely in part to his 14.4% walk rate. He also provided the heavy artillery, driving in 25 runs on 10 home runs in those 44 games.
Batting Voit third also removes a tremendous burden from Torres. He has been struggling by anyone’s standards this season, and putting the weighty responsibility of batting third on his young shoulders has taken its toll. Even to the objective observer, he does not appear comfortable at the plate, and seems to be pressing to force results. This all cycles into one big negative feedback loop, where the worse he performs, the more pressure Torres puts on himself to right the ship.
The Yankees can alleviate this by dropping him a few rungs in the lineup and batting Voit third. Six years Torres’ elder, Voit has had more time to experience the ups and downs of professional ball, and therefore greater opportunity to mentally mature and deal with these periods of adversity. This resilience makes him better equipped to handle the responsibility of being one of the team’s primary run producers. Torres meanwhile can play more freely without the added stress of producing every time DJ LeMahieu or Aaron Judge gets on base ahead of him.
The Yankees hit their first bump in the road this week. The back end of their rotation is a serious question mark and their bats were nowhere to be found during the pitiful two-hit performance against the Rays last night. They are not getting the production they need out of the third spot in the lineup and it is time for a change. It is time that Luke Voit inherited the spot in the lineup that he has earned for himself since putting on the pinstripes.