Slimmed down, but still thicc, the 6’3” 255-pound Luke Voit is having the best quasi-full season of his career. After a year-and-a-half of splitting time between his hometown Cardinals’ big league and Triple-A clubs, the team shipped him to New York for Chasen Shreve and Giovanny Gallegos. When healthy, Voit’s been phenomenal for the Yanks, proving himself to be a legitimate perennial candidate for the American League’s first baseman Silver Slugger.
Through three quarters of the 2020 MLB season, Voit leads the Majors in homers with 18 and he’s fourth in RBI with 42. Following up his breakout, but injury ridden, first two seasons in pinstripes, Voit has poured water on the grease fire that initially looked like a mere flash in the pan. Though he’s walking less than ever, as our Josh Diemert explained last week, Voit has maintained his overall production with even greater counting stats by hitting everything in-and-around the zone, and hitting it hard. Outside of “The Machine,” Voit has been the Yankees’ only stellar bat all season.
This late in the season, any legitimate MVP case mustn’t be made in abstraction—you have to consider the contenders. As of September 15th, Luke Voit’s MVP chances trail Tim Anderson, Mike Trout, José Abreu, Shane Bieber and Nelson Cruz’s according to Vegas oddsmakers.
This unusual season deserves an unusual crop of candidates, with a DH, two first basemen, and a pitcher making up two-thirds of the award’s viable candidates. Further, though Anderson and Trout play the second and fourth most valuable defensive positions at shortstop and center field respectively, they both grade-out as below average fielders according to OAA. That makes the 2020 AL MVP effectively an offense-only award, outside of Bieber—I’ll get to him later.
Among the five front-running hitters, Voit holds down the rear in wOBA, WAR, wRC+, OPS+, batting average, and on-base percentage. The only way to manufacture an argument in favor of Voit is to extend Josh’s article’s logic beyond its reasonable conclusion. As he explained, Voit’s hyper-aggressive approach may be converting potential walks into knocks, boosting his power-related counting stats because the Yankees have no one else to do the actual scoring of runs. In this way, Voit could actually be more valuable to the Yankees, trading some of his offensive efficiency off for some more total bases.
However, even by total bases, Voit ranks just fifth in the American League. On the AL’s slugging percentage leaderboard, Voit sits third, still trailing Cruz and then Trout. Only if you claim that the Yankees’s offense is so anemic, that Voit’s lack of lineup protection should grant his numbers a greater weight than the other candidates, might you be able to even squeeze out a bad faith first place argument. However, again beset by a season of injuries, the Yankees’ offense still ranks second in the AL in wRC+, wOBA, and total runs scored. Not all of that productivity, or even most of it, can be reasonably attributed to Voit, as Nelson Cruz’s Twins rank in the bottom half of every aforementioned statistic, and Cruz leads Voit in almost every relevant offensive category.
If we pretend Voit hasn’t already lost the battle against the other four hitters, we might as well see how he’d fare against Shane Bieber. Historically, pitchers have scarcely won the award— it’s only happened twice since Dennis Eckersley’s 1992 campaign. Though the award is nominally for each league’s most valuable player regardless of contribution, voters have often eschewed pitching for hitting, due to the coexistence of the pitcher-specific Cy Young.
For a pitcher to win the MVP, he has to dominate the league. Justin Verlander earned the 2011 MVP and Cy Young on the back of his pitching Triple Crown (wins, ERA, and strikeouts), and Clayton Kershaw boasting a 1.5-WAR gap over any National League player was enough to win him the dual honors in 2014. If the season were to end today, Bieber would win the pitching Triple-Crown—as well as hold a half-win lead over any other AL position player or pitcher in the shortened season. He’s on pace to match Kershaw’s 1.6-WAR lead, more than enough to put him in the running, and perhaps even make him the prohibitive favorite.
Bieber might actually win the AL MVP in a landslide if voters decide to grant to the award to the league’s truly most valuable player, regardless of position. If they feel compelled to give it to a hitter, Cruz and Anderson have some separation above the rest of the pack. Picking between the two comes down to whether you favor Cruz’s slight power advantage, or Anderson’s sizable lead in batting average, and ability to play shortstop—albeit not especially well. If Trout, or his dark horse candidate teammate, Anthony Rendon, were to hit a half dozen homers over the season’s final couple of weeks, they too could find themselves in position to bring another MVP to Anaheim. José Abreu, a free swinging slugger like Voit, has a statistical portfolio that nearly mirrors Voit’s own, but he too would need to flambé his season in order to leap frog his own teammate in the MVP vote.
Barring a couple weeks of 1.600 OPS hitting, Voit will likely trail at least four or five hitters, as well as Beiber in the final voting tally. Sadly, unless your pathological addiction to the long-ball requires you to vote for the most preponderant masher, it’s almost impossible to justify a first-place vote for Voit.