Tonight is not the 2021 debut of Luke Voit, even though it kind of feels that way. The Yankees’ first baseman has played just 12 games this season, bookended by two IL stints. Correspondingly, the Yankees have the fourth-worst production from first base this season, as their collective 77 wRC+ ranks better than only the Red Sox, Brewers, and Cleveland. First base is a bat-first, sometimes bat-only position, and not having much punch from that spot is one reason why the team’s lineup hasn’t been as potent as we all would like it to be.
Getting Voit back should help, even if we should also all be ready for a little bit of running room. He had a stellar rehab stint with the Double-A Somerset Patriots, but even if that doesn’t immediately — read: tonight — carry over, adding Voit to the Yankee lineup is some of the best news of the year.
Projection systems differ on Voit’s rest-of-season production. Depth Charts, a FanGraphs projection that blends Steamer and ZiPS, tabs him for a 125 wRC+ over the rest of the season, which would be tied with Gary Sánchez for the third-best mark on the club. More than that, it represents a huge upgrade from current first base production, and allows for a much more optimized infield.
This team is at its best when the infield, left to right, goes Gio Urshela - Gleyber Torres - DJ LeMahieu - Luke Voit. The big guy’s return should turn Rougned Odor into the man without a role, which is welcome news. I think it’s a safe bet the Yankees ease Voit into things, similar to what we’ve seen with Giancarlo Stanton and Aaron Judge returning from bumps and IL stints, so at least in the short term, Odor might still see playing time. As we move into the summer, though, he looks less and less like a guy who can contribute much to the club, and I’ll take Voit’s production over Odor’s any day.
The offensive injection is precisely what the Yankees need as well. I talk a lot about the Judge Cycle, where Aaron Judge looks silly at the plate for 10 games, then rattles off a bunch of singles, and then becomes the most dangerous hitter in baseball for 10 games. Over the full season, that’s good for a 150 wRC+ and down-ballot MVP votes. Right now, despite the Yankees winning five of the last six, Judge is in the nadir of the Judge Cycle, going 5-for-25 with no extra base hits in those six games.
Gleyber Torres, over those same six contests, has just a single hit. DJ LeMahieu, meanwhile, has continued to scuffle, with a mere 90 wRC+ in June. I think we are not properly rating how important Sánchez has been to this lineup lately, but that’s a conversation for a different post. Adding Voit to this lineup is a huge boost, especially when a lot of the bats that were carrying the team — Judge and Torres — for chunks of the season have cooled off.
There’s never going to be a time when adding the home run king to your lineup is a bad idea. But the timing of this reinstatement is a big deal — Voit is exactly the kind of punch the team needs right now, a caffeine hit right as they start to rattle off a few wins and climb back into the division race.