If you’re still in the Greg Bird fan club and are secretly hoping for Luke Voit to slip up, you’re out of luck. Voit has followed up his scorching debut down the stretch last year with a stellar performance so far this year. The energetic, bat-flipping, homer-hopping slugger owns a .272/.384/.521 line, good for a 140 wRC+. By that measure, he’s currently the Yankees’ second-best hitter.
Voit has been invaluable to the Yankees, period. However, the way in which Voit has succeeded makes him that much more needed, both in the current lineup and among the regulars as well. Voit’s current approach to hitting sets him apart from not only trigger-happy bats like Gary Sanchez and Gleyber Torres, but also three-true-outcome types like Aaron Judge and Giancarlo Stanton.
Voit is unique among the current lineup in his ability to let balls go and work walks. Table-setters like Gio Urshela and DJ LeMahieu are running batting averages north of .300 due to their aggressive approaches, but they’re swinging at a ton of balls too. The former owns a chase rate of 39.7%, the latter 30.4%. Understandably, both hitters also own modest walk rates, thereby limiting their on-base percentages.
Meanwhile, sluggers like Gary Sanchez and Gleyber Torres share a similar aggressive approach. They, too, own chase rates above 30% (33.7% for Sanchez, 35.9% for Torres), putting a damper on their on-base abilities as well. Voit provides a nice counterbalance to such aggressive hitters, with his 26.3% chase rate coming in muhc lower than the aforementioned four batters. This disciplined approach is what enables Voit to pace the team in both walk rate (13.0%) and on-base percentage (.379). In a lineup currently consisting mainly of relatively free swingers, Voit provides a change of pace.
Voit’s hallmark patience sets him apart from his current peers, putting him more at home among members of last year’s lineup such as Judge, Stanton and Aaron Hicks. Yet even here, Voit possesses a certain trait that differentiates him from such hitters.
A common complaint among fans last year was that hitters like Judge, Stanton and Hicks were letting too many hittable strikes go by. The data bears that out; the three hitters all ran Z-Swing% numbers below the league average mark of 67.3% last year, meaning that they were swinging at pitches in the strike zone at a lower clip than average. Due to either subpar pitch recognition (Stanton) or being patient to a fault at times (Judge and Hicks), the three sluggers were watching pitches they should be crushing fall in for strikes too often.
Here is where Voit differs from the aforementioned trio. Although the first baseman has a high walk rate and a low overall swing rate, he is also currently swinging at 80.7% of the strikes that pitchers are feeding him. That’s the fifth-highest Z-Swing% in the majors right now. In addition, not one player in the top 30 in Z-Swing% owns a chase rate lower than Voit’s 26.3% mark.
In a nutshell, Voit is great at swinging at strikes while also staying away from non-strikes. Sure, it’s hitting 101, but it’s also much easier said than done to combine discipline with selective aggressiveness. So far this year, Voit has managed to strike a happy balance. Coupled with his elite power, no wonder he’s giving opposing pitchers nightmares.
Just one year ago, Luke Voit was looking like a Quad-A slugger on the Cardinals’ farm. When the Yankees traded for him, the general consensus was that Brian Cashman was throwing a cheap option at the gaping whole at first base and hoping it would stick. Fast forward to now, and Voit is cementing his place as an integral piece in the middle of Yankees’ lineup more and more with each passing day. As long as Voit’s elite pitch recognition and selective aggressiveness remain intact, expect this Cinderella story to continue.