Analysis

Luke Voit: Last Man Standing, Slugger Extraordinaire

You don’t figure out Luke Voit. He figures out you.

If this 2019 season has taught us anything, it’s that you never doubt Brian Cashman.

Before April even flipped to May, the veteran General Manager saw an unthinkable number of his superstars pull a muscle, tear a ligament, or absorb some other kind of significant injury. By the time Aaron Judge had to saunter over to the bench, and subsequently the Injured List, after straining his oblique during an April 21 bout against the Royals, Cashman had already witnessed thirteen other Bombers suffer similar fates that currently sidelined them, including Giancarlo Stanton, Aaron Hicks, Gary Sanchez, Miguel Andujar, Didi Gregorius, Troy Tulowitzki, Greg Bird, Dellin Betances, Luis Severino, CC Sabathia, Ben Heller, Jordan Montgomery, and (of course) Jacoby Ellsbury. At one point, the Yankees’ total of 30+ WAR on the IL bested the previous “record” held by the Nationals by over 10 WAR!

As you most likely have noticed, however, Cashman’s Yankees haven’t missed a beat. Heading into the club’s May 30-June 2 series against the Red Sox, the Bronx Bombers are sitting pretty in first place in the AL East at 36-19, holding a slim 1-game lead over the innovative Tampa Bay Rays and a much more comfortable 7.5-game lead over their World Champion northeast rivals.

A feat as herculean as the one we’ve witnessed takes more than one person, as we all know, which makes Cashman’s maneuvers all the more impressive. The improvement and/or rebounds from young standouts such as Gleyber Torres, Gary Sanchez, Domingo German, Clint Frazier, and Thairo Estrada, the contributions of new faces such as DJ Lemahieu, Gio Urshela, James Paxton, Cameron Maybin, and Mike Tauchman, the continued productivity of veterans such as Masahiro Tanaka and Brett Gardner, and the superlative dominance of the Yankees bullpen are all important to note and all of the above have Cashman’s fingerprints on their Yankee baseball cards, but there’s one notable Cashman darling who doesn’t fit into any of these classifications.

As a 28-year-old, Luke Voit can’t be considered a “young standout” anymore. After playing in 47 spectacular games with the Yankees last year, he can’t be considered a new face. With only 163 career games under his belt, he can’t even be considered a veteran. Despite the relative ambiguity around Voit’s rare profile, however, one thing has become absolutely clear: the dude can rake.

Considering that you’ve already found your way to this site and this article, I probably don’t have to remind you how dominant Voit was after emerging from relative obscurity. But I will anyway. Acquired from the Cardinals in exchange for relievers Chasen Shreve and Gio Gallegos, many fans were initially perplexed by the acquisition of Voit, especially with the oft-injured Greg Bird finally healthy and itching to prove himself.

After nine solid days at Triple-A Scranton-Wilkes Barre, Voit was called up and quickly showed the world exactly why he was acquired by the clever Cashman, raking to the tune of .322/.398/.671 (AVG/OBP/SLG) across 161 plate appearances, which was good for a wRC+ of 187 (in other words, production 87% better than the average hitter) and 1.9 WAR.

There are no two ways about it: Voit had a spectacular Pinstriped debut. The question that remained for many, however: is this sustainable? The easy answer, of course, was no. Voit’s 2018 OPS of 1.069 was good for third in all of baseball, behind only the 2018 MVP Mookie Betts and the immortal Mike Trout. His 15 home runs across the season’s final two months, in fact, made him a popular comparable to Kevin Maas, the former Yankees first baseman who exploded for 21 homers across 79 games in 1990 only to fade into irrelevance by 1992. It was never a matter of if Voit would regress, but one of how much he would and whether the “true talent” Voit was worthy of the superstardom that New York City quickly gifted the down-to-earth big man.

Now that we’re a third of the way through the 2019 season, we can now accurately answer the questions that so ominously hovered over the former 22nd-rounder’s head (and now clean-shaven face) throughout the winter. True Talent Voit is indeed not of a Troutian 187 wRC+, but even so, has arguably been the Yankees’ most consistent hitter in 2019, and he’s done that by cultivating his profile in a much more sustainable manner.

With 241 plate appearances in the rearview mirror, Voit’s production now stands at a .262/.378/.515 line, which equates to a wRC+ of 137. Pitchers were never going to let Voit repeat his vicious pace of 9.5 at-bats per home run, and Voit and recognized that and has used it to his advantage. After walking and striking out at rates of 10.6% and 26.7%, respectively, in 2018, Voit’s skillset implied that he was a moderately disciplined hitter, albeit one that struck out more than you’d like. Thus far in 2019, however, Voit has accomplished the neat trick of swinging more, yet walking more and striking out less. How has he done that? By picking his spots and focusing on squaring up the baseball.

Luke Voit Plate Discipline

Statistic (Change)20182019
Chase Rate29%24% (-5%)
In-Zone Swing Rate72%78% (+6%)
Walk Rate10.6%13.3% (+2.7%)
Strikeout Rate26.7%22.4% (-4.3%)
Meatball Swing Rate83%93% (+10%)

(Source: Fangraphs and Baseball Savant)

This season, Voit is swinging at strikes more while also swinging at non-strikes less. Suddenly, the Mississippi native is now walking more than all but 24 hitters while only striking out at a league average rate. An interesting detail in his profile is that he’s making just about the same amount of contact (from 69% in ‘18 to 70% in ‘19) despite making contact with pitches in the zone much more (75% to 80%) and making contact with pitches out of the zone much less (56% to 46%). I actually consider both the former and the latter at least somewhat promising developments as, aside from two-strike counts, do you actually want to hit that slider that’s two feet off the plate for an easy out?

The final statistic on the chart, Meatball Swing Rate, is a Statcast statistic that only tracks balls right down the middle, and it functions as the perfect representation of Voit’s improvement as a hitter. Although he’s become less prone to chase unproductive pitches that lead to unproductive outs, Voit won’t let you sneak anything past him early in the count, and although he hasn’t been able to replicate the superhuman power he displayed in a limited sample last year, he’s still in the top 15 of “barreling” up baseballs that he puts into play (as per Baseball Savant), so he remains a major power threat.

All in all, Luke Voit hasn’t repeated the otherworldly pace at which he burst onto the New York and national baseball scenes, but as we’ve seen, he hasn’t needed to. While he isn’t blasting one over the wall every other day, he’s continued to improve his approach so that he remains relevant for much longer than a couple of seasons. With the most games played, the most plate appearances, the second-highest wRC+, and the highest high-leverage wRC+ on the Yankees, Louis Linwood Voit III has filled in admirably for his injured brothers in crime. Although he may not get as much attention when the team is finally close to fully healthy, his impact won’t be forgotten as he has all but cemented his place as one of the most valuable acquisitions of recent memory made by the legendary Brian Cashman. Who knows, this autumn’s World Series victory parade may just be serenaded by lengthy exclamations of ‘Luuuuuuuuke.’
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Featured Photo: Luke Voit celebrating. Credit: Julio Cortez, AP.

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