Luke Voit Is Having a MomentTony Wolfeon August 27, 2020 at 5:15 pm

To look at the New York Yankees roster, as is typically the case, is to gaze upon a dizzying number of potential star hitters. But as the last couple of seasons have shown us, the roster of players in the Yankees organization doesn’t often match up with the guys they actually have available to take the field. In 2019, the team had a large chunk of its starting rotation and lineup on the IL by the second week of the regular season, and the problem never got much better. Giancarlo Stanton, Aaron Judge, Aaron Hicks, Didi Gregorius and others all missed substantial time during the season.

The injury bug has continued to bite them in 2020, with Stanton back on the IL alongside Gleyber Torres and DJ LeMahieu while Judge only recently returned from missing time himself. In spite of all of this, the team has remained extremely competitive thanks to the contributions of role players who have consistently stepped into the spotlight. Last year it was Gio Urshela and Mike Tauchman leading the charge in keeping the Yankees afloat. This year, the man stealing the spotlight is Luke Voit.

After appearing in 118 games for the Yankees last season, Voit has secured the job as the team’s starting first baseman in 2020. The longer he plays, the harder it is for the Yankees to justify handing his spot in the lineup over to someone else. Voit has seemed to get hotter each week he’s been on the field — over the Yankees’ first 14 games, he carried an OPS of .816. Over their next seven, he had an OPS of .945. Last week, he began to go berserk, going 8-for-20 over his last six games with six homers, three walks and three strikeouts.

He started his most recent tear by clubbing two homers in a game against the Red Sox last Monday:

The next day, he homered off Blake Snell:

The day after that, he went oppo against Tyler Glasnow:

Then there was this blast off of John Curtiss:

Finally, on Wednesday against the Braves, Voit made it five straight games with a home run, breaking up a no-hitter and shutout by Ian Anderson in the sixth:

Those last two clips came in back-to-back Yankees games, but they took place nearly a week apart. Their weekend series against the Mets was postponed due to positive COVID-19 tests — the second time this year the team has had a series punted as a result of coronavirus concerns in the other dugout. Then they were rained out on Tuesday, necessitating a doubleheader against the Braves on Wednesday that began a difficult stretch of 22 games in 20 days for a Yankees team that currently occupies second place in the AL East, trailing Tampa Bay by 2 1/2 games. With that in mind, it’s time to examine the team’s hottest hitter and his performance.

It would be a lie to claim this stretch is coming out of thin air. Voit started mashing the second he got to New York in a trade from the Cardinals back in 2018. That year he played 39 games in New York and hit .333/.405/.689 with 14 homers. He cooled off a bit from that pace with more regular playing time last year, but he still accomplished a .263/.378/.464 line with 21 homers and a 126 wRC+. Statcast metrics liked him quite a bit as well, placing his xwOBA in the 82nd percentile and his xSLG in the 74th percentile. This year, however, Voit hasn’t just been a sneaky-great hitter with pop and patience at the plate. He’s been one of the game’s preeminent sluggers.

Luke Voit’s 2020 Offensive Ranks
Metric Value Rank
BA .300 T-25th
SLG .725 1st
ISO .425 1st
wRC+ 190 1st
Metric Value Percentile
xBA .313 96th
xSLG .701 99th
xwOBA .442 98th
Barrel% 20.0% 99th

Every one of these numbers represents a career-best, edging out even his outlandish 2018 season. But to achieve this, he’s certainly compromising on other aspects of his game. Voit’s walk rate, up to 13.9% last season, has nosedived to just 7.9%, while his strikeout rate has risen a tick. He’s also upped his swing rate by more than four points from last season, is chasing more pitches, and is whiffing even more than he already was — he had the sixth-highest swinging strike rate in 2019 at 15.8%, and he has raised that to 15.9% this season.

But the quality of contact he’s making so far has made those sacrifices worth it. Look at his radial chart from this season (bottom) next to 2019’s (top) and see how he’s gotten even better at clustering his batted balls right where a hitter wants to.

Voit was already very good at producing line drives and utilizing launch angle. This season, however, he’s raised his game even further. According to our batted ball data, his fly ball rate is 11 points higher than last season, while his line drive rate is two points higher. According to Statcast’s data, his line drive rate is up more than 14 points, while his fly ball rate is actually down five points. Regardless of which measure you prefer, the one consistent truth is that Voit is lifting the ball more. His average launch angle this season is 21.2 degrees, more than eight degrees higher than what he had last season.

We can assume that Voit will eventually cool off — or at least, cease hitting the ball exponentially harder each week — especially with the burdensome stretch the Yankees are about to embark on. But that doesn’t mean his new standing as an elite power bat is smoke and mirrors. Voit hits the ball very hard and seems to have a real, repeatable knack for catching the ball in the right spot with his bat. His power is threatening, and as we observed above, it isn’t limited just to his pull-side. Here are the landing spots for all of Voit’s 32 homers since the start of the 2019 season.

As convenient as it would be to wrap up this story by saying Voit’s recent surge is the key to the Yankees’ success, that just wouldn’t be fair. Even with all the injuries they’ve dealt with, they’re still fourth in the majors in team wRC+. They have Judge back now, and he was essentially the same hitter Voit is before hitting the IL. Urshela and Tauchman are still mashing, Clint Frazier has gotten off to a great start, and even Gary Sánchez has started to shake out the cobwebs lately. The Yankees didn’t need another superstar slugger to emerge in order for them to remain an intimidating force in the playoff hunt, but it appears they got one anyway.
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