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Ford vs. Voit – The Battle for First

There are only so many at bats and the Yankees have more starting quality players than they can field every day so there are going to be some interesting battles for playing time in 2020. Earlier today, I looked at how the Yankees will try to share time between eight players across a host of positions. For me, no position battle is more interesting than the one for playing time at first base between Luke Voit and Mike Ford.

I’m not totally objective in this analysis because I am a big Mike Ford fan. For one, he went to my alma mater, but I do think there are reasons that this battle is interesting:

Both Ford and Voit were late bloomers. Ford made his first major league appearance in 2019 at the age of 27. Voit finally stuck in the majors in 2018 at the age of 26. And, of course, you always want to root for the underdog to finally achieve their lifelong dream. These are both underdogs.

Ford was a walk machine in the minors. He also didn’t strike out very much. He actually walked more than he struck out in 2016 and 2017. Stats geeks love walk machines.

Depending on how one looks at projections, Ford could actually be one of the Yankees best hitters.

Let’s look at how they compare:

Strikeouts

Ford only struck out 17.2% of the time in his first appearance in the bigs last year (163 plate appearances). Voit strikes out quite a bit (26.7% in 2018 and 27.8% in 2019).

Advantage: Mike Ford (by a lot)

Walks

Ford walked 10.4% of the time in 2019 which is lower than his average in the minors (13.2% in AAA). Voit walked 13.9% in 2019. He seems to look like a much scarier hitter which may account for this. Or it could be more experience in the majors (he only walked 10.6% in 2018).

Advantage: Luke Voit (by a hair)

Exit Velocity

Ford’s exit velocity was 91.9 in 2019. Voit’s average exit velocity was 93.0 in 2018. I’m ignoring the 89.7 Voit put up in 2019 because he was injured.

Advantage: Tie

Hard Hits

Ford hit 45.6% of balls hard in 2019. Voit had a 54% hard hit rate in 2018 (down to 40.4% in the injured 2019 season).

Advantage: Luke Voit

Isolated Power

(Isolated power is slugging percentage minus batting average.)

Ford’s isolated power was .301 in 2019 (he was at .303 in the minors at AAA). Voit’s isolated power was a ludicrous Mike Troutian .350 in 2018 (down to .200 in 2019).

This is a tricky one. Ford generally hovered around .200 for most of his minor league career. He only became a monster in 2019. Whether a light switched on, or he did something different, or the ball was juiced, I have no idea. It could have just been luck.

My gut is that both of these guys are not going to be over .300 because only seven players were in 2019. I’m guessing their numbers will be between .225 and .275 with Voit a bit ahead of Ford.

Advantage: Luke Voit (by a hair)

Defense

Ford’s UZR/150 was -11.6 in the ridiculously small sample size of 217 innings. Voit is at -5.6 over 1,179.33 innings in his Major League career. Both of these guys seem to have the defensive skills of a top notch designated hitter.

Advantage: Sample sizes too small to tell, but neither look very good here

Conclusion

I think that Ford will be the slightly more productive (if less exciting) hitter in 2020. The difference in strikeout rate is huge. Ford’s numbers were depressed in 2019 because his BABIP (batting average on balls in play) was a meager .243 which is likely mostly attributable to bad luck (more balls hit at defenders, etc.). He should be close to a .300 hitter with a close to .400 on base percentage with some decent luck.

Of course, I come to this conclusion because I’m a Mike Ford homer and a low strikeout rate homer. Voit has forearms the size of tree trunks so there is that.

Aaron Boone has already announced that he thinks that Luke Voit will be the starting first baseman in 2020. So maybe this is already a done deal and Ford doesn’t even make the major league roster (if Andujar and/or LeMahieu is the backup first baseman). The Yankees shouldn’t sleep on Mike Ford. He might be the better player in the end.

Time will tell.

#LukeVoit #MikeFord

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