Luke Voit’s Resurgence
By Chris O’Connor
August 29, 2021
*All stats through Friday’s games
Luke Voit (as he recently noted to the media) is a player that has been excellent for the Yankees since coming over to the team in a mid-season trade from the St. Louis Cardinals in 2018. In 259 games with the Yankees, Voit has slashed .277/.368/.526 with 65 home runs, 176 RBI’s, and an OPS+ of 139. He has, of course, suffered through a number of injuries in a difficult 2021 and was never a plus defender. That led to the trade for Anthony Rizzo, and while Voit’s frustration is understandable, the Yankees can not (and did not) let emotions cloud the fact it would be difficult to rely on Voit to stay on the field (let alone bounce back to 2020 levels) for the rest of the season. If he can not stay healthy and productive, the Rizzo trade fills a much-needed hole. If he can, having too many good bats is a good problem to have.
While Rizzo appears locked into the first base spot due to his superior defense and left-handed bat, Voit can still play a big role for the team down the stretch and, if the Yankees qualify, in the playoffs. The Yankees are known for proactively resting position players, so Voit will certainly get some playing time at first base. And, with Giancarlo Stanton building up his outfield legs, Voit could become the full-time DH in the playoffs.
For now, I wanted to take a look at how Voit has performed so far in 2021 and how he has changed as a player since coming to the Yankees in 2018.
Voit’s 2021 performance on the surface is decent, if unspectacular. In 45 games, he has slashed .264/.348/.460 with 8 home runs and 29 RBI’s for a WRC+ of 124.
Voit went on an absolute tear in the second half of 2018 with 14 home runs and a 195 WRC+ in 39 games with the Yankees, but that was driven by an unsustainable .380 BABIP. Since his first full-season breakout in 2019, Voit has become more aggressive at the plate. In 2019, he was driven by a patient approach that led him to swing just 47.4% of the time and saw his walk rate spike to 13.9%. In the two years since, his swing rate has settled in around 52% and his walk rate around 8%.
The interesting thing about Voit is that his batted ball profile has not changed drastically: while his fly ball rate is up to 39.4% over the last two seasons after sitting at 34.7% in 2019, his ground ball rate, pull rate, and opposite field rate are virtually unchanged. Subjectively, it appears to me that Voit has a terrific eye but has made the conscious choice to eschew walks in favor of a more aggressive approach at the plate. I think that the best hitters in the game are capable of adjusting and adopting different approaches at the plate, and Voit’s league-leading home run in 2020 and current hot-streak are evidence of his success in it.
Speaking of Voit’s hot streak: he has only started to get going when it appears that he is fully recovered from offseason meniscus surgery. Voit made his season debut and played through the All-Star break, but he really struggled. Through the All-Star break, Voit was slashing .244/.328/.370 with 3 home runs in 29 games. I originally thought that the main culprit here was that he was never able to get his timing right as he was constantly swinging and missing: his 62.1% contact rate during that time would rank dead last in the majors if he had enough plate appearances to qualify. He then went back on the injured list to give his ailing knee more time to recover, all of which led to the trade for Anthony Rizzo.
Since he returned from the injured list on August 8, he has not looked back. In 17 games since, he has slashed .309/.387/.636 with 5 home runs and 18 RBI’s. His contact rate is actually down to 60.6% during that stretch, but he has simply mashed with a 51.4% hard-hit rate. In my opinion, Voit is leaning into a more 2021-like approach: he looks like he is swinging with more of an uppercut and is making less contact than ever, but he is elevating the ball in the air and mashing it when he does make contact.
Luke Voit has now been on the Yankees for 3 ½ years and his breakout upon joining the team has been one of the most shocking and fascinating developments in recent years. While he has every right to be disappointed in the Rizzo trade, that was a trade that the team had to make if the goal is to win a World Series in 2021.
For Voit’s sake, Giancarlo Stanton needs to stay healthy and upright in the outfield so that he can cede DH duties to Luke for the stretch run and into the playoffs. A fully healthy and mashing Luke Voit is too good to leave out of the lineup and someone who can play a major role in the Yankees march to 28.