The Yankees, as of last October, have around 20 analysts employed in their front office, per Marc Carig and Eno Sarris of The Athletic (subs req’d). The next closest American League team employs 15 (Houston) and only Los Angeles has as many. In other words, the Yanks invest more capital and staffing into their analytical department than nearly any other franchise in the league—and Yankee fans should be extremely grateful for that. After all, without them, Luke Voit would likely still be in St. Louis.
The Yankees analytical staff had their eye on Voit since at least 2017, with Cashman saying that “[my staff] were all pushing his name hard” and that “he was somebody on our radar.” At last year’s deadline, they traded Gio Gallegos and Chasen Shreve for Voit, who proceeded to hit .333/.405/.689 (194 wRC+) with 14 home runs in 148 plate appearances for the Yankees down the stretch. A small sample size, but one buoyed by an elite batted ball profile that suggested that Voit might, in fact, be the real deal. Let’s take a look at what he’s done so far.
His performance in early 2019 continues to bolster his case, and he’s quickly becoming a fan favorite in New York. He’s hitting .276/.388/.551 (149 wRC+) with 8 home runs in the early going, walking 13% of the time and carrying a depleted and decimated Yankee lineup. In fact, as Mike noted last night, Voit is 11-27 (.407) with a .483 OBP in the six games since Judge went down. He has four home runs in that span, including one last night.
Here’s how Voit stacks up against the 31 qualified first basemen:
- Batting Average: .276 (12th)
- On-Base Percentage: .388 (8th)
- Slugging Percentage: .551 (10th)
- Home Runs: 8 (tied for 3rd)
- wOBA: .396 (7th)
- wRC+: 149 (8th)
- fWAR: 9 (tied for 6th)
Voit is essentially in the top third in every relevant offensive category for his position this year after being the game’s best trade deadline acquisition last year. His average is climbing, he gets on base, he hits for power, he is good relative to his peers, and his expected stats are solid. Not bad for a guy nobody had heard twelve months ago, is it?
Still, though, this is only just about 100 plate appearances. That’s still not a lot (even when counting the 150 from 2018) and it’s still possible that there is a lot of small sample size noise. To really get a sense of what’s driving Voit’s success, we’ll need to take a deeper dive into his batted ball profile.
Batted Ball Profile and Approach
One of Statcast’s most useful statistics is the “barrel”, which is a term for the optimal batted ball event. In other words, it’s the best outcome a hitter can produce at the plate: it means he hit the ball hard and at the right angle. In 2016, for example, players hit .822 with a 2.386 slugging percentage on barrels.
201 players have put at least 50 balls in play (batted ball event, or BBE) in 2019 so far, and only three of them (Pete Alonso, Anthony Rendon, and Franmil Reyes) have produced more barrels per plate appearance than Luke Voit (13.5%). When it comes to converting BBEs into the optimal outcome, only Alonso is better. Just over a 5th of every ball Luke Voit puts into play is a barrel. That seems good!
What’s really encouraging about these figures is that they align with what he produced in 2018. Last year, Voit led baseball in barrels per plate appearance after the trade deadline (among batters with at least 100 BBE), hitting a barrel 12.4% of the time. Luke Voit hits the ball really hard and he does it at the right angle. Put simply, that suggests that there is much more to Voit’s success than a small sample size. In fact, Voit’s average exit velocity ranks in the 85th percentile in the league. If, somehow, you’re still on the fence about Voit, just remember: you can’t fake hitting the ball hard.
In fact, that’s exactly why Voit’s expected stats rank near the top of the league. Again, courtesy of Statcast:
Voit’s expected batting average, expected weighted on-base percentage and expected slugging percentage rank in the 72nd, 94th, and 95th percentile of the league this year respectively. What that tells you is that he’s not getting lucky on the balls he puts into play and that, in fact, his batted ball profile suggests he could even be a bit better than what he’s actually produced in 2019. The underlying data loves Luke Voit. It really does.
Finally, Voit has a good approach at the plate. He swings at fewer balls out of the zone (26%) than league average (30%) and he attacks the ball in the zone, swinging at 78% of all strikes he sees. Voit is aggressive but manages to lay off pitches out of the zone. That’s exactly what you want, even if he’s a bit below average when it comes to making contact. Good things happen when you swing at strikes and lay off the junk.
This is what the Yankees front office saw in Luke Voit at the time of the trade, though MiLB batted ball data is proprietary. We can’t see it. They believed Voit had the profile of someone poised for a breakout, a diamond in the rough. I think it’s safe to say that they hit a home run with this one, no matter what he does in the rest of his career. You can’t take away those plate appearances. They happened and they have helped the Yankees.
It can sometimes be easy to forget, as a Yankee fan who interacts with mostly other Yankee fans, why the rest of the country and league despise the Yankees. It’s not just that they haven’t been bad in 25 years or that they have the most championships in league history. That’s a big reason why, of course, but there’s more than that.
It’s because when they trade a minor prospect and worst reliever in their pen for a first basemen nobody has heard of, that first basemen turns around and hits .309/.398/.630 (174 wRC+) with 22 homers and 30 extra base hits in 264 plate appearances. Factor in the injuries the Yankees have faced during the end of 2018 and early going in 2019, and you can easily make the case that Luke Voit (!) has been the key cog in the Yankees offensive machine, keeping them alive. That’s why people hate the Yankees.