When Luke Voit burst onto the scene last year, he immediately solved what had become a pretty significant problem for the Yankees: lack of production at first base. From 2016-18, the Yanks were as bad as any team in baseball at first base, hitting .230/.306/.426 (95 wRC+) in over 2,000 at-bats. That’s… not good at all. About as bad as it gets, actually.
In any case, Voit—who, in case you forgot, was acquired for Chasen Shreve—was anything but that. He hit .333/.405/.689 (194 wRC+) with 14 home runs in 148 plate appearances for the Yankees down the stretch after the deadline and just smashed the ball at every opportunity. This year, he’s hitting .255/.374/.490 (131 wRC+) and continuing to smash the ball. I don’t think I’ve ever been as pleasantly surprised by any player as I have been with Voit. What a find he was.
But despite the promising signs and otherworldly production (seriously, Voit was the best hitter in baseball after the deadline), he did have one glaring weakness: he could not hit high-velocity fastballs from right-handers.
Seriously, check this out. Voit’s numbers vs. all RHP fastballs, RHP FB less than 95 mph, and RHP FB 95 mph or faster (league averages for righties in parentheses):
|All RHP FB||.276 (.259)||.483 (.195)||.558 (.348)|
|RHP FB<95mph||.462 (.275)||.846 (.226)||.800 (.373)|
|RHP FB>95mph||.154 (.236)||.231 (.144)||.377 (.309)|
Of course, the sample size here was tiny—truly tiny. I mean, he only had 148 PA as a Yankee. But a quick look at this shows that pitchers could not get Voit out with slower fastballs and he could barely make contact on high-velocity fastballs. He swung-and-missed on nearly half of all swings on such pitches (45%).
The eye-test backed this up, too. Voit often looked overmatched against high-velocity righties. Here’s some video from last September, when Voit was otherwise playing at an MVP level.
Completely overmatched. (Granted, I know these are two strikeouts and everyone strikes out, but the hard data backs this up.) Even in a short sample, that was worrisome in the age of high-velocity pitching, and threatened to render him useless late in games as good teams throw out reliever after reliever capable of pumping 95.
Boston evidently noticed, and they had a clear game plan to continually threw fastballs up and in to Voit during last year’s ALDS, and he struggled accordingly.
All of this added up to a trend worth watching coming into 2019. While it’s still early from a statistical standpoint, Voit has clearly improved in this area. He just continues to prove that he can make adjustments and is so much more than a late season fluke. Take a look at his figures this year:
|All RHP FB||.291 (.263)||.215 (.184)||.441 (.350)|
|RHP FB<95mph||.271 (.273)||.167 (.198)||.436 (.362)|
|RHP FB>95mph||.320 (.249)||.280 (.162)||.431 (.324)|
Quite a difference. This season, he’s come back down to earth on slower fastballs (but still above average) while crushing the hard stuff. He looks more comfortable, too. That’s not easy to do, but it’s a big reason why Voit’s production has carried over into 2019. It’s too early still to draw any definitive conclusions, but it’s something worth watching throughout the rest of the year.
Voit has always had the batted ball data on his side, ranking near the top of the league in hard-hit percentage and barrels per plate appearance. The analytics have always loved him. Now it seems like he may have plugged one of his major offensive weaknesses—and that is good news for the Yankees, and bad news for everyone else.