Stop me if you’ve heard this before: several key members of the Yankees’ lineup are hurt all at once. Last year’s defining storyline is showing no sign of abetting in 2020. Aaron Judge is out for an indefinite amount of time with a stress fracture in his rib. Giancarlo Stanton is sidelined until mid-April with a strained right calf. And now there is a mysterious new back injury for Gary Sánchez, severity TBD. While the timelines and severity of each injury varies, one thing is clear: the Yankees will need all the offensive firepower they can get, especially in the early days of the season.
That’s where the middle-of-the-order force everyone has forgotten about comes in. It’s easy to forget about Luke Voit! After all, Voit all but disappeared in the second half of last year thanks to injuries. He did not come to the plate against Minnesota in the ALDS, of course. He did not make the ALCS roster against Houston, either. It was a rapid descent – nearly as rapid as his 2018 rise – and that’s why fans are overlooking him. No more! Injuries should thrust him back into the spotlight – and the good news is that he’ll likely be ready to step up once again. It’s all he’s ever done as a Yankee, actually.
First, remember that pre-injury Voit was legitimately one of the Yankees’ best hitters in 2019. He hurt his abdominal muscle in June’s London Series and was not the same after that. Prior to the injury, though, he was a monster. Here are his stats and 1B rankings prior to that series:
- Batting Average: .280 (6th in MLB, 2nd in AL)
- On-Base-Percentage: .393 (4th in MLB, 2nd in AL)
- Slugging Percentage: .409 (11th in MLB, 5th in AL)
- Walk Rate: 14.0%, (7th in MLB, 4th in AL)
- wRC+: 140 (7th in MLB, 3rd in AL)
- fWAR: 1.8 (10th in MLB, 4th in AL)
This includes a torrid April .275/.392/.523 (144 wRC+), during which time he buoyed an injury-plagued Yankees lineup. (Sound familiar?) The injury changed all that. It’s true that he struggled in the second half – he was barely the same hitter – but we also know that his injury was much, much worse than we originally thought.
In an interview with The Athletic’s Lindsey Adler (subs req’d), Voit opened up about his offseason surgery and the injury itself. It was not pretty. He revealed that he’d “torn everything” in his bilateral core area, which impacted his “abdominals, hip flexors and groin muscles.” Ouch. Obviously, that injury impacted his explosiveness and ability to drive the ball at the plate. It was evident from watching him, too. He was not the same and now we know why.
However, as I noted while reviewing his season, there are still plenty of signs that Voit remains a ferocious hitter at the plate. Look at his underlying peripherals in the second half, even with that injury:
- Average Exit Velocity: 91.1 mph
- Average Launch Angle: 15.7 degrees
- Hard Hit Percentage: 47%
- Chase Percentage: 21.3%
- Walk Rate: 14%
He hit the ball hard, into the air, laid off bad pitches, and drew walks. The batted ball profile suggests he was a bit unlucky, but it’s the last two points that are most important. Even while hurt, a batter retains control over pitch selection and how to attack the ball. Voit, who is patient, remained the same hitter during his injury. It was just the outcomes that changed – and the injury is clearly a big reason why.
In other words, there is cause to believe that a fully-healthy Voit will once again be a force in the middle of the order. In fact, he hit cleanup a week ago when the Yankees rolled out what will likely be their Opening Day lineup. A sign if ever there was one.
While his regular season successes tell a more complete tale, it’s worth mentioning that Voit has looked himself this spring. He’s hitting .296/.345/.444 (8 for 27 with 2 walks in 9 appearances) in the Grapefruit League so far. It is flying under the radar, sure, but it’s still true. Voit is having a lot of success so far. He even hit his first home run of the spring the other day. Check it out:
[iframe src=”https://streamable.com/m/luke-voit-s-first-spring-home-run” width=”100%” height=”300″]
I don’t ever read anything into Grapefruit League performance, but it’s certainly encouraging to see him looking like himself at the plate after last year’s devastating injury. I’ll take that over having to rationalize a struggling Voit, that’s for sure.
Voit, unheralded or not, was always going to be a mainstay in the Yankee lineup in 2020. He has earned that spot by now. Even with his rough half last year, he’s a .280/.384/.517 (141 wRC+) hitter with 35 home runs in just about 650 NYY plate appearances. That’s MVP-level production over a full season, essentially. In other words, there is every reason to believe in Luke Voit – and now that the injury bug is once more baring its teeth and decimating the Yankee lineup, that sure is good news.