The powerful first baseman’s hot streak could be just that, or maybe the start of the New York Yankees’ next great first baseman.
No New York Yankees fan thought Luke Voit would prove to be the answer at first base. Even though he was acquired from the St. Louis Cardinals for his bat, limited MLB experience at age 27 was enough to question his potential.
The Missouri native went from batting .182 in eight games with the Cardinals this year to become the Yankees’ late-season answer at first base. With Greg Bird struggling yet again, Voit has slugged 12 home runs with the Yankees. He is batting .319 with 13 home runs and 33 RBI and is batted an impressive .314 since putting on the pinstripes.
Granted, the sample size is small and I even penned an article explaining why not to give up on Bird, but the numbers don’t lie. Even staunch Bird defenders like myself are second-guessing the idea that he’s our first baseman of the future. Could the Luke Voit we’re seeing now be one the Yankees can rely on for years to come?
Beginner's luck...or not?
Now, before we dive into the numbers, Luke Voit was NOT just some random prospect the Yankees got from St. Louis. Chasen Shreve and Giovanny Gallegos were traded for Voit for one reason. The team needed right-handed power after star slugger Aaron Judge broke his wrist on July 26, and Voit was acquired the very next day.
And it’s obvious why general manager Brian Cashman was intrigued by Voit, who batted .327 with 13 homers and 50 RBI for the Triple-A Memphis Redbirds last year. Voit also posted those numbers in just 74 games, so the potential for more power was there.
Simply put, Voit has exceeded expectations in the Bronx. His BABIP sits at .350. His medium contact rate is at 44 percent and his hard contact sits at 46.2 percent. Voit’s fly ball rate (FB%) is at 35.9 percent and his home run to fly ball ratio is at 36.4 percent.
Voit’s numbers suggest great luck across his 124 at-bats as a Yankee, but there’s no denying the truth. He has become a folk hero amongst the fans. His little bunny-hop following a home run swing draws memories of Sammy Sosa.
The love from the fans is real. I even started shouting “Use the force, Luke!” after each of his home runs. Luke Voit truly is a New York Yankees folk hero. Hopefully, his story has a happier ending than another Yankees cult phenomenon.
The Shane Spencer correlation
Dateline, New York. The year was 1998. Steven Spielberg’s Saving Private Ryan was on its way to grossing over $216.5 million at the box office. I, on the other hand, was 12 years old and watching the Yankees wrap up a record-setting season that would end not only with winning the World Series, but winning 125 total games.
In what seemed like an unseasonably warm September, with clinching the AL East an inevitability, manager Joe Torre gave more playing time to 26-year-old outfield prospect Shane Spencer. Little did either man know a folk hero was about to be born.
Spencer earned his opportunity by hitting .322 with 18 home runs at Triple-A Columbus, and he looked mildly impressive in a handful of appearances in June and August. In September, however, people started paying attention.
That’s because in 14 games that month, Spencer hit an astounding .422 with eight homers and 21 RBI. Of those eight, three were grand slams he hit in just over a week’s time.
Naturally, like every other young fan, I jumped on the Shane Spencer bandwagon full force. He was our left fielder of the future. He was destined to become a Yankee great in the same vein as Mickey Mantle. This was all going to continue, right?
Boy, how wrong I and a lot of people were. Spencer never rose above a reserve role with the Yankees and only hit 33 home runs the following four years. He split 2003 with the Cleveland Indians and Texas Rangers and played his last MLB season with the New York Mets in 2004. Just as quickly as the promise arrived, it disappeared in what seemed like the blink of an eye.
Fun as Luke Voit is to watch, Yankee fans should view Shane Spencer’s story as a cautionary tale. For all we know, this could be the best we see out of Voit. With Bird’s numbers pointing more to bad luck than declining skill, let’s not set ourselves up for disappointment.
Now, even though Greg Bird deserves a shot at reclaiming his job next year, that doesn’t mean Luke Voit should be tossed aside at season’s end. Rather, he should be kept around so he can truly compete with Bird to be the starting first baseman in 2019.
If he has a great spring and Bird struggles again, then the solution is right there. Voit is the guy at first base and should be treated as such while everyone hopes the strong spring carries into the regular season. If he struggles and Bird wins out, then there’s already an excellent platoon situation where Voit can play against lefties.
The point is this: Luke Voit has done a great job during his short Yankees tenure and should continue playing first base into the postseason. New York is at a point where great as Bird can be, the one with the hot bat has to be in the lineup daily. That man right now just happens to be Luke Voit.
However, fans also have to think realistically. Five fantastic weeks is just not enough time to measure the effectiveness of a hitter. For all we know, Voit could just be on the hottest of hot streaks.
It is for that reason nobody should get excited yet. As was seen with Spencer, hot streaks end quickly, and Voit’s is no exception.
Still, with how he’s playing, he has no doubt earned a second look in 2019.