The New York Yankees need to make the hard decision to keep Luke Voit inactive for the upcoming playoff season.
This is an odd statement, at least at face value. After all, the rules of baseball are pretty simple. A team is allowed 25 active players at one time, rosters expand to as many as 40 in September (at least for this year), and the number shrinks back to 25 for the playoffs.
Moreover, Voit has been a decent contributor in 2019. The burly first baseman has 19 home runs and 54 RBI to go with a slash line of .274/.388/.481. With the Yankees at 93-50, second only behind the Houston Astros for the best record in baseball, all signs should point to Voit being on the postseason roster.
At least, this was the plan earlier in the summer. Voit suffered a sports hernia over the summer and missed a month of action. He was one of over 20 players New York sent to the injured list this season.
Voit recently returned to the lineup on Aug. 30 and results have not been ideal. He has hit just .222 since his return, with no home runs or RBI.
Given the importance of the playoffs, and barring a sudden hot streak, it’s best if Voit spends the playoffs getting healthy and watching from the bench.
A streaky folk hero
No Yankees fan expected Luke Voit to be the everyday first baseman in 2019. He was acquired in a trade with the St. Louis Cardinals last year, and he basically rode a hot month into the starting first baseman’s job. Voit hit .333 with 14 home runs and 33 RBI as a Yankee, with ten of his homers coming in September.
Memories of Shane Spencer came flooding back and I even cautioned Voit could be just that: a solid hitter, but a streaky one.
Voit’s 2019 season has confirmed this. He hit .275 across March and April, then slumped to a .233 mark in May. He ran hot to hit .333 in June but came back down to Earth to hit a respectable .268 in July before getting injured.
Meanwhile, the Yankees went 21-8 in his absence and it was as though Voit never left. Prospect Mike Ford and MVP candidate DJ LeMahieu handled first base duties with ease.
However, with Luke Voit now struggling to get his timing back and other decisions looming, the Yankees need to be ready to have him sit out come October.
The Gio effect
Now, let’s talk about another injured Yankees infielder, third baseman Gio Urshela. He recently missed time with a groin strain and was activated off the injured list Sunday.
Some of you surely have questions. What does a third baseman, Urshela, have to do with a first baseman like Voit making the playoffs? In fact, is this an article about baseball or a thesis proving Greedo shot first instead of Han?
This is where things get complicated. Urshela has not only proven to be a solid defender at the hot corner this year but has also been deadly with the bat. The 27-year-old has broken out this season to the tune of hitting .331 with 18 home runs and 67 RBI, all career highs.
Throw in Didi Gregorius and Gleyber Torres also needing at-bats, and manager Aaron Boone is in quite the lineup-building pickle. Edwin Encarnacion and his 32 home runs make things even more complicated. Finding at-bats for Luke Voit or any infielder suddenly becomes tougher than playing three-dimensional chess.
Ride the hot hand
What’s a manager to do? Simple. Given how little time there is left in the season, and with New York having too many infielders, the best approach is for Boone to ride the hot hand for now and tinker accordingly come playoff time.
This isn’t to say Luke Voit should be benched for good and forced to watch the playoffs from the dugout. Keep in mind, Giancarlo Stanton doesn’t have a return date yet. If he can’t play, the DH spot opens up in the playoffs and both Encarnacion and Voit can take turns based on matchups.
DJ LeMahieu will slot in at first thanks to his strong infield defense at, oddly enough, the position at which he has played the worst this year. He has a defensive runs saved (DRS) of zero at fist and a UZR of -0.8, but Voit’s marks are even worse at -7 and -4.3.
Urshela, meanwhile, will remain at the hot corner. He and his 44.6% hard contact need to be in the lineup when the games matter.
But with Stanton inching closer to a return and Voit just looking lost at the plate, with only four walks compared to ten strikeouts since coming back, the decision may soon be easy.
And even if current trends hold, Boone’s life won’t get any easier. This is the point of the season where regulars need to be rested for October, lest the Yankees feel like risking another injury to an important player. For all we know, Voit’s postseason fate might already be decided regardless of how he performs down the stretch.
But between his slow return back and the risk of his sports hernia flaring up again, the Yankees can’t afford to wait. The rest of the infield besides Voit is too good for someone to just draw the short straw in October.
Thus, better if the Yankees leave Voit off the playoff roster, at least for the first round. Adding him would probably mean benching Gio Urshela and it’s just too hard to justify that. Given the unpredictability of the pitching staff, not to mention Voit’s own streaky nature, only the best hitters should play.
Strong as Luke Voit has been at points, he sadly isn’t among this group. Not when it matters at least.
Unless he turns it on and someone else slumps down the stretch, the Yankees simply can’t afford to risk starting him in the playoffs.
Otherwise, New York could risk yet another early playoff exit instead of celebrating a 28th World Series win.