When PECOTA projections were released at Baseball Prospectus in February, I’m sure that I wasn’t the only one who was surprised to see Luke Voit projected to be a top-25 hitter in the entire sport this season. We all know what Voit did in the final month or so of the 2018 campaign, and when you look back on it, there were always going to be questions of whether it was repeatable or whether he was going to go down the same path as famed Yankee flash-in-the-pan Shane Spencer.
I think there can be a comfortable medium between one-hit wonder and top-25 hitter in baseball, so I decided to do a deep dive into Voit’s batted ball profile. I then compared him to his peers based on both his profile as well as his walk and strikeout rates to find some comparable hitters and try to answer whether a top-25 projection for Voit is realistic, too high, or too low.
To do this, I took the batted ball leaderboards from FanGraphs and imported them into R. I then looked at Voit’s batted ball profile from the minor leagues, considered by Yankees officials to be part of the reason why they wanted to acquire him. I calculated his minor league averages in Ground Ball%, Line Drive%, Fly Ball%, Pull%, Center%, and Opposite%, which can be found in the table below:
Note: I only looked at minor league seasons in which he had more than 100 plate appearances.
I created the column “Cent+Oppo%” because the Yankees seem to prefer right-handed hitters who have a center/opposite field tendency to make the best use of Yankee Stadium’s hitter-friendly right field. From there, I filtered the batted ball data looking for hitters that had a LD%, FB%, and a Cent+Oppo% greater than or equal to Voit’s minor league averages. After doing that, I further filtered the dataset by looking for hitters with a hard-hit rate greater than or equal to 44%. I used 44% as opposed to Voit’s actual 2018 mark of 47% to partly discount Voit primarily because his Soft% was so low, which is probably unsustainable going forward, so a shift of the percentages seem likely going forward. The results from the query are in the table below, with Voit’s 2018 numbers and minor league averages included at the bottom:
Note: Some figures were rounded during the R query and the table here has more precise figures, so they may be slightly below the average figures.
Hunter Dozier and a down year from Steven Souza Jr. excluded, this is a list of hitters ranging from pretty good to elite, including the best hitter in baseball in Mike Trout, so this looks like a strong list of hitters to be compared to. While this doesn’t mean that Voit will perform like these players, it does have significance in that Voit’s minor league batted ball profile compares to some of the top hitters in all of baseball, suggesting maybe Voit won’t be just a flash-in-the-pan after all. There are other factors that aren’t being taken into consideration here, such as K% or BB%, and they certainly matter, but I’m only looking at batted ball profile here. If we do look at Voit’s strikeout rate and walk rate for his career, he never put up bad numbers in those categories, and in fact they were rather encouraging numbers for the type of hitter he is.
In minor league seasons in which he had greater than 100 plate appearances, he never struck out at more than a 20.3% rate and never walked at less than an 8.2% rate, and he had an average strikeout rate of 17.4% and an average walk rate of 10.6%. Here are his 2018 rates and his minor league average rates compared to the same players from above:
This shows that not only was his 2018 walk rate right in line with his minor league numbers, but it is also like quite a few of already similar hitters. (This also shows just how good Mike Trout is, but we knew that already). His walk and strikeout rates aren’t particularly special numbers or anything, but they do show that he should be able to take walks at the major league level and probably won’t strike out as much as Yankee teammates Aaron Judge and Giancarlo Stanton, which brings me to his projection. Steamer projects his walk and strikeout rates at 8.8% and 22.7%, respectively, which are good rates for what you would expect out of a powerful first-baseman type, as well as being right in line with the league averages from last season of 8.5% and 22.3%, respectively. If Voit continues with the same hitting profile as he has had throughout his career, he should profile as a well-above-average hitter for a while.
Going back to Judge and Stanton for a second, because there are some things the duo has in common with Voit. I mentioned earlier that the Yankees seem to like their right-handed bats to have a right-center approach. Look at this table:
Their 2018 sprays are very similar, as all three hit the ball to the center or opposite field at close to a 60% rate, but it gets a bit more interesting if you look at a visual representation of their spray charts. I used R to plot all their “batted ball event” metrics from Statcast for their best month of the 2018 season in terms of slugging percentage in an effort to put Voit’s strong finish on a common ground with Judge and Stanton. For Judge this was March/April, for Stanton it was August, and for Voit it was obviously September.
Here is Voit’s spray chart:
Here is Judge’s spray chart:
And here is Stanton’s spray chart:
While Voit and Judge have more similarities, all three do have something in common. A good amount of their doubles and home runs went to the opposite field. Since we are looking at their best months according to slugging percentage, it is fair to say that when all three are going at their absolute best, they take a lot of their extra-base hits to the opposite field, which is a hard skill to have, increasing confidence that Voit’s 2018 success just might carry over to 2019.
While it still might seem a bit too optimistic to project Voit as a top-25 hitter for 2019, I think there are a lot of positive signs here and that it would be unwise to call Voit his performance a fluke, at least right now. While it is very unlikely that Voit will hit at the clip he did last September, I think based on his batted ball profile both in the minor and major leagues, he compares well to some of the better hitters in the sport right now and should be considered an above-average hitter for the time being.
One more thing to keep in mind is that when looking back at the Yankees’ offseason to this point, the first base position, while considered a weakness to some, will return only Voit and Greg Bird as major league options. It seems to be clear that the Yankees could view Voit as the legitimate answer for them at first base this season, needing only to beat out Bird for a spot in the lineup. This seemingly positive vote of confidence gives more of a reason to believe that the Yankees think Voit is for real as well.
Finally, with everything else mentioned above, I also view it as a positive that Voit is a player that the Yankees, with their army of an analytics staff, were aggressively scouting and pursuing for a long time as a sign that they too believe Luke Voit is the real deal.