In one pitch Luke Voit provides a spark to the Yankees lineup

Dan Kelly

The Yankees' offensive struggles have frustrated the team and fans alike through much of the 2021 season. A core of players that has finished either first or second in the league in runs scored every season since 2017 has struggled to keep pace with their American League East counterparts. Searching for a spark of energy the team saw Luke Voit homer on the first pitch he saw Tuesday night and add a walk-off double to cap off his second game back. With a proven ability to carry the team for weeks at a time the impact of his bat is just the spark that the Yankees need heading into the summer.

Luke Voit seemed off physically for most of spring training. Scouts watching the action picked up on a slight limp and he never seemed to get in synch during his time in the Grapefruit League. Based on these observations it came as little surprise on March 27th when it was announced that Voit would start the season on the injured list.
Luke Voit will rejoin the Yankees this weekPhoto by Seth Hoffman/ Unsplash

The Yankees have a long tradition of offensive production from the first base position. Names like Don Mattingly, Tino Martinez, Jason Giambi and Mark Teixeira have given the Yankees tremendous production dating back to the early 1980s. Despite a number of dynamic offensive seasons from the position there have been years where production has been lacking.

The most recent coincided with Mark Teixeira’s physical decline in the 2016 season that turned out to be his last. It was not supposed to play out that way, the Yankees first baseman in waiting Greg Bird had come up in late 2015 and impressed everyone with a swing perfectly tailored to take advantage of Yankee Stadium’s short porch.

Numerous injuries derailed Bird’s career, leaving the Yankees to half-heartedly address the position while they remained committed to Bird in the long-term. Players seeking either the first or last big break in the major leagues such as Chris Carter, Tyler Austin, Dustin Ackley and Rob Refsnyder found themselves getting reps at first base over the next few seasons with little to show in terms of results.

Interestingly enough the Yankees tried two players who have gone on to successful major league runs, in Garrett Cooper and Ji-Man Choi but both battled injuries and could not lock down the position in the eyes of the front office. The Yankees combined for -0.9 bWAR at first base during the 2016-2017 seasons, the worst in the American League.

The franchise was on their way to another negative bWAR season in 2018 when they spun an under-the-radar trade with the St. Louis Cardinals for Luke Voit. Voit had never been given regular playing time at the major league level in St. Louis but thrived upon arriving in New York where he was penciled into the lineup everyday for the Yankees.

Since arriving in the Bronx on August 2, 2018, Voit has hit .275/.368/.531 with 59 home runs in 227 games. He led the major leagues in home runs during the shortened 2020 season and can be talked about in any discussion of the best first basemen in the game. Voit stabilized the first base position and fixed what had become a black hole of production in the Yankees’ lineup. That black hole returned with his trip to the injured list in late-March.

Veteran Jay Bruce was given the first chance to fill-in at first base but his production left both he and the Yankees wanting more. It quickly became apparent why Bruce was available to the Yankees on a minor league deal after years of being a quality major league bat. The 13-year major leaguer announced his retirement in mid-April after a poor start to the season saying that “ultimately, I just felt like I couldn’t perform at the level that I expected out of myself.”

Mike Ford and Chris Gittens also recieved chances to lock down the position but neither provided the offense that the Yankees were looking for. Ford was ultimatly traded from the organization and Gittens was sent down after just 10 games where he hit .095. Overall the Yankees' first basemen this year have combined for a -1.1 bWAR harkening back to the pre-Voit performances of 2016-2017.

Voit's first return from the injured list was largely uneventful but this time feels different as he needed just one pitch to put the Yankees on the board during Tuesday night game. Voit has followed by hitting two more balls off the wall including Wednesday's walk-off hit. The energy is back and Voit looks to once again be the impact bat that this Yankees team needs to keep pace in a very competitive American League East.

Luke Voit’s return to the Yankees lineup this week is welcomed by the organization and fans alike. His arrival in the Bronx during the 2018 season returned elite offensive production to the Yankees' first base position. The team will likely manage his playing time carefully as they ease him back into regular playing time but the impact of his bat has already proven to be a spark for the entire team.

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