The San Diego Padres acquired Luke Voit to help with the offense, but what can you expect to see from him this coming season?
Who is Luke Voit?
Voit is a 31-year-old mountain of a man, standing 6-foot-3, 255 pounds with tremendous right-handed pop. He was originally drafted by the Cardinals as a catcher in 2013 but was moved to first base the following year. He spent four seasons in the Cardinal farm system before breaking through with the big club in 2017. He appeared in 62 games that season, posting a modest .246 average, four home runs, and .736 OPS. He would make his mark the following season, after a trade to the New York Yankees.
Voit was called up to the majors on August 21, 2018. It took him little time to make an impression. After incumbent first basemen Greg Bird failed to impress, Voit batted .333 with 14 home runs, 33 RBIs, and a 1.095 OPS in 39 games for the Yankees to claim the spot for his own.
The years to follow were productive when healthy; unfortunately, he was not healthy very often. Out of a possible 284 games for the Yankees, Voit was only able to suit up for 186 due to various ailments.
In 2019. the week after he was named the AL Player of the Week, Voit was placed on the injured list with an abdominal injury on June 29 and was activated on August 29. He would require offseason bilateral core muscle surgery to fix this ailment.
2020 was a different story for Voit. He was able to suit up for 56 of the possible 60 games in the pandemic shortened season. As previously stated, because Voit was available, he mashed the ball. Voit ended the season with a major league-leading 22 home runs. It seemed as though he turned a corner with his health, and even placed ninth in AL MVP voting.
In 2021 however, he was bitten by the injury bug once again, only appearing in 68 games. Before the season opener on March 27, 2021, it was announced that Voit had torn his meniscus in one of his knees and required surgery. He began the 2021 season on the 10-day injured list. After a rehab assignment with Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes Barre, Voit was activated on May 11, 2021. His production, however, had dwindled, and with his health uncertain, the Yankees opted to trade for Anthony Rizo at the trade deadline. The acquisition of Rizo meant Voit was not able to see the field at his familiar first base position, and the designated hitter was occupied by the similarly mountainous Giancarlo Stanton.
The Yankees recently made the decision to re-sign Rizo and thus put Voit in a similar position; on the bench without a position.
Who did the Padres give up?
Voit was recently acquired from the New York Yankees in exchange for former competitive balance first-round pick (34th overall), RHP Justin Lange. The former Padres’ prospect is armed with an excellent arsenal of pitches, and projectable starters frame at 6-foot-4, 220 lbs. The Padres valued Lange’s potential enough to sign him to a $2 million deal ($800K above slot value).
The 20-year-old out of Llano Tx had a rough time in his first professional season posting an 0-3 win-loss record along with a 6.95 ERA in his first 22 innings of work. Despite the early struggles, his future’s still bright. He was almost two years younger than his average competition and still has plenty of time to realize his potential.
So why did the Padres feel like they could part with this prized farmhand? The answer is simple, they needed someone who, as Voit himself so eloquently put it, to “go over there and mash again.”
Where can Voit help the Padres?
With the adoption of the designated hitter in the National League this season, the Padres, like many teams in the NL, came into spring without a clear sense of who might fill this role or even if anyone person would fill the role full time.
Manager Bob Melvin has said the plan is to have Voitl fill in at first base periodically against left-handed pitching but would serve primarily as the team’s DH.
Will he be able to hit enough to justify playing every day?
The batting average the past five years league-wide has been about .248, and OPS is about .743.
Generally, players will fare better against a pitcher of the opposite handedness. Voit’s career numbers are strikingly similar against left-handed pitching or right. He holds a career average .268 vs RHP and .264 vs LHP; OPS .869 vs RHP and .859 vs LHP. He has had virtually the same production vs. either-handedness, granted he has many more at-bats against RHP (794) than LHP (318).
Compared to incumbent Padres’ first baseman Eric Hosmer who holds a career average of .290 vs. RHP and .251 vs. LHP, and even more dramatic difference in OPS of .818 vs. RHP and .662 vs. LHP.
Looking at both players’ offensive profiles, it’s evident the Padres would benefit from sliding Voit into first base duties against lefties in place of Hosmer. Conversely, the team would benefit from having both in the lineup against right-handed pitchers.
How is Voit on the field?
Luke Voit, in his five MLB seasons, has spent the majority of his time at first base (239 games and 1,901.1 innings). His second-most time is at DH (60 games) and a one-off in the outfield. He is not by any stretch of the imagination a great fielder, but he isn’t horrendous either.
In his 1901.1 innings, Voit posted a .990 fielding percentage which is slightly below the .994 league average, which coincidentally is exactly Eric Hosmer’s career average (.994). Fielding percentage is perhaps a dated view of how well a first baseman fields because it does not take into account their overall value. The preferred valuation is Defensive WAR. Unfortunately for Voit, because of injuries and lost playing time last season, he did not have a very large sample to analyze, so we will look at the past two seasons.
Voit’s Defensive WAR was -1.2 in 722 innings he played from 2020-21.
Hosmer, in that same timeframe, has posted -1.1 Defensive WAR in 1,370.2 innings.
The good news for Voit is that he is not expected to start in the field very often; when he does, he won’t be a huge liability compared to what they have been getting out of the position… which admittedly has left a little to be desired.
What should we expect from Voit in 2022?
The biggest question mark for Voit is going to be his health. As he has shown in the past, if he can stay healthy, he will MASH! As outlined previously, health has been a bit of a struggle. The plan is to have him primarily be the designated hitter, which should hopefully minimize injury risk. He will play a little first base, and thankfully he should not be a major liability in the field.
According to baseball-reference, they predict he will register 336 at-bats, 19 home runs, 55 RBIs, and .808 OPS— this would not be a horrendous result, but the Padres are hoping for those numbers to be a bit better if he is able to stay healthy enough for 500-600 at-bats. If he can, and it is a huge IF, he should mash more than a few into the Western Metal Supply Company building.