“Who’s That Guy?” is a new weekly Yahoo Sports feature highlighting a baseball player who you should definitely be watching this week. We’re not talking about the Mike Trouts and Max Scherzers of the world, instead it’s new and interesting players. Maybe a hot prospect who just got called up or a veteran role player having a moment.
If we told you at the start of the season a New York Yankees slugger would win the home run title in 2020, you probably wouldn’t be shocked. Aaron Judge, Giancarlo Stanton and Gleyber Torres all seemed like decent enough picks.
Yet, as the season winds to a close, it’s another Yankees slugger — with not exactly the same lineage — that looks ready to take home the honor. And once again, he’s playing a key role in helping an injured Yankees team slide into the playoffs.
Have you met Luke Voit?
Maybe you have. He’s not exactly a nobody, but he’s not a household name either. And as we end this season, people may not be asking “Who’s That Guy?” about him any longer. He may have just cemented himself as one of MLB’s top power threats.
Why do you need to know him?
With a few days left in the MLB season, Voit sits atop the homer leaderboard with 21 — that’s a decent-sized lead on White Sox MVP candidate Jose Abreu (18), and quite a bit of room to spare between Voit and Nelson Cruz, Mike Trout and Manny Machado (16 each).
For a guy who came over in a barely-moved-the-needle trade two years ago, this is quite an accomplishment and quite a boon for the Yankees in a season where Torres, Judge and Stanton have only 17 homers combined because of injuries. If not for Voit, where would this Yankees club be?
That’s a fair question ask, considering a few weeks ago they seemed doomed to perhaps even miss the postseason. Then Voit hit six homers during the Yankees’ 10-game winning streak and things turned around. Now, they’ll roll into October and try to power through the AL side of the bracket.
Then there’s the historical context. Among Yankees greats, Voit’s homer total in this small stretch of games looks pretty fantastic.
Yankees with 21+ HR in Team's First 53 Games:— Katie Sharp (@ktsharp) September 21, 2020
Luke Voit (2020)
Mickey Mantle (1956)
Babe Ruth (1921, 1926, 1927, 1928, 1930, 1932)
Where did he come from?
For all the jokes about the Yankees buying the biggest free agents on the market and trading for the biggest stars (which history shows has some truth to it), you can’t say that about Luke Voit.
Voit was a 22nd-round pick out of Missouri State, drafted by the St. Louis Cardinals. He hit five homers in 70 games for St. Louis spread across 2017 and 2018 before he was traded to the Yankees in July of that season. He then proceeded to light up the Bronx with 14 homers in 39 games down the stretch for the Yankees. All he’s done since is hit dingers.
Last season, he was good — 21 homers, coincidentally — but nothing like what he’s done in 2020. There’s a big difference in hitting 21 homers in 118 games and hitting 21 homers in 50 games. (To wit, Voit posted a very solid 123 OPS+ in 2019, which means his offensive production was 23 percent better than league average. In 2020, he’s got a superstar level 164 OPS+.)
And to think, the trade that brought Voit to the Yankees received little fanfare at the time. It was him and international bonus money for two relievers — something seen more as a depth move for both sides. And even if one of those pitchers turned into solid bullpen arm Giovanny Gallegos for the Cardinals, the deal turned out to be a lot bigger than that for the Yankees.
Is he a one-hit wonder?
No, and that’s the larger point here. While you could have said for the last season and a half that Voit was a flash in the pan, his 2020 prowess at the plate has shown otherwise. Voit is a legit power threat in the Yankees lineup — and one, frankly, that has been more consistent than Judge and Stanton the past two seasons.
Soon he’ll probably have a home run crown to prove it.
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