A few days ago, Yankees’ first baseman Luke Voit expressed his concerns with the presence of newly acquired Anthony Rizzo:
“I’m not going down. I want to play. Obviously, I know it will be tough with Rizzo, but I deserve to play just as much as he does. I led the league in home runs last year. I feel really good again.”
Both players are obviously very talented, and bring tremendous power to whatever lineup they’re a part of. However, Voit’s quote would lead you to believe that Rizzo is widely regarded as the better player between the two. I understand how some people might think that. Rizzo is a four-time Gold Glove winner and is just five years removed from a top-five National League MVP finish. Meanwhile Voit has been a below-average fielder, wasn’t even in the league five years ago, and had his best season come during COVID-shortened 2020. However, Luke Voit deserves way more respect, and yes, he deserves just as much, if not more, playing time than Anthony Rizzo.
I could easily just point to how each player has done in pinstripes since the Yankees added Rizzo (Voit is slashing .304/.360/.609; Rizzo is slashing .176/.231/.265), but that’s just a small sample size. Both players have missed some time since then for various reasons — Rizzo: COVID; Voit: knee injury — and that just furthers the idea that these few games in August could just be streaks that don’t properly indicate who should be included in the Yankees’ lineup every day. However, Voit has been the superior player to Rizzo for three years now, and has more than earned the right to take hacks for the Bronx every night.
When healthy, Voit is one of the premiere power hitters in the game. There was a time when Anthony Rizzo could’ve claimed a similar title, but he is no longer an extreme power threat at the plate. Since the start of 2019, Rizzo has just five more home runs than Voit, but Voit has 281 fewer at-bats. Based on Voit’s HR/AB numbers, Voit would have approximately 68 home runs. That would place Voit in a tie for 19th across all of MLB, ahead of players like Matt Chapman, Xander Bogaerts, Rhys Hoskins, and Vladimir Guerrero Jr. — all of whom would still have more at-bats under their belt than Voit.
While Voit does face struggles with making contact, Voit has a much better chance of reaching base when he does make contact, making Rizzo’s plate discipline almost null. Despite Voit having struck out only 12 fewer times than Rizzo in 208 fewer at-bats, the two of them actually have similar on-base percentages (Rizzo: .347; Voit: .337). Voit also has a higher hard-hit percentage than Rizzo (38.8 percent to 32.2 percent) and barrels pitches up more consistently than Rizzo (15.5 percent to 9.2 percent).
Also, despite Rizzo having a much better resume on defense, he’s actually been an inferior defender at first base than Voit. Per FanGraphs WAR, Rizzo has a -8.8 defensive WAR at first base in 2021. Voit has a -1.4 WAR. Even if Voit played as many innings as Rizzo at first base, at his current pace, Voit would still have a -5.6 WAR. Voit also has a superior Ultimate Zone Rating (1.3 to -1.3). So, even though Voit has one more error than Rizzo in about one-quarter of the opportunities, it’s been Voit who has been the more effective fielder.
Now, there are some arguments that make sense for why Rizzo should get more playing time than Voit. For one, the Yankees already have their power guys in the middle of the lineup. Judge, Stanton, and Gallo already make an insane trio for driving in baserunners. With them in the middle of your lineup, the best thing a team can do is put contact hitters ahead of them to move your leadoff guys over and set up those power hitters for RBI opportunities. With Voit’s struggles making contact, Rizzo would make more sense at the two or three spot in the lineup than putting Voit in the 6-hole.
Second, the Yankees are already a predominantly right-handed lineup before recent deals. Only Brett Gardner, Tyler Wade, and Rougned Odor were proven threats from the left side of the plate (and I’m not sure we can even call Gardner a threat, still). The Yankees knew they needed better left-handed bats, and that was a big reason they went out and got both Gallo and Rizzo. Inserting Rizzo into the lineup gives the Yankees much more balance at the plate.
All in all, Rizzo and Voit could make an excellent first base tandem in the Bronx if used correctly. Despite being a left-handed batter, Rizzo has actually dominated southpaws much more than he has righties in 2021. Perhaps that’s how the Yankees plan on using the two of them — starting Rizzo against lefties and Voit against righties, as backward as that may sound. However, if the playoffs come and the Yankees find themselves in the winner-take-all Wild Card game. I’m putting Voit in the lineup 100 percent of the time. No offense to Rizzo, he’s fantastic. Voit has just been a little bit better.