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A St. Louis Surprise? It’s Very Early, But I Don’t Think Luke Voit Is A Fluke

In watching the early power-drill work of Cardinals’ rookie first baseman Luke Voit, my first reaction is to say: let’s enjoy the show, but please stay calm.

We’ve seen young guys come to the majors and slug like Babe Ruth for a week, maybe a month. And then the pitchers go into their bag of devious magic tricks, and suddenly the baby bopper is swinging at air … a threat to mosquitoes, moths, and flies.

The Cubs had a free-swinging first baseman named Bryan LaHair. In 2012, LaHair blasted 14 homers and slugged .519 before the 2012 All-Star break. He was picked by Cards’ manager Tony La Russa, to represent the Cubs on the ’12 NL All-Star squad.

In the second half of the 2012 season, LaHair hit two homers and slugged .303. That was it. The end of his MLB career. Never appeared in the majors again.

Last season, Colorado rookie Trevor Story was all the rage, pummeling pitchers for 10 homers and a .696 slugging percentage in his first month in the big leagues. And though Story would finish the 2016 season with 27 homers — a total inflated by the driving-range setting of Coors Field — reality has entered the building in 2017. Story is slugging only .397 so far this season and has become the subject of “What’s Wrong With This Dude” pieces.

Jeremy Hazelbaker had himself an April party for the 2016 Cardinals, putting up five homers and a bunch of doubles and slugging .683. The small-town Indiana guy was finally in the show! When is John Mellencamp going to write a little ditty? Well, it’ll be a while. Hazelbaker is playing for Arizona’s Class AAA affiliate.

Let’s turn our attention to home-towner Luke Voit, the pride of Lafayette High School.

He’s an instant sensation, and the STL faithful are going nuts.

We may see a Luke Voit statue outside Busch Stadium any day now.

Kidding aside, I don’t believe we’re seeing a one-hit wonder here.

Sustained success is the only way we’ll know for sure, and that takes time. Like any new big-league player, Voit will have to assemble his own history … a history will ultimately define him.

I mistakenly called him Luke “Volt” on my radio show earlier this season, when I noted his power and his patience, his home runs and his walks, as he began thumping the baseball in his first season with Triple A Memphis. If you think about it, “Volt” does fit.

Voit was promoted to the majors on June 25. And though we only have 29 big-league plate appearances to sort though, Voit has done nothing to raise alarm, nothing to make us think he wasn’t ready, nothing to make us view him as a fringe talent.

The confident Volt isn’t overwhelmed up here … not for a second.

Voit is doing his best to make something clear: this is a lot more than a cute local-boy-makes-good story that soon will fade. I don’t want this story to fade. I don’t want to see Luke’s grandma be sad.

I think Voit has staying power, no pun intended. Pragmatic to a fault, I almost always avoid going gaga over a dude that’s been in the big leagues for about 16 minutes. But Voit has made the minutes count, using his first 27 at-bats to go 9-for-27 with four doubles, two homers and seven RBIs.

As Voit delivers instant impact by whacking extra-base hits in his first two weeks as a Cardinal, he looks different than the usual grip-and-rip sluggers who swing as hard as they can, as often as they can, and repeatedly hack at pitches that land near Iowa.

This isn’t to say that Voit is resistant to attacking pitches off the plate; according to FanGraphs his “chase” rate is about 32 percent so far, and you’d like to see that come down some. But this is Voit’s first time in the majors. Though he’s no boy wonder — Voit is 26 — don’t you expect to see a newbie chasing some bad pitches?

I do. The smart hitters adjust. They develop a foundation — a good hitting approach — and stand on it to endure the inevitable slump that comes with whiffs, strikeouts, and frustration.

Voit will have to do that, and I think he can.

With Voit, my reasons for optimism are largely pulled from his history.

There’s that word again … history.

But Voit’s record really does tell us a lot.

Let’s run through the list here:

1. Voit has drawn a healthy amount of walks at every level. 

At low Class A baseball in 2013, Voit had a 12 percent walk rate.

At high A in 2014, the walk rate dipped to 8.2 percent, which is OK.

But in 2015, in his second swing through high A ball, Voit took his walk rate back up to 12%.

In 2016, his first season in Class AA, Voit posted a 9.5 percent walk rate.

And before his promotion from Memphis this season, Voit had a 10% walk rate during his first exposure to Class AAA pitching.

2. On his path to the bigs, Voit’s strikeout rates were never really a problem. 

Having the patience to draw walks is one way to demonstrate sound plate discipline. Another way to do it is limit your strikeouts. At no point during his five-plus minor-league seasons did Voit finish with a strikeout rate higher than 20.3 percent. In taking important steps toward Busch Stadium the last two years, Voit had a 15% strikeout rate at Double AA Springfield followed by  17.4% strikeout rate at Triple A Memphis. By today’s standards, those strikeout rates are low — not to mention reasonable — for a young power hitter.

3. Small sample, but Voit already is displaying good patience at the plate for the Cardinals. 

In his 29 plate appearances, Voit has seen an average of 4.1 pitches per plate appearance. That’s Matt Carpenter material right there; among the Cardinals’ starting players Carpenter leads with 4.4 pitches per plate appearance. (I should mention Greg Garcia, who plays quite a bit; he’s averaged 4.2 pitches per PA.) So far, Voit has jumped at the first pitch 31 percent of the time, and taken 52.4 percent of the pitches offered to him. .Both figures are about average — but pretty good for a rookie who just got here.

4. Voit has a quick bat and hits the ball hard,  with distance. That’s exactly what you want in a hitter. 

According to the invaluable data at Baseball Savant Voit has an estimated swing speed of 63.7 miles per hour. Again, we have only a mini-sample here, but that 63.7 mph represents the fastest swing by a Cards’ position player this season. And when Voit connects, his average exit velocity is 93 mph, which is the highest by a Cards’ position player. And when Voit strikes the ball, his average distance of 216 feet is second only to Carpenter’s 231.

I am  ashamed for submitting this stat — because as of this writing Voit has only 29 plate appearances, and I know better — but just for kicks, consider Voit’s 93 mph average exit velocity and roll this around in your noggin: The only regular hitters in MLB that have a faster average exit velocity are Aaron Judge (96.3), Miguel Sano (94.1) and Alex Avila (93.1.)

And Voit’s estimated swing speed and average distance would put him in the top 20 in MLB in both categories. But he’s just getting started, and those stats don’t mean much right now. It’s just a glimpse. A fun glimpse. After Voit gathers more at-bats, I’ll keep checking and updating those Statcast metrics.

5. Early on, Voit isn’t getting fooled much … with one exception. 

According to STATS LLC, Voit has seen 57 fastballs and he’s batting .400 against them with a 1.400 OPS.

Voit has seen nine curve balls; he has a .500 average and 2.500 OPS and deposited one of those curves high into Big Mac Land on Thursday.

The slider? No problem. Voit has seen 23 sliders and had a .667 average and 1.667 OPS.

This is a good sign, because pitchers usually can trick and fluster inexperienced MLB hitters by throwing the offspeed stuff, or the hated slider, after realizing he can conquer a fastball.

Up to now, Voit’s only real struggle is doing something — anything — with the changeup.

Voit has faced only 24 changeups, 16 thrown by LH pitchers. And he doesn’t have a hit against the change. More relevant than that, Voit  isn’t laying off the changeup. Lefties in particular are using a changeup to neutralize the big fella. And he’s taken a swing at 56.3 percent of the changeups thrown by lefties. That includes a 75% swing rate on changeups when he’s behind in the count, and a 66.7% swing rate on two-strike changeups.

Those conniving lefties.

Voit will have to adjust and be on the lookout for the changeup.

I think he can handle it, and here’s why:

— Voit has improved at every level. His yearly wRC+, which is park-adjusted runs created, was 15 percent above the league average in 2013, then 24 percent above average in 2014, then 34 percent above average in 2015, then 45 percent above average in 2016, and then 49 percent above league average at AAA Memphis this year.

— He’s made the necessary adjustments. As Voit made his way through the Cards’ system, his power was often unplugged by too many ground balls. From 2013 through 2015, Voit’s  fly ball percentage ranged between 33 and 38 percent. But Voit clearly joined the launch-angle movement at Memphis this season, and his fly ball percentage jumped to just under 44 percent. More balls in the air; more homers.

Voit has a long way to go to affirm — and reaffirm — that he can be a very good MLB hitter over many seasons. But again, I don’t think we’re looking at a novelty act.

Thanks for reading …

–Bernie

  • Big T

    Wow! Those stats are impressive. He absolutely looks like he has a great eye for hitting.
    I am impressed with his “silent” non movement when waiting for a pitch. Equally impressive is his ability to hit the ball to all fields. Great to see a power hitter who can use the whole field. God’s Speed Luke Voit! Stay as humble as you appear to be!!

    If anyone watched this young mans career they would know the hard work he put in to lose a lot of weight chasing his dreams. Great for him. Breath of fresh air story (for him and his Grandma.)

    If your the young man who caught his ball in Big Mac land please give it to his Big G.

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  • g reg

    Heʻs no Randal Grichuk. Itʻs really refreshing to see the Cardinals stick with Randal over players that make the team better like Sierra.

    • Big T

      Jose Martinez should be sent down to make room for Voit. Sierra probably won’t be back up until expanded rosters or we have a significant need on this side of the trading deadline.

  • James Berry

    I like Voit. I’ve no idea where his future may lead him, but i hope it’s a success story.

    The thing we’ll soon be hearing though is, “Do you think he can play a little OF?” and that’s where the problems will start. Because if we’ve learned anything these past few years, it’s that the Cards staff can’t leave anything alone.

    • rightthinker4

      James, I agree 100%. If Voit continues to be impressive, he should play 1B, then the Cardinals need to find a place for Carpenter, and that’s difficult defensively speaking, or trade him.

      • James Berry

        A good place for Carpenter is the AL.

    • Big T

      Definitely a first base bomber.. Unless we make him into a Greg Luzinski and put him in left part time. Hopefully they leave him alone on first.

    • Dan Short

      Why should it be necessary to “leave them alone”? They are very well paid professional athletes who were no doubt pitchers and infielders somewhere along the line. Doesn’t versatility equate to value anymore?

      • James Berry

        There is such a thing as trying to make some players too versatile. Tell me, did you like Adams and/or Wong in the OF?

        Many players out grow positions. They lose quickness and other attributes that are required at many positions. For instance, Carpenter has exactly NONE of the attributes/skills needed to play 2nd. Yet our idiotic manager continues to run him out there. That is not versatility.

    • David B

      The comments on Carpenter in this thread are interesting. I’ve thought for some time that he should have been “left alone” to have a career as a second baseman. He probably never would have been a Gold Glover, but shifting him to 3d, then to 1st, now back to 2nd, has accentuated defense limitations. But Mike’s main guy had to play somewhere, and so move him around they did (filling the vacancy of the moment). This created a domino effect over the last 3-4 years that has been bad for the team in several ways. It was also bad for Carpenter. They should agree to assign him a defensive role and leave him alone, or move him to the American League to DH.

      I completely agree: if Voit proves he can hit major league pitching over time, he should be left alone to become the best 1st baseman he can be.

      • James Berry

        He was never a good 2nd baseman. People remember his prior time there with rose colored glasses because of his bat.

        He was drafted as a 3rd baseman and that’s where he played most of his MiLB with a bit at 1st base. He came up to the bigs as a 3rd baseman and played some 1st, OF and 2nd.

        He has well below average range at all positions and where that lack of range hurts the most is at 2nd. His arm is below average for both a 3rd & 2nd baseman. His throwing mechanics also hurt him, but especially when trying to make the turn at 2nd.

        He should be in the AL, either as a DH or a sometimes 1st baseman. Other than that, he’s a defensive liability anywhere.

  • JeremyR

    The only real problem with him is that he only plays 1B. Carpenter is terrible everywhere not 1B. So playing Voit means you are going to give up runs you otherwise woouldn’t have thanks to Carpenter.

  • M W

    It took Aaron Judge until he was 25 to take off. It’s not that out of the question that Voit could end up being a very good bat in the Bigs.

  • Tarzan

    Like everyone else, I’m enjoying the big guy and pulling for him. I hope he can keep it up and even improve.

    I take a somewhat reserved stance on Luke. Diaz seemed like an up and coming star last year, but has gone downhill this year. I hope he returns to his former self, and I hope Luke is not afflicted by the same demise.

    Time will tell, I guess.

    • Big T

      Tarzan – There have been so many discouraging turns to this season. A story and start like Luke is having just warms those Cardinal Way memories. Go Cards!

      • Tarzan

        I agree, Big T. Losing Reyes before the season even started was the Biggest Bummer. Then trading Matt Adams for practically nothing and then watching him Rake in Atlanta was discouraging (for us – not for him, I’m very happy for him). Let’s hope Voit turns out to be an even better version of what Matt’s doing now.

        • Big T

          Wholeheartedly agree. I always rooted for Big City and wish nothing but the best for his future. If he gets traded the Braves will reap a harvest compared to what we got! Personally I see a much more agile athlete in Voit.

  • ken

    Luke the Fluke? was that intentional?

  • ken

    i’ll bet jeremy hazelbaker now wishes he had just sucked during his first few months as a cardinal big-leaguer. but because he hit so well, people keep ragging on him now and pointing to him as an example of a…FLUKE.

  • g reg

    grichuk, piscotty and Wayne Brady over Martinez, Pham, and sierra…starting to hate this team even more. Voit will be decent till mathenys boys get a hold of em

  • Todd Wilhelm

    Just sayin’

    “In the 2008 season, McEwing started his baseball coaching career as the hitting coach for the Charlotte Knights. On November 3, 2008, he was named manager of the Winston-Salem Dash, the Class A affiliate for the Chicago White Sox, for the 2009 season. During that season, Baseball America rated McEwing as the top managerial prospect in the South Atlantic League. McEwing was also named Manager of the Year for his work managing the Dash in 2009.

    McEwing was named manager of the Charlotte Knights, the White Sox triple-A affiliate for the 2011 season.”
    -Wickipedia

    “McEwing held the third-base coach position for five years under former White Sox manager Robin Ventura. He also managed two seasons for Class A Advanced Winston-Salem, one for Triple-A Charlotte and one for the Mesa Solar Sox in the 2011 Arizona Fall League.

    Joe McEwing moves from third-base coach to bench coach as part of Rick Renteria’s first White Sox staff, after Renteria was named as the franchise’s 40th manager

    “He’s a hard worker. He’s in there early looking for anything that will give us an edge,” Renteria said of McEwing. “His managing experience and coaching experience also allows him an opportunity to be able to serve me well, talk to me.”
    MLB.com

    • candomarty

      Joe McEwing would be terrific as the Cards manager. Now you’ve got my hopes up…

  • geoff

    Voit came up with and has maintained a nice level swing and a good path to the ball, the same goes for DeJong. They both have come up as line drive hitters with power. When you watch them hit, they don’t have that tilt that is being emphasized so much nowadays. We have watched Carpenter alter his swing and his path to the pitch trying to add that tilt and he has become less of a threat because of it. We are seeing more and more lazy fly balls, particularly to left field because , rather than attacking pitches getting a level swing with his top hand over earlier, he has taken it to the extreme of bending his back to get his left shoulder to drop, lengthening his time in the zone and creating lift. If you go back and look at video of Carpenter from two years ago, you will see the difference….it is more than obvious. My contention is that line drive hitters with power will have more overall success than power hitters will enjoy. Think back to Pujols in his prime here in St Louis and you will remember a line drive hitting machine who took mistakes into the seats. He didn’t alter his approach or his swing path trying to achieve long balls, he hit mistakes made by pitchers for long balls. The reason he saw mistakes was because he was willing to take what they gave him. Albert realized early on that a double to right field on a pitch away was nothing to be ashamed of, and that the infamous tilt that the stats guys so value, should be reserved for pitches that were thigh high, so he was never tied up by pitches above his belt or on the inner half. Thus far, Voit has been a hitter first, as his DeJong. Hopefully the Cards won’t encourage either of them to alter their swings and approach as they did with Carpenter and more recently Piscotty, who, when he just goes up to be a hitter, has been wonderful fun to watch. Now, with the lift added, we are seeing a promising player and wonder why he got that long contract, and on many days, wondering why he is in the lineup when there are hitters on the bench. I say this stuff showing my bias toward multiple hits to win versus drawing a walk and trying to hit a home run. Even worse is watching a player come up in a situation where a base hit will get the job done and you see him swinging from his heels trying to put the ball in Sauget, rather than putting it 150 to 160 feet from the plate for a run scoring base hit. Oh by the way, line drives that land 150 to 160 feet from the plate are hits probably 99 to 99.5% of the time. I wonder why the stats guys haven’t come up with that algorithm yet.

  • JDinSTL

    Well, at least Moe can now relax on trading for a run producing bat.

  • keith walker

    enjoying the memphis show with pham, voit and dejong raking and playing all the time. with such a mediocre team who are the worst baserunning cards team, ever, it’s nice to see some real effort and results. Let’s see if they can overcome Matheny’s awful managing, Fowler in CF playing timidly when you have Tommy playing incredibly? unreal, or the use of his BP? with his former best hitter hanging around .230 and striking out constantly in MP and don’t have a position for him where he doesn’t hurt you much? This is a wierd team to manage and when you arn’t very good anyway, it’s tough gig.

    Let’s enjoy the memphis show for second half and see how things shake out. been a bumpy ride so far but in this division still big opportunity. Brewers don’t have the pitching to last and all their overachieving regulars will have a letdown in second half, most likely. Go Cards and show us here.

  • Anti ruling class

    Could Luke Voit be the next Matt Adams?