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In a heavyweight matchup of back-end first basemen, it's young versus old in this clash of right-handed bats. Although they are closer in age than you might initially suspect, 28-year old Luke Voit is the early favorite on the books over the veteran 34-year old Ryan Zimmerman. Chosen at an ADP of 329, Zimmerman is the clear-cut underdog with Voit’s ADP weighing in at 188.

As they stand toe-to-toe, it's an exhaustive debate on who to choose between these two combatants. With more Major League experience, Zimmerman is discredited as a boring option to fill out your first base or corner infield position. Voit, on the other hand, is the new hot-ticket attraction who has just a two-month sample size of dominance to his name.

With a full 12-round bout ahead of them in 2019, this main event is sure to go the distance, so let’s break this tilt down and see how close it is on paper.

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Cool Hand Luke

After a trade deadline deal in July, Voit packed his bags and left St. Louis for the hitter’s haven of Yankee Stadium. In his 39 games in New York, he punched out 14 home runs with 28 R, 33 RBI, and a .333 AVG. Our first inclination is to extrapolate these numbers over a full season automatically, but a 50-HR pace is extremely tough to maintain, and we must temper our expectations.

Voit did show a strong ability to crush the baseball while sparring in the minor leagues. Clobbering 19 bombs in Double-A in 2016, he followed that up with 13 in 75 Triple-A games in 2017 before knocking out four in 124 plate appearances in his first taste of the majors with the Cardinals. The heavy hitter began his 2018 in Triple-A and hit another nine dingers there before the midseason trade to the Yankees. As he was shown the ropes in the minor leagues, we expected the power, but his average was a bonus to the slugger’s game. An even better .314 AVG in Triple-A followed a career .297 AVG in Double-A--very commendable numbers.

With these superb attributes, it’s no wonder the Yankees targeted Voit at the deadline, but there are some glaring holes in his swing. His 68.9% Contact% is a disturbing number considering it would have put him in the league’s bottom-seven in this category. His 15.2% SwStr% was equally as concerning as it also would have finished as a bottom of the league number and even below perennial strikeout king Chris Davis’ 14.2% mark.

Big league pitchers had Voit on the ropes when it came to breaking and off-speed pitches. He only took one breaking ball yard while whiffing on these pitches 40.0% of the time. He made even worse contact on off-speed deliveries missing over half the time to a 51.4% Whiff%. Players with these kinds of swing-and-miss jabs are faced with an uphill climb if they want to keep their batting average in the .300 range.

When he made contact with the baseball, it was as hard as anyone in the game. His 54.0% Hard Hit% was third among players with 100 batted ball events, and he tied for 10th with a 93.0 MPH Exit Velocity. Despite all this, he swatted seven home runs measured as “Just Enough,” meaning it cleared the wall by less than 10 feet. An unsustainable 40.5% HR/FB is guaranteed to regress as well even with the small confines in the Bronx. It seemed like it was home run or bust with Voit in his two-month sample size, and over a full big league season, it could prove disastrous for him in the batting average category if he doesn't adjust.

 

The Zimm Reaper

The biggest battle for Zimmerman has been his struggle to stay on the field. Playing in over 115 games only once in his last five years, he’s proven to be a force when he doesn’t throw in the towel. Batting .303 in 144 games in 2017, he smacked 36 HR with 90 R and 108 RBI. Fighting an oblique strain throughout the 2018 season, he played in only 85 games hitting .264 with 13 HR, 33 R, and 51 RBI. Undoubtedly an underwhelming line after such a previously productive year, what does the former first-round pick offer to us going into his 14th big league season?

Zimmerman has consistently shown an above average strength in plate discipline numbers. A career 8.8% BB% and 18.3% K% are both satisfying numbers, especially the K%. Although he’s seen a small duck in Contact% over the last few seasons, his 80.1% career rate is meriting. He’s never routinely strayed too far from his .279 career batting average with his steady approach, so he’s a near lock to repeat at least in the .260 neighborhood.

An underrated aspect to Zimmerman’s game has been his persistence to top the Statcast leaderboards. Finishing in the top 2% in both EV and Hard Hit% in 2017, he’s finished in the top 8% in both of these metrics every year since 2015. Last season, he put up his best numbers to date with a 92.6 MPH EV and 52.8% Hard Hit%. Among batters with 150 BBE, it ranked him 12th and second in these respective categories. These figures were just below Voit’s, who had over 130 fewer batted balls than Zimmerman. There’s no reason we shouldn’t expect anything else from the orthodox bat going into 2019 as he's proven to be dependable at hitting the ball right on the kisser.

Undoubtedly a force to be reckoned with when he’s not down for the count, it will forever be a coin flip to determine if Zimmerman can remain on the diamond. His 162 game career pace, however, is 26 HR and 98 RBI, a top-tier measure given his 13 season longevity. With the return of Matt Adams to the Nationals, Zimmerman figures to see some routine off-days to keep him fresh and hopefully off of the disabled list. This mentality will provide a better outcome for Zimmerman over the long haul of the season.

 

The Decision

Both of these contenders project to hit anywhere between the 4-6 spot in their lineups. In all likelihood, they’ll spend the majority of their at-bats in the sixth spot with both of their clubs having deep offenses. As mentioned, Zimmerman is sure to get some off days, but Voit is no lock to remain in the order either. With a surplus of infielders, Miguel Andujar could see some time at first base, and Greg Bird is still in town to platoon from the left side of the dish. Remember, Voit only has 285 career plate appearances in the majors, so it’s not out of the realm of possibility that he receives a low-blow demotion if he struggles early in the year.

With imminent playing time concerns for each hitter, taking Zimmerman at his 329 ADP is far less risky than jumping on Voit at pick 188. Pound-for-pound, these hitters stack up evenly with The Yankees' new toy having the higher home run upside on that Yankee Stadium canvas. In spite of this, the liability on Voit is much higher with the league set to exploit the holes in his swing now that the book is out on him. You shouldn’t rely on either of these players as your starting first baseman, but Zimmerman wins the split decision given the return on value and consistency to produce when on the field.

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