As you may have heard, some fans, radio personalities and other critics of Joey Votto think he has an approach problem. They have suggested he expand the strike zone and swing at more borderline pitches, especially with runners in scoring position. They propose that by swinging more, Votto will be more “productive” by driving in more runs.

Votto has been adamant that he has an effective approach, even calling his critics ignorant. Votto has refused to alter his approach even after some in the organization publicly condemned the Reds best player for being too passive. He has become the face of a debate that most of the baseball world has declared over already.

But the Votto detractors are having a difficult time these days. Votto has stormed out the gate with a nifty .353/.463/.735 slash line and 9 MVPs. Whoops! I mean RBIs. Predictably, some commentators and commenters around the web have suggested he has changed his approach from his controversial 2013 season, a season in which Votto had the fifth highest runs created score in all of baseball (156 wRC+).

On the latest broadcast, Thom Brennamen even said that Votto looks like the 2010-2012 version, apparently as opposed to the 2013 Votto. Has Votto’s approach changed now that he is on pace for 162 RBIs? Has he finally recanted his patient ways to appease management and the radio booth? Let’s take an early look at Votto’s plate discipline in 2015 to see just how free swinging he has become.

Fangraphs uses PITCHf/x data and Baseball Info Solutions (BIS) to keep track of stats related to a player’s plate discipline. These two systems generally agree closely with one another, though there are discrepancies at times as we will see.

Both systems use O-Swing% to display how often a player swings at pitches outside of the strike zone, Z-Swing% to display swings inside of the strike zone, and Swing% to display the percentage of swings on all pitches. Let’s compare Votto’s 2013 season to the short sample of his 2015 season using both PITCHf/x data and Baseball Info Solutions data.


According to PITCH f/x, Votto has swung at a significantly smaller percentage of pitches in 2015 than he did in 2013. He has swung at fewer pitches out of the strike zone and swung more at pitches inside the strike zone. Votto hasn’t expanded the zone at all. The average O-Swing% thus far in 2015 is 30.2%. Votto has swung at about half that rate, further cementing his reputation as lord of the strike zone.  According to PITCH f/x data, Votto has swung at 7.2% more pitches inside the strike zone in 2015 as opposed to 2013, which is a significant number. The BIS data is similar.


We learn essentially the same thing when we look at BIS data. In 2015, Votto is swinging at fewer balls and more strikes. The discrepancy between Votto’s 2013 and 2015 Z-Swing% is much less pronounced using BIS data. Looking at these numbers, Votto hasn’t really changed his approach inside the strike zone at all. He is just swinging at fewer balls and doing serious damage on contact.

In 2015, Votto may or may not have become a little more aggressive in the strike zone during the the first week and a half. Regardless of which system is more accurate, one thing remains clear, Joey does what Joey does: avoid getting himself out on bad pitches.

It’s still too early to conclude much of anything, but Votto’s 9 RBIs are not a result of a major change in the way Votto approaches at bats. He looks healthier than he has for years, and he has made pitchers pay for challenging him early. Maybe Votto has some idea of what he is doing after all.