Earlier this week, Fangraphs took a deep look into Joey Votto’s hitting strategy and how it changes over the course of an at bat. Votto will choke up on the bat when he has two strikes. He does that to help make contact with the inside fastball.

How does this strategy affect Votto’s power and on base percentage?

When Joey Votto chokes up on the bat, he trades power for a higher on base percentage. He admits this much. That much isn’t surprising. Votto may not hit has many home runs with two strikes, but he becomes a tougher out. That raises another interesting question:

How does Votto’s two-strike production compare to other similar hitters who don’t choke up?

The inspiration for this article comes from Joe Posnanski’s “The Count of Counting Counts”. Posnanski’s article is a simple but clear breakdown regarding how batters fare based on the ball-strike count. Not surprisingly, the league hits much better in batter-friendly counts (3-0, 3-1) than in unfavorable ones (0-2, 1-2). Perhaps the most interesting finding from Posnanski’s breakdown was that hitters hit for roughly the same power in 0 and 1 strike counts, but their power almost disappears when they have 2 strikes on them. Using this finding, Posnanski argues the 1-1 pitch is the most important pitch in any at-bat.

None of this is unexpected; hitters hit better when they have the advantage and hit worse when pitchers have the advantage. And then I looked at Joey Votto’s splits.

Joey Votto with an 0-2 count: 9.3 BB%, .728 OPS, 99 wRC+.

You know that guy who plays on your company’s softball team that is so good that you need to change the rules or it would ruin it for everyone? That’s Joey Votto. In Major League Baseball.

Votto’s line with an 0-2 count essentially says that if you give every other hitter in major league baseball 3 strikes per at bat and Joey Votto only 1, he will perform as well as the rest of the league. This is not even the most impressive aspect of Votto’s line, though. Votto’s BB% starting at an 0-2 count (9.3%) is not just better than the 2015 Reds BB% (8.3%), but also much better than the league’s (7.6%).

To be clear: When Joey Votto gets to an 0-2 count, he is still more likely to work a walk than the average professional hitter.

Votto’s OPS starting at a 0-2 count (.728) is also higher than league average starting at an 0-0 count (.721).

One common critique of Votto’s approach is that he gives up too much power when he chokes up in 2-strike counts. And it is true that Votto hits fewer home runs in a two-strike count than he does with one or zero strikes on him:

Count Home Runs Hits (2015) Home Runs Per At-Bat
No Strikes 12 8.39%
One Strike 9 5.73%
Two Strikes 6 1.79%

Note: the total number of at bats in each count are not equally distributed, so in order to calculate the denominator, each of the possible at bats per category were added. For example, for the zero strikes at bat, I took the number of at bats that ended after a 0-0 count, 1-0 count, 2-0 count, and 3-0 count and added them together. This was then cross checked in the BBRef splits page. The final breakdown was: zero strike (143 ABs); 1-strike (152), 2-strike (335).

Home runs are not the end-all when it comes to power numbers or player production. In order to examine Votto’s performance in 2-strike counts, I compared Votto’s performance in these counts to five other “superstar” players (based on either historical or 2015 performance) and a second-tier of players who are having ~5.0 WAR years.

Joey Votto 0.406 0.375 0.781 0.137 6
Miguel Cabrera 0.356 0.402 0.759 0.152 6
Mike Trout 0.302 0.419 0.721 0.201 16
Jose Bautista 0.325 0.371 0.696 0.187 10
Bryce Harper 0.357 0.456 0.813 0.222 13
Josh Donaldson 0.331 0.432 0.763 0.191 12
Andrew McCutchen 0.321 0.339 0.660 0.119 7
Todd Frazier 0.236 0.341 0.578 0.151 9
Buster Posey 0.305 0.341 0.647 0.086 4
Matt Carpenter 0.299 0.386 0.686 0.177 12

Votto’s OPS is right behind Bryce Harper, who is having one of the greatest seasons in the history of the game. But Votto’s hitting approach, choking up, allows him to be one of the most dangerous hitters in the league with two strikes.

The second tier of players demonstrates the tradeoff between power and on base percentage: With two strikes, Todd Frazier continues to hit for decent power (0.151 ISO), but has an abysmal on base percentage (0.236). Buster Posey maintains a decent OBP (.305), but at the cost of virtually all his power (0.086 ISO). All of the second tier guys hit for far below league average production with two strikes, and if you continue down the list of top hitters much further, it just gets ugly.

For opposing pitchers, the message is clear: Joey Votto remains a dangerous hitter until he is out of the batters box. Should a pitcher be fortunate enough to reach an 0-2 count against the Reds first baseman, only then is the playing field level.

18 Responses

  1. I-71_Exile

    Fine work Mr. Maffie. This should be on the desk of every Reds front office employee, player, and broadcaster.

  2. Steve Mancuso

    I expected the stats would show a much bigger drop off in power. In fact, I thought choking up would prevent him from hitting home runs. Far from it.

    Big league players generally don’t choke up the bat when the count turns against them. They think that’s something Little League players do. Big, bad professional hitters don’t need to do that. Rather go down swinging than do something that cripples their home run swing.

    Choking up that much is a radical adjustment in hitting. But Joey Votto is willing to make that sacrifice and gets the most out of it.

    • jessecuster44

      When Joey chokes up, what is the velocity of the ball when he hits it? Have we figured that out?

      • jdx19

        I don’t think we have full, sortable data sets yet for batted ball speed. Maybe next year!

      • jessecuster44

        Maybe next year. We get a lot of that around here. 🙂

        I look forward to more sortable data – it’s fascinating

  3. aceistheplace2

    “You know that guy who plays on your company’s softball team that is so good that you need to change the rules or it would ruin it for everyone? That’s Joey Votto. In Major League baseball.”

    Best Line of the month.

    I don’t know really where else to put this but I was doing some research a few weeks ago and came across these batting lines:

    (As of Sept 11.)

    Votto: 604 PA, 27 HR, 87R, .317 AVG, .460 OBP, 72 RBI
    Goldschmidt: 607 PA, 27 HR, 86R, .317 AVG, .431 OBP, 97 RBI.

    If that doesn’t tell you all you need to know about the RBI stat, then I don’t know what does.

    • Carl Sayre

      RBI’s as a stat would make more sense if it was kept as percentage of chances converted as opposed to raw numbers. There are hitters that expand the zone and drive in more runs but JV hitting strikes is how he approaches the game as all great hitters do.

  4. WVRedlegs

    Joey MVP has returned. He is back. He will hit .300, have 30 HR’s, and 150+ BB’s. Incredible. They said on the telecast last night that Votto will be only the 4th player in MLB history to accomplish this feat. Again, incredible. Such a great player.

    • WVRedlegs

      “Elite” company to say the least. Barry Bonds, Babe Ruth, and I believe the other player was a guy by the name of Williams.

    • jdx19

      Needs 10 more walks an a homer, right? I’d say odds are against him hitting those numbers. Certainly could, but I put it at maybe 25%.

  5. David

    We’re not worthy! We’re not worthy!

  6. Shchi Cossack

    This is why I have always supported the financial outlay made by the Reds for Votto’s contract. Votto will age well and will contribute through the entire length of his contract. Rather than just producing prodigious numbers early in the contract to cover the production shortfall later in the contract, Votto will still justify his contract with positive production, although lesser positive production, during the the later years of the contract, including the team option at age 40. The only caveat to Votto positive production throughout the contract would be a serious, career ending injury, but a savvy businessman like BC certainly has insurance coverage for such a calamity.

    To the Old Cossack, the key portion of Sarris’ article referenced the last, lingering doubts associated with his injury.

    “I want to make sure I’m not swaying forward and backwards and up and down too much,” Votto said about the mechanics of his swing. “I’d rather move up and down than forwards and backwards. My April and May video you’ll see a lot of swaying because I wasn’t bracing with my back leg enough, part of the process of trusting my leg again. When I moved along, I was moving less forward and backwards and more up and down. If you look at Miguel Cabrera, Bryce Harper, those guys are picture perfect when it comes to their ability to slightly load back but also sit down and load into their body, and you can see this coiling action, and then to brace against it and turn the bat through, that’s what I try to do.”

    Joey lost 2 years of ‘Votto’ production due to his injury, but that is behind him now and NL pitchers have been put on notice. The Reds simply have to surround him a viable cast of professional hitters and this lineup will explode. When I look back on the Votto clock and realize the window that would have closed in 2014 is now open until 2024, I have no sense of urgency for a deep playoff run or world series championship in 2016 or 2017, although I think 2017 may be possible. In answer to the sceptics who refure the ability of the Reds to sign any FA’s to fill a hole, players want to play with the great players, because the great players will make them and everyone else better. Joey Votto is one of the great players. There is no better example than Phillips. With Joey healthy and productive, Phillips has turned in his best performances.

  7. Paul

    How does Goldschmidt rank, the other ‘great’ 1B in the NL?

    • Shchi Cossack

      For Goldy in 2015:

      Home Games: 1.042 OPS
      Away Games: 0.957 OPS and this includes a significant # of games played at Coors Field.

      For Votto in 2015:

      Home Games: 1.002 OPS
      Away Games: 1.038 OPS

      Goldy is a very good 1B, offensively and defensively, but Votto compares with the very few active MLB players capable of winning multiple MVP awards (Trout, Cabrera, Harper)

      • Paul

        I’m interested in 2-strike OPS consistent with the article.

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