Here’s my latest column for Cincinnati Magazine, in which I explore some positively baffling numbers from Reds first baseman Joey Votto this season:

What’s wrong with Joey Votto?

I don’t mean the “right lower leg contusion” that Joey Votto suffered when he was hit by an intentionally thrown pitch from Nationals reliever Ryan Madson during the first week of August. That has pretty much healed, and Votto should be good to go very soon. No, I mean: What’s wrong with Joey Votto? Like, why is he hitting just .284, with only nine home runs this season? That’s an interesting question, and there aren’t any quick and easy answers.

Read the entire thing. Please?

15 Responses

  1. cfd3000

    First of all, there’s nothing wrong with Joey Votto. Whoever leads the league in OBP is a really valuable hitter. And his OPS, WRC+ and all other measures except, essentially, home runs, are very good. Maybe not Hall of Fame good, but very good. But I do think he’s lost a tiny bit of response time. Whether that’s an inevitable consequence of age, or a result of his unusual quest to be able to barrel up the inside pitches, or some of both I don’t know. Maybe it’s just a statistical fluke, maybe not. Only time will tell. But I’m going to offer a prediction. If I’m wrong no one will remember this, and if I’m right we can all look back and say, dang, CFD was onto something.

    I think Joey Votto is going to find new power by starting to pull the ball more. I predict more fly balls, line drives, and home runs to the pull side. And if he makes that change, I think he returns to elite for September, for 2019, and probably a couple of years after that. You read it here first.

  2. Rut

    Well over 100 million reasons why the Reds won’t be “transitioning away” from Votto for quite some time….

  3. Ethan L

    His wRC+ is 130. As I type, that’s 26th in the Bigs putting him between Harper and Rizzo. Yes, it’s off his normal clip around 160 ish, but it isn’t bad at all. His WAR is down below 3. Anyway, I don’t think it’s that bad of a year. He’s just getting old and playing like a mortal now.

  4. Kettering Reds Fan

    A hypothesis. Probably not a valid one since I -presume- these guys are tested every spring.

    Eye check. Eyes change with age. Note that Tiger Woods has had his eyes Lasiked -three- times during his career to establish and preserve 20/10 vision in both eyes. When one is discussing the nuances of how to hit MLB pitching, most of these guys are 20/20 or better – they have to be. But vision changes slowly – very slowly – with age starting at about this point. A very small change in overall vision may be just enough to throw off timing and, critically, depth perception of the incoming pitch.

    The other possibility is that the shifts are evolving as his adaptations and things will stabilize/maybe improve a bit once the next adaptation fits in…….at which point, about halfway through the next season, a new shift pattern develops…….

  5. citizen54

    I’ll go with bad luck wOBA .368, xwOBA .420. Basically, if you go off of exit velocity and launch angle, along with his ability to get on base Votto is still a top 5 player in baseball.

  6. Pborbon

    Ignoring stats and just using the eye test from watching games it looks like two or three things are different than last season –

    1) He’s struggling vs left handers. Fall off appears greater vs LHs than RHs.
    2) He’s fighting off fastballs on the inside vs driving them. Very defensive swing on the inner half.
    3) He looks like he is crowding the plate more than last year but I could be wrong.

    • big5ed

      Yes on all three counts. His OPS against RH is .901, but only .687 v LH.

      The league is learning how to pitch to him, too, because when I checked about 6 weeks ago, he was clearly worse against NL Central teams.

      Finally, there may be something to the aging-eyesight issue. His splits are worse at home, and worse in the first inning, so (without using the Fangraphs split tool) he could be having trouble seeing in the cruddy GAPB batter’s eye when it is sunlit.

  7. citizen54

    I’m simply stating facts based upon the historical outcome of similarly hit balls based upon velocity and launch angle that hitters have put into play since 2015. I’m sure a part of his decline can be attributed to aging but most of it is due to bad luck on his balls in play, eg hitting a 390 ft fly ball to dead center field.

    It has nothing to do with viewing Votto with rose colored glasses. It’s certainly a lot better than using “fouling off hitable pitches” to support an argument. And basing your view of Votto on the fact that he only has 9 home runs without looking at the underlying data seems to be results oriented thinking. It’s like saying pocket aces is a bad hand because you lost with it three times in a row.

    • citizen54

      Sure you can make your decisions solely based upon actual results which include a factor of luck or you can make decisions based upon expected outcomes which attempt to strip away the luck factor (in this case ball park and defense). Hint: Any successful baseball executive or poker player will always choose the latter.

  8. DavidTurner49

    FWIW (small sample size, it was only bp, etc)- I saw Joey’s bp the last game in Chicago. He was ripping liners all over the field. I wondered about his power until he hit the last 3-4 pitches into the left-center bleachers.

  9. Kettering Reds Fan

    Well, at least -someone- reads my posts (grin).

    Just so everyone is clear on what I’m suggesting:

    Most major league capable hitters have better than 20/20 eyesight. I think I read somewhere that it is probably around 20/15 or so. What I’m suggesting is that, what to us would be an inconsequential change, say 20/15 to 20/17 or 18.. or even 20/16, has major impact on a hitter’s ability to recognize pitch location given the speed of MLB pitching and the requisite time to register and respond..
    Especially if its myopia. One of the subtle changes involves depth perception. (I know this from personal experience…..of course, I’m around 20/300 uncorrected and have been for almost all my life— thus, I will -never- be able to hit the curveball…..)

    One wonders what Joey’s baseline eyesight values are/were. Wouldn’t surprise me at all if he’s in the Tiger Woods class…..i.e. 20/10.

  10. Still a Red

    Yes, I’ve noticed that too. But I believe the stats show that the exit velocities are about the same. Spin could hold them up. But I’ve also noticed, with just an eye-test, that a lot of his homers in the past were fly balls that managed to go deep enough to clear the fence…and I’m not seeing that this year. That would be an angle issue.

  11. Still a Red

    I’ve thought too that maybe he’s got a bit of leg issue…not serious but enough to take a little off his hit distance…might explain his loping into home to score from third to the point where the other night I thought Gennett was going to pass him in the baseline before Joey scored. And on that line, I’m afraid one of these times the opposing team will throw someone out for the third out before Joey actually crosses home plate.

  12. Red Fan since 1962

    I remember Joey Votto saying that he decided to take it easy this past off season– as opposed to the tremendous effort he made preparing for the 2017 season. Obviously, he can do whatever he wants to do to prepare, but I was concerned given his age entering 2018. I think this season will be a wake-up call and that he will go gangbusters preparing for 2019. He won’t ever get back to what he was from 2015-2017 or the MVP season but he will be much better than 2018. He remains the most interesting hitter I have ever seen, and it is a joy to watch him go about his business.