Joey Votto tinkers with his swing more than anyone in Major League Baseball. That may or may not be true, but it certainly feels like it is. Arguably the best hitter in Cincinnati Reds history, who are we to argue with his process? With that said, there was an adjustment made in 2020 after a slow start – one that seemed to plague nearly every hitter on the team except Nick Castellanos.

“Joey, last year, made an unbelievable adjustment. He got off to a slow start, kind of the way we did as a team,” said manager David Bell earlier this week. “I believe we had the 3rd or 4th best record in the game from somewhere around August 25th through the end of the year. Right around that same time, Joey worked hard – like he always does – and really made a solid adjustment where he became more aggressive, a little more on the attack, maybe a little more upright. I don’t know exactly all the adjustments he made, but it certainly was a different look. Joey finished really strong, and he was a big part of our team success while we were playing well for several weeks there. I really believe he can take that into next season.”

In the truncated season, Joey Votto hit just .226/.354/.446 overall. That was better than the league average, coming out to a 110 OPS+, but for a first baseman that’s about average and for what we think of from a good version of Joey Votto, it’s below-average.  In 2019 his walk rate declined to the lowest level it had been at since 2008 when he was a rookie. For a typical player, a 12.5% walk rate would be quite strong – but for Votto that represented a steep decline. In 2020 his walk rate jumped up to 16.6%, in line with his career rate. His power, which had been down significantly over the past two seasons, also jumped back up to his career norms. What didn’t was his BABIP, which was just .235 – 110 points below his career average and only the second time it’s ever been below the .300 mark. In 2014, the year in which he played through an injury before cutting the season short, it was .299.

David Bell mentioned that August 25th date with regards to Joey Votto. When that day ended, Votto was hitting .191/.321/.326 in 106 plate appearances with 17 walks and 14 strikeouts. The next day is when the Reds sat Votto for the next few days. When he returned on August 29th he turned things around and went on a bit of a tear the rest of the season, hitting .258/.385/.557 with 20 walks and 29 strikeouts in 117 plate appearances.

There is clearly a difference in the production between the two time periods. There’s nearly a .300 point difference in OPS (.941 vs. .647). The big differences come in the power output (.135 vs. .299) the BABIP (.283 vs. .194), and the strikeout rate (just 13.2% when he wasn’t hitting vs. 24.8% when he was crushing the ball).

Some of that seems like it could be repeatable. Some of it doesn’t. Having a .283 BABIP not only seems repeatable, it seems almost likely that he’ll top that. Only once in his career has Joey Votto been lower than that, and only one other time has he even been remotely close to that low of a mark. The walk rate bouncing back was a good sign, and it was similar in each part of the splits – giving us plenty of reason to think that it too is repeatable. Having a high strikeout rate isn’t exactly what you want, and a 24.8% rate would easily be the worst of his career – only once, in 2019 when it was 20.2%, has it ever been over 20%. That, however, does seem like something that is repeatable, though that’s not a good sign, either.

Where things don’t quite seem as repeatable come in the power output. His isolated power in that second “half” split was .299 (slugging – average). The best he’s ever had in his career was .276 and that came a decade ago when he won the Most Valuable Player Award in 2010. That said, his .258 mark in 2017 was his second best mark of his career that that wasn’t THAT long ago. Still, it would be some kind of crazy for a 37-year-old to have the best power output of his career.

If Joey Votto can come back to somewhere near his career norm when it comes to BABIP, though, and bring back most of the rates he produced at in the “second half” of 2020, then things could get interesting even if he doesn’t come close to having that same kind of power. You’re probably not going to see the 2017 version of Votto again. But there’s also reason to think that there’s a chance we could see a more productive version than what we’ve seen over the last three seasons, too.

46 Responses

  1. Sliotar

    Not for certain, but wasn’t Votto sat after trying him for a stretch as a leadoff hitter?

    He had a wRC+ of 114 overall, but only 75 wRC+ (and .289 OBP) hitting leadoff in 2020 (FanGraphs).

    Take out the abysmal leadoff experiment … he was fine, especially for all or nothing MLB in 2020.

  2. RedBaron

    I dunno but his defense was awful and negated any slight positives he had offensively. I would look for him to start sitting against some LHP this next year.

  3. KDJ

    “[Votto] went on a bit of a tear the rest of the season, hitting .258/.385/.557 with 20 walks and 29 strikeouts in 117 plate appearances.”
    Wow, is that where we are now? That stat line is considered “a tear” for a guy with a career line of .304/.419/.517. SO rate of 24.8% vs 17.8% for his career. Yikes.

    More generally . . . if the shift is lowering BABIP, and if the shift and the HR-or-nothing approach so common today are lowering averages and OBP, do you think more players will adjust to spray the ball to all fields? Are we seeing that start to happen?

    • Doug Gray

      I’d say that a .942 OPS is a tear for just about any hitter, so yes, that’s where we are. But it’s also definitely a tear when for the month prior he had an OPS of .647.

    • Stock

      The shift has not really impacted Votto like other players. From 2015 – 2019 he had 1040 AB vs. the Shift and his BABIP was .328

      I am with Doug in that .942 is a tear. If Votto has a .900+ OPS next year we have an asset at 1B. If he returns to .800- we have a liability.

  4. Bred

    He started 2019 in crouched and choking up. That did not go so well. He ended 2019 standing more upright and not choking up as much and hit better. Then 2020 comes and he starts crouched and choking up. After getting benched, he returns upright and not choking up and gets good results. What version he uses in 2021 is unknown now. He will be in the lineup every day, but if he does not produce and has big R/L splits, I hope he accepts a platoon role.

    • pinson343

      Votto was crouching and choking up during his fabulous 2017 and 2018 seasons. That’s why he was reluctant to drop it. But I would believe he was crouching and choking up more in 2019 and the early part of 2020., and in any case it was no longer working.

      After the way he improved toward the end of 2019 by standing more upright, I was disappointed that in early 2020 he called that “a dumb experiment” and returned to the crouch.

  5. Jeff

    This also marks the time when Bell moved Joey to the 3 hole. Joey’s two worst seasons coincided with Bell batting Joey leadoff and in the 2 hole.

  6. Melvin

    “Pete Rose had more hits but Joey Votto is a better hitter”. – Marty Brennaman

    • rex

      Pete Rose is the the REDS greatest hitter of all time and he could field ground balls too

      • LDS

        Rex, I agree, I’d take Rose over Votto at any comparable stage of their careers.

      • pinson343

        Frank Robinson a better hitter than Rose and even Rose would agree.

    • Jack

      Rose is inferior to Votto in almost every way at the plate and was only a so-so defender himself.

      • Bill J

        I remember 1 umpire saying if Pete took a pitch and look at him he would call it a ball because Pete knew the strike zone so well. Does any umpire say that about Bottom?

      • m2

        Right. You might want to review the complete body of work and before Votto retires you will find he has long wore out his welcome in this city. His contract is nightmarish TODAY and promises to worsen. Despite the man crush that local (including those from out of town – Hello Denver) part-time scribes who have a mancrush on Votto and attempting to fashion stats to justify their obsession – Votto is a detriment to the club and will only grow worse. Can’t field, can’t run, .226 batting average – ks on the ascent…and isn’t particularly useful as a leader…Yeah there’s a lot to like there.

      • Doug Gray

        Joey Votto isn’t worth what he is being paid today for his production. Joey Votto was worth 2-3 times what he was paid in the past for his production. That’s how almost every long term contract works. You save money on the front end and overpay at the back end. The teams know it. The players know it. Somehow, too many fans still don’t grasp it and then write comments like yours.

      • Corey D

        I’m with Doug. It gets tiresome to hear people complain about contracts. Why is it ok when players are under paid for so many years.

    • Melvin

      Fact is guys, I’d like to have them both on my team. 🙂

      • Melvin

        A better discussion for me would be would Votto replace Perez at 1B on the Reds all time “Great Eight”. From a pure hitting standpoint, at least to me he would. However, when it comes to leadership, maybe not. Both Bob Howsman and Sparky Anderson are quoted as saying they didn’t realize what an important leader Perez was to the Big Red Machine and that they made a mistake in trading him. The 1977 Reds finished 88-74. Even though Driessen had good stats that year as the replacement for Perez they still finished 10 games back of the Dodgers with the other seven left of the “Great Eight” still on the team…..after winning back to back WS of course. Leadership IS important.

    • Bob Purkey

      Frank Robinson was a stud. Thanks Bill DeWitt!

      If you ever get to see the old video of Robinson getting knocked down 3 straight pitches before he finally got plunked on the 4th pitch by Don Drysdale, will tell you kind of player he was. He just came back and took his revenge at the plate!

  7. TR

    I’m pulling for Joey minus the adjustments during the season and hitting 6th. or 7th. in the batting order.

  8. Rednat

    I Know he would not agree to it but I would love to see Joey bat in the 8 hole, ala Davey Concepcion with the mid 1980’s reds. he had some very productive years towards the end of his career and had some big hits batting 8th. i think psychologically it would take a lot of pressure off Joey as well. plus we need somebody to step up and be that 3 hole hitter for the reds.

    • Stock

      In 1981 Concepcion had a 5 game streak of 5 starts batting 5th. Every other start he batted 3rd.
      In 1982 Concepcion batted 4th 4 times, 5th 2 times and every other start batted 3rd.
      in 1983 Concepcion batted 7th 4 times, 6th 4 times and every other start he batted 1st, 2nd or 3rd.

      When Concepcion was good he was at the top of the lineup. I agree 1983 was a miserable season for Concepcion and he saw both the lower half and upper half of the lineup from 1984-1987.

  9. Jim

    Send him down to AA. He will rake. Draw fans. Make our defense better.
    Post him for sale to KBO.
    Pay him to go home! Love Joey. Hated and laughed at the contract when he signed it. Still hating it but not laughing anymore.

  10. Jack

    I will always root for Votto. Give us one more great season Joey!

  11. Hotto4Votto

    I believe there is a correlation between the K% and the power numbers. The more upright stance, taking bigger cuts not just trying to make contact, not as many defensive swings with two strikes, etc led to more power. So if the K% is sustainable the power numbers should also be.

  12. CFD3000

    Can he sustain a .900 OPS at age 37? If he stays healthy then yes he can. Will he? Therein lies the mystery. The idea that Votto after his benching and subsequent adjustments this season was somehow a liability is ridiculous. If he can manage a BABIP around .300 with a walk rate around 15% then he will be critical for the Reds offense next year. No way that’s an 8 (or even 6) hole hitter. I suspect Votto has realized that whatever benefits his crouch may have offered, he needs to be more upright and more aggressive to be effective now. I expect him to start 2021 with that approach and expect him to be quite good. Not “MVP” good, but definitely “solid productive hitter” good. I’m looking forward to watching that.

  13. Jimbo44CN

    When you look at the stats from last year, I don’t understand how everyone wants to get rid of him. Just compare him to Castellanos, Mr. Everything.
    Joey 226
    NC 225
    Joey 354
    NC 298
    Joey 11
    NC 14
    Joey 37
    NC 19
    and finally strikeouts
    Joey 43
    NC 69
    Doesnt look so bad after all.

  14. Stock

    I am with Hotto4Votto in this case

    I don’t know if the second half is sustainable. But I don’t think he was lucky and therefore probably not repeatable either.

    Votto’s Hard hit%:

    career = 37.6%
    2020 1st 30 games = 31.8%
    2020 last 30 games = 42.6%
    2020 last 20 games = 46.7%
    2020 last 15 games = 53.1%

    The outcome from contact in the second half without a doubt tells me that the increase in ISO is real.

    Next thought. If Votto is focusing on power does this mean like most power hitters he is pulling the ball more and as a result his BABIP should go down because as KDJ mentioned above the shift crushes BABIP for pull hitters, especially LH pull hitters.

    Once I realized this I thought I would be retracting my comment made above in response to KDJ.

    Pull percentage:

    Career = 35.8%
    2020 1st 30 games = 50%
    2020 last 30 games = 39.7%
    2020 last 20 games = 40.0%
    2020 last 15 games = 34.4%

    If Votto can continue to hit the ball as hard as he did the last 15 games of the year and spray the ball the way he did the last 15 games his BABIP should approach or even exceed a career high and his ISO should be a career high.

  15. Ryan

    I, for one, will sit back and enjoy getting to watch one of the best hitters of our generation playing for my favorite team and look forward to the day he is a 1st ballot HOF’er wearing a Reds cap. And if you have any Votto rookie cards you want to get rid I’d gladly take those off your hands 🙂

  16. m2

    Doug – I get you are enamored with Votto. You understand I am not. I feel he is the most overrated player in decades. I said the same thing before last year. He is in a slide that will absolutely negate the value of the contract. We can agree to disagree and you can refute using OBP and a host of other stats but if he trots out another year of horrid defense, poor baserunning and now anemic hitting (.226), will you continue to applaud his walks (assuming that doesn’t plunge as well)? Fact – I would be happy if he rebounded, but am more than a bit skeptical. Truth is folks like you and others continue to defend instead of try to understand and in the process epically over value personnel on the Reds club. And you’re not alone but the key here is to continue to be a witness to the pathetic end of season outcome which is now the norm (unless you believe this season was a great stride forward). Thank you.

    • Jimbo44CN

      So it’s all Vottos fault in the playoff losses? Come on.
      The Reds offense sucked this year, period. But, he was not the worst on the team. He’s getting older, yes, but he’s not the lead anchor you are trying to make him out to be. If anything the fault lies with the on field management by David Bell and the hitting coach.

      • m2

        @Jimbo…no I would not pin it all on Mr. Votto’s shoulders and I agree aside from the homeruns the Reds offense was putrid. But beneath the numbers, I contend you will find a poorly crafted team. I would exclude the pitching staff but early in the offseason it would appear that even that is eroding. Unfortunately, the economics of MLB seem to be the catalyst of that. I would also agree that the field management is suspect as well but anytime you decry one leader ownership/leadership must be able to identify the replacement. Who would that be at this point? At the risk of being branded a heretic I would offer the Red in its current make up are essentially the Pirates squad with a bow tie…neither are destined to be very competitive beyond the regular season. But just to be clear for those who read this: Some on here contend Mr. Votto is a 1st ballot HOFer….well have a look 2018-2020 – and if 2021 doesn’t break this trend, what then? Thank you.

      • Melvin

        As far as the HOF I guess it depends on how much you value OBP. I tend to value it a lot, a whole lot. I remember reading an article before the 2017 season started. It stated that even if Joey Votto went 0-1300 the rest of his career he still would have a better OBP than Tony Perez who of course is already in the HOF. Votto has and still does more than just get on base. I’m not convinced he’s physically washed up. We’ll see.

  17. m2

    Oh just one more inconvenient fact for the Votto FAN club: Care to guess what percentage of the overall payroll Joey’s contract occupies? Now after you’ve looked that up, ask yourself about opportunity cost, meaning if this money allocated to Mr. Votto was instead channeled to a different asset(s) what would that look like on the field and more importantly in the won/loss column? Emotions and loyalty are fine but running successful (spelled winning) club requires careful analysis. I can’t resist – you admonished me last year stating Winkler “rakes.” Which month Doug? And is that when he is on or off the IR? Thanks you for sharing your thoughts.

    • Doug Gray

      Ask Bob Castellini and the other 18 owners about opportunity costs and why they failed, continuously, the surround a prime HOF caliber player for half of a decade with other quality players. After you’ve done that, well, I guess just keep being mad at Joey Votto?

  18. m2

    So it’s an interesting point but it also has a fair amount of humor attached to it. Mr. Castellini (and I will wager a guess the balance of other owners) are not baseball experts. He and the rest are like you Doug – fans (albeit with farther deeper pockets). Ownership relies on the general manager, scouts, advisors (special), coaches, roving instructors, and more to identify talent and develop it. With out a doubt, there are hits and misses in this process. Before moving on though I can’t avoid the temptation of telling you that many “Fans” are replete with a myriad of fantasies about their favorite player. Undeniably, Mr. Votto had a strong run. He was a feared hitter as recently as 2017. Had he retired then, I think a very robust case could have been made for his Hall of Fame candidacy. Now, he is susceptible to a heater up in the zone and his plate discipline (may be a function guessing to keep up with the speed – very understandable) seems to be waivering. I believe in this case ownership’s fault was agreeing to this extraordinary bad contract in terms of length and graduated compensation (no trade clause and no buy out) The Reds are far from the only team to do this – others have. Keep in mind many other clubs are better positioned to survive horrible contracts like this. Earlier I argued that the club has not been effective in its player evaluations and hasn’t made savvy trades. This is largely not the function of ownership – there are exceptions Doug as you know ownership has to approve the movement of some players and contracts (good example Barry Larkin). But the strategic team looks at who is on the club and does the gap analysis coupled with the economic realities. My fundamental point is the Reds team today is not laden with talent and is limited – there is minimal help on the way from the Farm Clubs, and the team seems unwilling to move assets to build an effective foundation. Lastly, I am not angry with Mr. Votto. He has contributed to the team. There are elements of his game that I neither have nor do applaud – but nothing at the anger point. It does sicken me that unless he makes marked improvement he will almost singularly hold back this club for the next two to three years. And again if the last two to three years of his career are more like what we have witnessed over the last three years, Hall of Fame voters will be hard-pressed to elect him first ballot. Thank you for sharing your points Doug.

    • Stock

      I agree with a lot of what you say m2. At this point there is no way Joey Votto is a first ballot HOF’er on merits. Tony Perez was the 4th best offensive player on the Big Red Machine and it took him 9 years to make the HOF. I mention this because Perez’ career war still exceeds that of Votto. Larry Walker has yet to make the HOF and Votto will not surpass his career WAR. Votto is a borderline HOF in my mind. Then again I thought there was no chance Harold Baines would ever make the HOF.

      • CFD3000

        Umm… Larry Walker is a Hall of Famer now. Don’t let facts get in the way of your arguments. Whether Votto is a good hitter in 2021 remains to be seen, but his production to date is basically equivalent to the average of HoF first basemen. He is probably not a first ballot guy, but he is quite likely to be inducted. And for the old school guys, look up where Votto stands on the counting lists in Reds history. He’s near the top of every important category and ahead of other Hall of Famers in most of them. Anyone who doesn’t think he has had an exceptional offensive career isn’t paying attention.

      • Stock

        Yep I forgot Walker was put in last year. But you should take your own advice. The facts are that there are 24 hall of famers who played at least 900 games at 1B. These 24 players had an average career WAR of 70.1 Votto is a long way from this.

        19 of the 24 have a higher career war than Votto. 4 of the 5 (Jim Bottomley, Frank Chance, George Kelly and George Sisler) with lower career WAR’s than Votto played in the dead ball era. Only Orlando Cepeda made it and started his career after 1927.

        Frank Chance did not deserve it based upon his playing career so maybe his managerial career put him over the top.

        The average WAR of HOF 1B who started their career after 1930 is 78.3 with only Jim Greenburg (61.1 but missed three years in his prime due to WWII), Tony Perez and Orlando Cepeda with career war less than 65.

        So I may have forgotten that Walker made the HOF last year but your statement was far from accurate yourself.

  19. m2

    Stock very strong rebuke of CFD using …juz the facts.