Joey Votto is one of the best hitters in the history of the Cincinnati Reds. He’s won an MVP, he should have won another one, and he’s led the league in OPS twice in his career. He’s hit .304/.419/.517 in his career, but in the last three seasons he’s been on a decline. While still above-average, hit .265/.382/.420 line hasn’t compared to what he had been earlier in his career. That’s to be expected as a player enters their mid-30’s. But for Votto, he began to adjust last year around the mid-point of the season after he sat for three games and not only did he look like a different hitter from a mechanics standpoint, his numbers were different, too.
On August 26th Joey Votto was hitting .191/.321/.326. He was benched for the next three days before returning to the lineup for a doubleheader on August 29th. From that point forward the Reds first baseman hit .258/.385/.557. The strikeout rate was up, but the power was also up significantly. His stance at the plate was also more upright and closer to resembling what he used to look like. He’s looking to bringing that back again in 2021.
“When I first came to the league, and certainly in the minor leagues, I was a bit more aggressive,” said Votto. “When I was a younger player I idolized Todd Helton and Barry Bonds and a few other modern players of the early 2000’s and I love the great players of the past – the Williams, the Ruths, the Aarons, the Mays – when I first played in the minor leagues I was so dead set on cutting down the strikeouts because I wanted to be a well rounded hitter. And eventually over the past maybe 6-7 years I started really making that adjustment and seeing that change. A player has to have their own challenges, have their own goals.”
“I lost some of the things, some of my strengths I came to the league with – hitting the ball hard, specifically – hitting the ball all over the field with power, being difficult to defend and I did that in exchange for command of the strikezone, putting the ball in play, being a tough at-bat, and it zapped my power,” Votto continued. “In ’17 I played really, really well because I had that nice combination of low strikeouts, tons of power, lots of walks – it was the dream season of course, for me. I stuck to that the last couple of years – in ’19 a little bit, especially last year I had to let that go and get back to what got me to the league. The adjustments I made last year after the benching were very, very natural to me. I’ve kind of always hit the ball like that, stood up taller and I’m back to a more comfortable place in terms of hitting. It’s going to come with some more swings and misses and more strikeouts, but as long as I’m productive and as long as I’m dangerous at the plate, it’ll pay itself off.”
Even with the big turn around after being benched in 2021, Joey Votto’s average was just .258. The shift certainly could have played into that. So could the small sample size of just 28 games. Being more aggressive at the plate helped with the power. It helped give him some renewed confidence, too.
“I’ve led the league in slugging percentage, and I was top 2-3-4-5 almost every year of my career in batting average also,” said Votto. “I just got so dead set in commanding the strikezone assuming that I was going to help the team that way. You know, I led the league in extra-base hits at 18-years-old as a newbie from Canada. I have to remind myself, at the core, that’s who I am. I tried to make myself into the perfect hitter, and I’ve had some success with that – certainly not perfect, but copied my idols. I’m probably best suited to include some more air and get back to my natural approach. And I did last year, that gave me confidence last year and certainly this offseason. I’m as excited as I’ve been maybe in my Major League career to start a Major League season.”
“I’ve always been a power hitter – well, maybe not always, Lord have mercy the last couple of years, no,” said Votto. “But, yeah, I just want to get back to being dangerous, difficult to defend. I’d hit ball into the shift, and I’d hit it pretty hard and it’d be a step or two to the left for the a second baseman or shortstop, and I’d be out. And I was like ‘what am I doing? This is unsustainable, this will never last.’ So I’ve got to hit the ball harder, be more difficult to defend. And I did this last year. I refined last year, I’ll be better than the back little bit of the season just because I worked on it and I’ll dedicate myself to it and take some time. I can’t wait, I’m so excited.”
Joey Votto is excited. He wants to be a dangerous hitter again. He’s looking to be a power hitter again. There is a plan, and while it started last year and saw the results work out, it lasted just a month before the season came to an end. 2021 looks like it’s going to be a full year and it seems like Cincinnati’s first baseman is hoping to rebound in a big way and is excited to get started. If the Reds are going to be contenders, they’re going to need that to happen.