While browsing twitter the other day I happened to see a tweet that said something like “Joey Votto watching Cincinnati Reds fans celebrate Elly De La Cruz walk with men on base…..” – and I have searched for and can’t find the tweet now, so I am sorry to whoever made it that I can’t link ya. It was kind of funny because it’s true that a certain portion of the fanbase, and at the time, radio booth, didn’t like the idea of Votto walking if someone was on base. Not to get too deep into that, because that’s another topic for another day, but it did bring into perspective just how often De La Cruz has been walking this season.

In his minor league career, Elly De La Cruz didn’t walk much. He wasn’t a guy who didn’t walk at all, but at every level he played at from rookie ball through Double-A, his walk rate was between 7-8%, except for in Single-A when he was 19 and his walk rate was 5%. But in 2023 he had 186 plate appearances in Triple-A and he walked 14% of the time. He was just 21-years-old, so some of that was likely due to just improvements in his game – whether it was better pitch recognition, a better plan at the plate – but some of it may have also been the fact that in Triple-A they have a hybrid umpiring system for the strikezone. Three days a week the zone is automated and the other three days it’s called by an umpire but hitters can challenge a call that’s reviewed by the automated zone.

Whatever it was, and honestly it could have been a mix of both things, Elly De La Cruz took yet another step forward in his development. And he crushed the ball with Louisville and was called up to join the Reds in early June. After arriving in Cincinnati he was inconsistent at the plate, riding hot and cold streaks. His walk rate was 8% and he had a 34% strikeout rate. With all of the other things he does, he was a good player, but there were struggles in there.

This season, a slump in the first week of the season had some calling for him to be sent back to Triple-A. If you know any of those people feel free to mock them to their faces in a friendly manner. They deserve a little bit of old fashioned ribbing for their hot take. Even with the slow start, Elly De La Cruz has been among the best hitters in baseball this season. He’s hitting .299/.419/.621. He’s currently walking 16% of the time (8th best rate in all of baseball), and his strikeout rate has come down a little bit, too. It’s still at 30%, which is higher than you would like it to be, but it’s trending – ever so slightly – in the right direction.

When Joey Votto was at his peak, he was walking 15-20% of the time. His career walk rate is 16%. That’s right where De La Cruz is at this point in the year. Votto made far more contact, striking out just 19% of the time. The two have that similar walk rate, but they got there/are getting there a bit differently.

This season, De La Cruz is chasing pitches out of the strikezone 26.6% of the time. That’s a big improvement over the 35.3% he had last season. He’s swinging at strikes 60.3% of the time. Votto, for his career, swung at pitches out of the zone just 22.1% of the time – though in the first four full seasons of his career it was between 24 and 29%. But Votto also swung at pitches in the zone far more often – 69% for his career. The lowest rate of his career came in 2015 when he swung at just 62% of pitches in the zone.

Pitchers just aren’t throwing Elly De La Cruz many strikes. They didn’t last season, either. In 2023 he saw just 39% of the pitches thrown to him be in the strikezone. This year it’s even lower – 37%. Votto, by comparison, had a 43% “zone rate” for his career and in no season did that ever dip into the 30’s. Part of that could be that pitchers knew Votto wasn’t going to chase often and that De La Cruz was far more likely to chase. But that’s the thing we’re seeing right now – he’s not chasing anymore. At least not like he used to.

Development of players isn’t always linear. In fact, it almost never is. Right now we are seeing Elly De La Cruz take that next step. It’s a small sample size, but it actually began towards the end of last season. And it’s not the first time he’s really taken a more patient approach and shown that he can get the strikezone – even if that did take place in Triple-A against far less talented pitchers than he’s going to keep seeing in the big leagues for the rest of his career.

The next step that could take him to the next level is to swing at, and make more contact with pitches in the strikezone. Both his swing rate  in the zone (among the lowest 10 among qualified hitters) and his in-zone contact rate (31st lowest of 183 qualified hitters) could be better. An improvement in either could help take him to whatever that next level of offensive performance happens to be.

16 Responses

  1. Philly Red

    Just watching him this year, you can see the improvement in plate discipline and pitch recognition. Pitchers are already having to adjust because he rarely swings at breaking balls out of the zone anymore.

    His last bit of kryptonite is that they now just flip breaking stuff up there for strikes and he takes them until 2 strikes, then struggles to make good contact on them as of right now.

    When he can more consistently make them pay for that, then he’s another level of offensive player because his speed turns a walk into an XBH like it’s little league. Unbelievably fun player to watch every night and I am sure glad he isn’t doing it in AAA (one of the coldest takes in the long history people saying dumb stuff on sports message boards).

  2. Brian

    Nice article. I think too that he doesn’t have to identify pitches as quickly as most hitters because of his own quickness. Fractions of a second matters when hitting, his speed allows him to catch-up where other hitters may not be able to. He’s naturally blessed.

  3. Old-school

    “Development of players isnt always linear”

    Well stated

    Elly and Steer are giving solid at bats

    Really miss friedl and mcLain

    Need India CES Stephenson and Candelario to start doing the same

    • Michael Wilson

      When Votto walked it was a runner on first. When EDLC walks it’s like a double or triple.

    • DaveCT

      Not always linear — exactly! One of the best statements I’ve heard regarding player development, ever.

      Player development is essentially human development, and akin to child development, too, for that matter. Sequential and non linear at the same time, full of fits and starts. Tangible and intangible. Maddening and joyous (potty training v. first steps).

      Now, to truly get expansive, group (team) developments is also … sequential and non linear, too.

  4. Chad A Donnell

    Just an outstanding article Doug!
    For the Record I am a huge advocate of an electronic strike zone in MLB.

    • Mauired

      100 percent. Put this in the category of pitch clock, umpire challenges, and disallowing base obstruction to the runner as rule changes that will make the game so much better to watch.

      • Mauired

        Oh and the universal dh and balanced schedule are much appreciated as well.

  5. TR

    Elly is improving in recognizing the occasional good pitch from the opposition.

  6. CI3J

    It’s always exciting seeing young players “figure it out” right before our eyes. Elly seems to be doing it. I wish Hunter Greene and CES could join him in figuring out their respective problems holding them back.

    Also, I really hope Benson and Steer break out of their slumps soon. They were carrying the team in early April, now both are scuffling a bit. Benson especially seems to be pressing at the plate and chasing pitches he normally wouldn’t.

    Elly has been great. But he can’t do it alone every night. He needs a few more good hitters around him. Fraley has quietly been pretty good. Steer and Benson should come around eventually. I would love to see CES start “figuring it out” and join in the fun, too.

    And of course, on the pitching side, I can’t wait for Hunter Greene to “figure it out”.

  7. Mauired

    From the left side he is becoming elite and I rarely see any chase anymore. From the right side, I still see him chase and get himself out. But even there I have seen some gradual improvements where he’s starting to look at least average on that side. I don’t put it past him to keep getting better and turn that into a strength as well. The kid is so good and just keeps getting better. Not a hot take to say he’s the best player the Reds have developed in the 30 years I’ve been watching. Joey Votto is a borderline hall of famer. I would put him in if I had a vote, but this kid is so much better is he just keeps it up and stays healthy.

  8. DW

    “This season, a slump in the first week of the season had some calling for him to be sent back to Triple-A. If you know any of those people feel free to mock them to their faces in a friendly manner. They deserve a little bit of old fashioned ribbing for their hot take.”

    I loved this Doug. Getting to do a little bit of robbing yourself with this article. Nice job! And well deserved to those with so little patience.

  9. Mark Moore

    +10,000 for the article. I’ll just say I’m in line with the other comments as well. We can only hope he keeps improving for whatever time we have him in a Queen City Redlegs uniform.

  10. Jason Franklin

    Let’s play a game:
    Would the Reds be interested in Luis Arraez? He would give the team a hitting instructor on the field, average defense at 2B (better then India, etc) and a plate discipline master. He has a year and half left of control before free agency, too. They could move guys around like Bell likes to do defensively to make it work. What would it cost? I see him plugged in at 2 or 3 in the lineup being a boon for the team.

  11. Harry Stoner

    EDLC back to chasing pitches again today.

    3 Ks in 5 abs.

    He’s making progress but it’s going to take a while.

    Patience is a virture and a reward.

    Some more nice D.