Joey Votto was on my thoughts even earlier than I learn The Athletic’s latest dive into the Reds first baseman’s singular persona. Chess devotee? Aldous Huxley reader? Mop fanatic? Add all of it to the Corridor of Fame plaque alongside the MVP award, six All-Star appearances, and 7 on-base proportion leads.
It wasn’t Votto’s quirks that have been on my thoughts, nonetheless, a lot because it was his lagging manufacturing. When he spoke of a modified strategy to The Athletic’s C. Trent Rosecrans and Eno Sarris again in February, my ears perked up, and I made a psychological word to trace his progress.
Which, yikes. By way of Monday, the 37-year-old first baseman was hitting .171/.209/.244 for a 24 wRC+, with a lone homer in 43 plate appearances representing his solely extra-base hit. Hold hitting like that and he may wind up tending to a @JoeyMoppo Instagram account (please give us a @JoeyMoppo Instagram account) whereas any individual else performs first base. I child, after all, however even within the season’s first two weeks, earlier than any particular person statistics have begun to stabilize, a 24 wRC+ isn’t the place anybody wish to be.
Votto is coming off a season wherein he hit simply .226/.354/.446, setting profession lows in each batting common and on-base proportion however posting his highest slugging proportion and remoted energy since 2017, his final massive season. The additional thump helped him to a 114 wRC+, which was no less than an enchancment upon the earlier 12 months’s 101, however nonetheless down from the 130 he posted in 2018, when he led the NL with a .417 OBP. Even attending to final 12 months’s decidedly un-Votto-like line required an adjustment in strategy after a sluggish begin and a short benching amid an 0-for-18 skid. He hit .191/.321/.326 (77 wRC+) with three homers by means of August 25, however .258/.385/.557 (148 wRC+) with eight homers thereafter, buying and selling some management of the strike zone for some energy, as he defined to Rosecrans and Sarris in February:
“I simply obtained so dead-set on commanding the strike zone and assuming that I used to be going to assist the group that method… I misplaced a few of the issues, a few of my strengths that I first got here to the league with — hitting the ball, particularly, hitting the ball everywhere in the area with energy, being troublesome to defend, and I did that in change for command of the strike zone, placing the ball in play, being a tricky at-bat,” Votto stated of these selections. “It sapped my energy.”
He additionally described an adjustment in philosophy:
“The changes I made final 12 months after the benching have been very, very pure,” he stated. “I’ve all the time hit the ball like that, stood up taller. I’m again to type of a extra snug place, when it comes to hitting. It’s going to return with some extra swings and misses and extra strikeouts however so long as I’m productive and so long as I’m harmful on the plate, it would pay itself off.”
One take a look at Votto’s stat line by means of Monday would counsel that his newer strategy wasn’t paying off, however there’s extra to the story — together with what he did on Tuesday evening, after the majority of this was written — and it begins with a take a look at his Statcast metrics.
Joey Votto Batted Ball Profile
SOURCE: Baseball Savant
2021 statistics by means of April 12.
Whereas his slash numbers are anemic, Votto has been hitting the ball very laborious; by each common exit velocity and hard-hit charge, his present numbers prime something he’s accomplished in the course of the Statcast period (although for the show above, I solely went again to 2017, his final massive season). The factor about Votto is that he’s not precisely generally known as an exit velo king: He hasn’t ranked within the fiftieth percentile or higher in that class or in hard-hit charge since 2016. He has been again within the good graces of barrel charge in every of the previous two seasons after dipping in 2018–19, however solely in Statcast’s first season did he have a determine of 10% or higher.
Past that, there’s some excellent news and unhealthy information right here. The unhealthy information is that throughout the small pattern of this 12 months’s information, Votto is hitting the ball on the bottom with the next frequency than any of his full-season charges, which for a slow-footed 37-year-old — his dash velocity is within the ninth percentile — isn’t a profitable technique. The excellent news, past the truth that we actually shouldn’t be studying a lot right into a 36-batted ball occasion pattern (50 to 60 is about the place charges begin to stabilize), is that even with that slew of groundballs, Votto’s batted ball profile features a .318 xBA (anticipated batting common) and a .564 xSLG (anticipated slugging proportion).
Inside Votto’s batted ball splits — and right here I’m sticking with the normal numbers for a second — two issues stand out. On these grounders, he’s 1-for-17 (.059/.059/.059), which is nicely under his pre-2021 profession mark (.226/.226/.244; keep in mind, there aren’t many extra-base hits available through this route) and even his 2018–20 mark (.199/.199/.218). Be aware that I’m going to maintain lumping these three seasons collectively for this train as a result of they consolidate his decline years and since I wish to keep away from getting too wrapped up in his quick 2020 season numbers, even given the aforementioned level of inflection. Anyway, that 2018–20 slash line on grounders is sweet for a 60 wRC+, whereas he’s at -75 by means of Monday, which is to say, incomprehensibly unhealthy. Some constructive regression in that division ought to enhance his batting line.
In the meantime on his fly balls, Votto entered Tuesday 1-for-9 along with his lone homer (.111 AVG/.444 SLG, and from right here on, I’m going to dispense with the on-base percentages for these splits, since other than the odd sacrifice fly, they’re principally similar to the averages) for a 41 wRC+. By comparability, he hit .335/.990 for a 239 wRC+ on fly balls from 2007 to ’20, and .231/.665 for a 121 wRC+ from ’18 to ’20. As with the grounders, some constructive regression on these fly balls is so as, although there’s a bit extra at work right here.
The grim reality is that Votto’s 2018–20 line on fly balls is nothing to put in writing dwelling about, provided that the most important league common on such balls over that span is .242/.742 (143 wRC+). Some portion of Votto’s comparative lack of energy owes to the diminished returns yielded by his hitting to the other area in recent times:
From 2018 to ’20, on balls hit to the other area, Votto batted .346/.511, nicely under the .409/.768 he hit whereas doing so from ’07 to ’17. By comparability, all of MLB hit .299/.432 going oppo in that 11-year span, and .320/.492 from ’18 to ’20, which means that Votto was not rather more productive than the typical hitter through that route.
Therefore his adjustment in direction of pulling extra balls. Not solely was final 12 months’s 46.2% pull charge the best of Votto’s profession, however so was his 19.6% charge of pulled fly balls, as Rosecrans and Sarris identified. Pulled fly balls are the place the large hits are at for many batters: The league hit .435/1.550 on such balls from 2018 to ’20, and Votto outdid that, at .479/1.646. By way of Monday’s small pattern, he’s at .500/2.000 whereas pulling 22.2% of his fly balls, so you’ll be able to perceive why he’d wish to try this extra usually.
Getting again to Statcast and anticipated stats, Votto entered Tuesday with the biggest hole of any batter between his wOBA and xwOBA, which is to say between his precise outcomes and his anticipated outcomes based mostly upon his batted ball profile:
Largest Gaps Between Precise and Anticipated wOBA
All statistics by means of April 12. Minimal 30 plate appearances.
Not all of those gaps are on account of unhealthy luck. A participant’s velocity usually has one thing to do with the distinction between wOBA and xwOBA (a participant who can take the additional base in a given state of affairs versus one who can’t) as does his ballpark (a ball that may have been out in a single venue is likely to be a routine out in one other). Nonetheless, it is a good place to look when a participant is performing to 1 excessive diploma or one other, for it usually serves as a actuality verify, and right here the truth is that Votto hasn’t been as unhealthy as that anemic slashline would lead you to imagine. He’s hardly the one participant on this boat, however a man with a profession .399 wOBA — second solely to Mike Trout’s .420 amongst lively gamers with no less than 1,500 profession PA — stands proud on this context, even given his profession downturn. Votto’s xwOBA is within the 72nd percentile, however his precise wOBA is within the ninth percentile.
Since each wOBA and xwOBA embody walks and strikeouts, it’s additionally price noting that by means of Monday, Votto — who has walked at a 16.0% clip for his profession — had walked simply twice (4.7%) and struck out in simply 11.6% of his plate appearances; each of these could be profession lows in the event that they held up. He’s been swinging at extra pitches exterior the strike zone (24.7%, about three factors above his profession norm), making contact earlier in counts (3.81 pitches per plate appearances, 0.27 under his profession norm), and barely getting to three–2 (7.0% of his plate appearances, simply over one-third of his profession norm of 19.1%). It’s a really un-Votto-like sample.
Even so, it’s early within the season, and for Votto as with all different participant, most of the struggles and anomalies will come out within the wash with bigger samples. As if on cue, Votto started Tuesday evening’s sport with a two-run homer off the Giants’ Kevin Gausman:
The alternative area shot doesn’t fairly match the sample I’ve outlined above, however hey, Oppo Moppo! Votto did additionally strike out twice in his 4 plate appearances and chased a few pitches exterior the zone. None of that’s included within the numbers above, however his work from the earlier evening — a splash hit into McCovey Cove off Aaron Sanchez, in addition to a strikeout — was.
With two homers in two nights, it’s truthful to counsel that Votto is likely to be coming round. Let’s not panic simply but.