Joey Votto tinkers with his swing more than anyone in Major League Baseball. It may or may not be true, but it definitely feels like it. Arguably the best batsman in the history of the Cincinnati Reds, who should we argue about with his trial? Still, an adjustment was made in 2020 after a slow start – one that seemed to plague almost every batsman on the team except Nick Castellanos.
“Joey made an incredible adjustment last year. It got off to a slow start, like we did as a team, ”said manager David Bell earlier this week. “I think we had the third or fourth best record in the game from August 25th to the end of the year. Around the same time, Joey was working hard – as always – making a really solid adjustment where he got more aggressive, a little more attacking, maybe a little more upright. I’m not sure what adjustments he made, but it definitely looked different. Joey got very strong and he was a big part of our team success while we played well there for several weeks. I really think he can bring that into the next season. “
In the shortened season, Joey Votto only hit .226 / .354 / .446. That was better than the league average, hitting 110 OPS +, but that’s about average for a first baseman and below average for what we think of a good version of Joey Votto. In 2019, his voice rate dropped to its lowest level since 2008 when he was a beginner. For a typical gamer, a walking rate of 12.5% would be pretty strong – but for Votto, that meant a sharp drop. In 2020, his voice rate increased to 16.6% in line with his career rate. His power, which had declined significantly over the past two seasons, also bounced back to his career standards. What wasn’t was his BABIP, which was only 0.235-110 points below his career average and was only below the 0.300 mark for the second time. In 2014, the year he sustained an injury before dropping out of the season, it was 0.299.
David Bell mentioned the August 25th date in relation to Joey Votto. As that day ended, Votto hit .191 / .321 / .326 in 106 record appearances with 17 walks and 14 strikers. The next day the Reds sat Votto for the next few days. When he returned on August 29th, he turned things around and got a little tear for the rest of the season. He hit .258 / .385 / .557 with 20 walks and 29 rashes in 117 record appearances.
There is clearly a difference in production between the two periods. There is almost a 0.300 point difference in OPS (0.941 versus 0.647). The big differences are in the power output (.135 vs. .299), the GDP (.283 vs. .194) and the strike rate (only 13.2% if it didn’t hit, compared to 24.8% if it did crushed ball).
Some of this seems repeatable. Some of it doesn’t. Not only does having a .283 BABIP seem repeatable, it almost seems likely that it will beat that. Only once in his career was Joey Votto lower than that, and only one other time was it even close to as low as that mark. The miter rate bounce back was a good sign, and it was similar in every part of the pitch – which gave us reason to believe it was repeatable too. A high strike rate isn’t exactly what you want, and a 24.8% rate would easily be the worst of its career – only once, in 2019 when it was 20.2%, was it ever over 20%. That seems repeatable, though, although that’s not a good sign either.
Where things don’t seem quite as repeatable, comes output power. His isolated strength in this second “half” split was 0.299 (slugging average). The best he ever had in his career was .276 and that came a decade ago when he won the Most Valuable Player Award in 2010. However, his .258 mark in 2017 was his second best brand of his career, which wasn’t that long ago. Even so, it would be crazy for a 37-year-old to get the best performance of his career.
However, if Joey Votto can get back close to his career standards on BABIP and bring back most of the rates he made in the “second half” of 2020, things could get interesting even if he doesn’t close to the same kind of power. You probably won’t see the 2017 version of Votto again. But there is also reason to believe that we may see a more productive version than we have seen in the last three seasons.