Is Joey Votto Too Patient?

Votto1Joey Votto is one of the top players in all of baseball. The 2010 NL MVP was rewarded for his skills last spring when the Reds gave him a 10-year, $225 million extension, which could keep the Canadian-born first baseman in the Queen City through the 2024 season.

Since the start of the 2008 season, his first as a regular, Votto has posted a 27.7 WAR, 6th in MLB (Albert Pujols, Evan Longoria, Chase Utley, Miguel Cabrera, and Ryan Braun rank higher), and a .419 on-base percentage, 1st in MLB. He has been very productive, driving in 444 runs, but when you consider how often Votto is on base and his WAR value, you would think that he would produce more runs, as those 444 RBI rank 23rd since the start of the 2008 season.

Certainly part of the reason why Votto ranks lower in RBI is due to his extended absences, as he has missed 106 team games since the 2008 season due to general illnesses, depression, and surgery on his left knee, which cost him 51 games in 2012; however, what if he swung more?

So far in the 2013 season, Votto has a .500 OBP, inflated by his 30 percent walk rate, and his .264 batting average seems likely to rebound due to his .351 BABIP, which is in line with his career .359 BABIP. His hitting ability was outlined in a recent ESPN the Magazine feature, when Votto said:

I’ve stopped caring about runs and RBIs. I care more about how high a percentage of productive at-bats I can have, how consistently tough and competitive I can be for the opposing pitcher. That’s my goal every single time I go up there. If I drive in 90 runs, I don’t care. I know a lot of old-school people wouldn’t believe I’d say something like that.

Votto2The apparent way to be more productive is to not swing. Votto currently has a 32.1 percent swing rate (career 44.9 percent), while posting a 14.4 percent swing rate on pitches outside of the strike-zone (career 25.2 percent), and a 57.9 percent swing rate on pitches inside of the strike-zone (career 70.2 percent). Only Lucas Duda has a lower swing rate in 2013, at 29.9 percent, but Duda’s career swing rate has always been low, as he sports a career 40.9 percent swing rate.

How can you produce if you don’t swing the bat? Sure, Votto is getting on base, but he has scored just 11 runs in his 40 appearances on the base paths (14 hits, 24 walks, 2 hit-by-pitch), largely due to the ineffectiveness of Jay Bruce (who has struck out 10 times in 31 at-bats with runners on base this season), while driving in FOUR runs in 80 plate appearances. Luckily, Brandon Phillips, who took over the cleanup spot after Ryan Ludwick‘s shoulder injury, has done a fantastic job, posting a .405/.452/.649 line with 17 RBI in 37 at-bats with runners on base. With Shin-Soo Choo and Votto in front of him, it is likely that Phillips will continue to produce some impressive counting statistics in 2013, but why shouldn’t Votto?

A productive at-bat is when a ball is put in play and moves other runners. Sure, you’re Little League coach and Moneyball  says that a walk is as good as a hit, but what if Phillips falters in the No.4 spot? What if Jay Bruce continues to strikeout with runners on? What if Todd Frazier, who is currently the 4th most valuable position player in baseball (based on WAR) goes through a drought?

The Cincinnati Reds need Joey Votto to swing the bat because he is such a special player. Getting on base has value, but when you are as capable with the bat as Votto is, there is more value in the contact that he does, or can, produce. After all, Votto has struck out 16 times, tied for 8th most in MLB, while he is waiting for his pitch.

VottoIs Joey Votto the best pure hitter in baseball right now? Possibly, but striking out in 20 percent of your at-bats doesn’t seem like a reasonable statistic for a hitter, possibly a slugger. It is time for Votto to become a slugger again not only for fantasy baseball players, but because the Reds would be much more impressive and capable of winning more often if he was the 37-home-run-of- 2010-version of Votto than the one-home-run-in-80-plate-appearances-2013-version of Votto.

 

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