We talk a fair bit about Joey Votto in these electronic pages. Some may say we do it too much, perhaps. But it’s for a reason. It’s not that he’s paying us to — he’s not paying me at least. He’s simply a somewhat-fascinating specimen as far as baseball players go. He’s smart, he’s a pretty good model of consistency, he never pops out.
He’s also been a small point of consternation between the statistically-inclined and fans that adhere to a more traditional understanding of the game. There’s been disagreements revolving around his penchant for walks, his attitude toward RBI, his preference to hit to all fields rather than try and pull everything for homeruns. But fans on both sides of the argument can agree that Joey Votto just hasn’t been very good this season.
Actually, allow me to check myself before I subsequently wreck myself. Joey Votto, at least on the whole, has actually been more than serviceable in 2014. As a hitter, he’s still been 28% better than league average according to wRC+. But the whole story doesn’t tell the most recent story, and the recent version of Joey Votto has been subpar by any standards.
The main reason for this, of course, is that Joey Votto has ostensibly been playing on one leg. He went on the DL with a left quadriceps/knee problem back in mid-May. He returned back to action on June 10th, but wasn’t back to full form even then. Simply watching Votto proved that he was in a bad way. Take his July 4th game against the Brewers, for instance. This is all from one at-bat against Rob Wooten.
He fouls one away, but has trouble keeping balance on his left leg.
Another one is fouled away, and again he has trouble maintaining balance for more than a second.
He again has trouble keeping his base, even when simply moving out of the way of a pitch.
After grounding out, he gingerly jogs back to the dugout.
Votto is not a wristy slap hitter. He swings hard. He needs his base in order to produce at the plate like he’s used to, and that’s why he’s back on the DL with the same injury that landed him there in the first place. In the time between DL stints, he hit .250 with an ISO of .095. He still took his walks, but there was no pop in his bat. Oddly enough, however, his contact numbers have been weirdly consistent in 2014.
He’s still making contact, he’s still not producing many swinging strikes. Even his batted ball profile has been within his recent norms.
But when you add another ingredient to that chart, things change.
Votto is hitting more fly balls this season, and far less of them are landing in the seats.
Taking a slightly different approach, looking at fly-ball events over all his plate appearances (rather than just balls put in play), we can see that Votto is getting less fly-ball hits, and more fly-ball outs this season.
His weaker contact has even led to a .299 BABIP, the first time in his career it has ever fallen below .300 (the nearest is .328 in 2008).
On Monday, the Reds put Jay Bruce at first and Skip Schumaker in right. One could argue that leaving Bruce in right and a 65% Votto at first would still make a better lineup. At least one columnist is calling for Votto to play through the injury. And while manager Bryan Price doesn’t expect Votto to be 100% at all in the regular season, this version of Joey Votto isn’t doing anyone any good.
As of this writing, the Reds have around a 31% chance of making the playoffs, per FanGraphs projections. The Reds will have at least 15 days to decide if it’s better to have a hobbled slugger early in the second-half playoff hunt, or later on in the season and possibly into the playoffs. It’s a difficult decision, but it’s just as difficult to see a revered hitter grimace every time he swings the bat.