Joey Votto Talks Hitting

Kareem Elgazzar/The Enquirer / USA TODAY NETWORK

Joey Votto is nearing the end of a career that should land him in the Hall of Fame. Three months shy of his 40th birthday, the Toronto native has played 16 seasons, all with the Cincinnati Reds, and has a career .297/.412/.513 slash line to go with a 146 wRC+. A six-time All-Star and former NL MVP, he has led the senior circuit in OBP seven times, and in walks six times. Moreover — this amid criticism from the segment of the Cincinnati fanbase who feels he is too passive at the plate — his left-handed stroke has produced 2,093 hits, including 453 doubles and 342 home runs.

Currently on a rehab assignment with Triple-A Louisville, Votto is recovering from rotator cuff and biceps surgery and has yet to play in a big league game this year. He sat down to talk hitting when the Reds visited Fenway Park last week.


David Laurila: Is hitting easy, or is it hard?

Joey Votto: “Well, it’s the only thing I’ve done, so I don’t have much to compare it to. I failed my math exam. High school math may be more difficult than major league hitting.”

Laurila: It is often said that hitting is the hardest thing to do in sports, but some players — you’re one of them — have great careers. Can you achieve a high level of success while viewing hitting as hard?

Votto: “So, a couple of things I’ve noticed about hitting: Hitting gets harder as you get older, and you get older quickly. The most satisfying part about hitting as you get older, or as you age in this game, or with time and experience in this game, is solving the problem, solving the equation. It requires adjustments. It requires a certain level of discipline. In my experience, hitting is very hard. But it’s also the most satisfying thing I’ve done in my life.”

Laurila: You mentioned math. With that in mind, which of your numbers have you cared the most about during your career?

Votto: “I’ve paid the most attention to games played. You don’t make it into the lineup unless you have a certain level of performance.”

Laurila: A lot of people have labeled you an OBP guy. Have you ever pushed back on that, viewing it as only one part of who you are as a hitter?

Votto: “Have I pushed back? I try not to push back. I mean, I play and I try to let other people provide commentary. That’s… I’m not the fan, I’m the performer. Whatever perception, or however fans and commentators like to label me is, is fine.”

Laurila: Have you ever felt pressure to change who you are as a hitter?

Votto: “Well, the game pressures you. It pressures you daily. Your competition, each night’s game, each at-bat. That’s plenty of pressure.”

Laurila: How much have you changed over the years?

Votto: “There have been a lot of changes. In my mid-20s, I lost some bat speed and some natural power. I noticed that the ball wasn’t coming off my bat quite as hard, and my bat wasn’t coming through the zone quite as quickly. So I started to change to a more contact-style approach. I got more motivated to get deeper into counts.”

Laurila: That happened in your mid-20s?

Votto: “Yeah. That’s when I was really swinging well. As I got to my late 20s, early 30s, I started trying to make sure I put the ball in play, and make sure that my walks exceeded my strikeouts. It was more of a line-drive approach, taking less home run chances, and that eventually turned into more or less what I am right now. But in ’21, I was taking more shots, trying to hit the ball harder. I was more reckless at the plate, more willing to strike out, and not so concerned with walks.”

Laurila: Why that change in 2021?

Votto: “I just had to perform better. I wasn’t getting on base and getting as many hits as I was before. So I made that adjustment.”

Laurila: What you said about losing some bat speed and power in your mid-20s surprises me, as that’s still fairly young. What caused that to happen?

Votto: “Getting older.”

Laurila: In that sense, did you got old early?

Votto: “No. It’s more that from one year to the next you notice a subtle difference. Or you’ll notice a standout difference. Hitters want to feel things. They want to feel strong. They want to feel whippy. They want to feel accurate with their barrel. They want things to feel slow to them in the batter’s box. As you get older, your bat doesn’t have quite as much speed, or you’re not able to get to pitches you were able to before. In my experience, it happened quickly. Again, I made some adjustments. I started leaning more toward a contact style, line drives, getting deeper into counts, and limiting my strikeouts.”

Laurila: Were the adjustments primarily mental in nature?

Votto: “They are probably more mental. It’s more about my intention as a hitter. If I can do several different things with the same 0-0 middle pitch… when I was younger, I could take a shot at trying to hit the ball halfway up the bleachers. But if you don’t have the confidence that you have a chance to hit it halfway up the bleachers without funking up your swing, without dipping your confidence with another roll over, or another flare popup, or another full swing-through… if you don’t have that same potential… I decided, ‘OK, I can’t do what I was able to do in terms of shooting the ball in the stands.’

“I want control. Hitting is about control for me. I need to feel like I’m predictable each day. I want to feel like I know exactly what I’m going to get each day, each pitch. As you get older, it’s a complex predictable. The change I made was to get back to something that felt more predictable.”

Laurila: Did you start letting the ball travel more?

Votto: “I don’t think so. Maybe I did. But that was a strength of mine. Letting the ball travel was something I was focused on every at-bat in my major league career up until a couple years ago.”

Laurila: How much have you focused on the individual pitcher on the mound, basically his repertoire and attack plan?

Votto: “I’ve never been concerned about that. I’ve noticed a lot of commentary on pitches, on how people are throwing less fastballs, and more this and more that. It’s never crossed my mind, that sort of thing. I’m just entirely trying to control my swing, and be able to handle anything that comes.”

Laurila: Can a hitter actually approach every pitcher the same way?

Votto: “At my best, I did.”

Laurila: A lot of hitters would say it’s not possible, or at least not feasible.

Votto: “I would punt on at-bats. I would take at-bats making sure that I didn’t funk up my regular approach, my regular swing. I mean, I wouldn’t quit on at-bats. It was more that I was making sure that I didn’t get out of my prime style.”

Laurila: Have you generally hunted fastballs middle and adjusted from there, or has there been a specific zone that you’ve focused on?

Votto: “It depends on the part of my career. Lots of hunting, lots of areas, lots of everything. The strike zone used to be a smidge wider for a left-handed hitter. Pitchers used to sink the ball. I’d be a fool to hunt the middle pitch when most of the time it was going to be away from me. So, I tried to strengthen my opposite field skill. Then as the ball got straighter, paired with a cutter, I’d probably be a fool again to continue to try to hit the ball the other way when that ball needs to be caught slightly further out front. Certainly for power. So, all kinds of changes.

“The game moves you in a specific direction. Sometimes you can be intentional about it, anticipating it, but I found that… I’ll give you an example. Yovani Gallardo was a pitcher who threw the ball straight and would throw a slider. I remember having a hard time hitting his fastball. He threw 92-94. He’s basically the pitcher of today. Yovani Gallardo, Dave Bush, and then all the other guys were sinker guys, or left-handed arms with balls running away. So, in my head I was like, ‘OK, I’m going to struggle against Gallardo, but I’m going to handle the other guys.’ Now the guys that are more sinker, and balls fading away, are more in the minority, I don’t have a choice but to catch the ball further out for power, because the ball is straighter. The game changes you. The game changes your swing.”

Laurila: Has handling elevated fastballs ever been an issue for you?

Votto: “No. I had a youth league coach that said something like, ‘Oh, you’ve got a golf swing.’ I remember him saying that when I was like 12 or 13 years old. It really bothered me. From that point forward, I tried to flatten my swing. I then had a great coach, a gem of coach, in Leon Roberts when I was in the minors. He and I talked all the time about handling that high fastball. Anything high. We worked on being flat to it and lining balls low. We worked on that all the time. That served me well as the game changed. High pitches don’t bother me.”


Earlier “Talks Hitting” interviews can found through these links: Jo Adell, Jeff Albert, Greg Allen, Nolan Arenado, Aaron Bates, Alex Bregman, Bo Bichette, Cavan Biggio, JJ Bleday, Bobby Bradley, Jay Bruce, Matt Chapman, Michael Chavis, Gavin Cross, Jacob Cruz, Nelson Cruz, Paul DeJong, Josh Donaldson, Brendan Donovan, Donnie Ecker, Rick Eckstein, Drew Ferguson, Justin Foscue, Michael Fransoso, Ryan Fuller, Joey Gallo, Paul Goldschmidt, Devlin Granberg, Andy Haines, Mitch Haniger, Robert Hassell III, Nico Hoerner, Rhys Hoskins, Eric Hosmer, Tim Hyers, Connor Joe, Josh Jung, Jimmy Kerr, Heston Kjerstad, Steven Kwan, Trevor Larnach, Doug Latta, Evan Longoria, Michael Lorenzen, Gavin Lux, Dave Magadan, Trey Mancini, Edgar Martinez, Don Mattingly, Hunter Mense, Owen Miller, Ryan Mountcastle, Cedric Mullins, Daniel Murphy, Lars Nootbaar, Logan O’Hoppe, Vinnie Pasquantino, Brent Rooker, Drew Saylor, Spencer Steer, Trevor Story, Fernando Tatis Jr., Spencer Torkelson, Mark Trumbo, Justin Turner, Trea Turner, Josh VanMeter, Robert Van Scoyoc, Chris Valaika, Zac Veen, Alex Verdugo, Mark Vientos, Matt Vierling, Luke Voit, Anthony Volpe, Christian Walker, Jared Walsh, Jordan Westburg, Jesse Winker, Mike Yastrzemski, Nick Yorke, Kevin Youkilis

David Laurila grew up in Michigan's Upper Peninsula and now writes about baseball from his home in Cambridge, Mass. He authored the Prospectus Q&A series at Baseball Prospectus from December 2006-May 2011 before being claimed off waivers by FanGraphs. He can be followed on Twitter @DavidLaurilaQA.

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8 months ago

Inaudible screaming.