Joey Votto’s Opposite-Field Power and Amazing Fly-Ball BABIP

In the comments to Dave Cameron’s Joe Mauer post last week a commenter, Temo, suggested Joey Votto as a player with similar opposite-field power. I thought it would be interesting to check him out, partially as a comparison to Mauer, but also because I think Votto does not get enough attention.

Last year Votto had the fourth-highest wOBA baseball. Obviously he benefits from his home park and we do not have the wRC+ leader boards yet, but I went and checked the fifteen guys after him and saw that the only one who gets pumped ahead is Adrain Gonzalez. So on a rate basis Votto was the fifth-best hitter even taking to account his home park.

So how did he do it? It starts with a good number of walks and solid power. The power, as Temo noted, is great to left — opposite field for the left-handed Votto. To left he has an ISO of .450, but has fairly good power to center, .226, and right, .298. So he is no slouch to any field.

Just as interesting as his opposite-field power though is his amazing .373 BABIP, good for sixth best in the league. Looking at the BABAIP split out by batted-ball type the amazing thing is his BABIP on fly balls, .291. The average BABIP on fly balls in the NL in 2009 was .142. So Votto gets hits on his non-HR fiy balls at a rate double that of the average non-HR fly and higher than a good number of hitters do on all their balls in play.

How can nearly three of ten of Votto’s non-HR fly balls drop for hits? Here I look at Votto’s non-HR flies by field location. As in my Cust post, the numbers are the fractions of non-HR fly balls to each location and the color the BABIP: from red being over one half to gray being zero.

The first thing is that Votto hits very few infield flies compared to the average LHB, actually the third fewest in the league. This cuts down on automatic outs. Additionally he hits way more flies to deep and mid-distance left field, which fall in for hits at a very good rate. This shows how readily and successfully he goes the opposite way, which I think is a big reason for his high BABIP on fly balls.

He probably will not have a BABIP of over .370 next year, but it will most likely be quite high. This great BABIP coupled with his great — and opposite-field fueled — power and his walks result in one of the game’s best young hitters.

Dave Allen's other baseball work can be found at Baseball Analysts.

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Patrick M
14 years ago

I was just thinking about how bad the left fielders in the NL central are in terms of defense. Soriano, Lee, and Braun were all -8 or worse by UZR/150 last year. STL and Pittsburgh had a rotation going through there all year so its hard to tell how good they were on defense. Perhaps Votto’s natural ability to hit to left field, hit them ball hard, and the bad LF defense in the NL Central combine to give Votto his amazingly high BABIP to left on fly balls last year and could contribute to him posting an above average number again next year