Joey Votto is 37 years old, which in baseball years means that he’s a fossil from the before times. It’s been a couple years now since he preformed at a high level, though he probably would have been starting caliber last year had we seen a full season. His general profile has been morphing since 2018. He no longer walks more than he strikes out, and he strikes out far more often than he ever did. The homeruns are fewer and far between (in fairness, his modus operandi was never “perennial 40 homerun threat”), but they still occur.
Votto is probably one of the most cerebral hitters we have in the league and one of the more insightful hitters if you can get him to talk about it. He’s a constant tinkerer, not afraid to change stances or approaches. He’s a tactician, playing long games with pitchers to gain an advantage later on. He’s a treasure really, and we probably don’t have much time left watching him hit.
After 2019, it would be fairly easy to write Votto off as a Miguel Cabrera or Albert Pujols type veteran in that he simply wasn’t producing anymore. I’d say that 2020 was a bit of a misleading year for Votto.
You can also see it in his statcast data and just his overall BABIP sitting at .235, which is far below his career average. His xBA, xSLG and xwOBA stats were all higher than his actual season totals. He was barreling pitches at a higher rate than previous years, they just didn’t escape fielders mitts. His ISO was at his career norm as well. What’s interesting is what Votto said in this article just before the beginning of the 2020 season:
“Ultimately it was mechanical. It wasn’t decision-making at the plate. It wasn’t because of a new style of pitching or I couldn’t crack the code or whatever. I thought it was mechanical… I viewed the year as a failure. But looking at my Statcast data, it was an unlucky season. I was a really productive hitter using relatively predictive data.”
Votto seemed to believe he had something going in 2019 and he ostensibly built off of it in 2020. What I found interesting is that Votto seemed to think his success had to do with pitchers throwing their fastballs more, and that it made it easier to hit, but now that pitchers are throwing more breaking pitches he could see it being an adjustment for him.
Even with that, Votto appears to adjusting to his life as an older veteran. Just going into the plate discipline numbers we can see it. Every swing metric (O-Swing%, Z-Swing%, Swing% and SwStr%) is up, but the contact metrics are down (O-Contact%, Z-Contact% and Contact%). So we can make a fairly easy conclusion that Votto is willing to swing and miss more in favor of getting harder contact when he does make it. Right?
I believe the answer is yes, since his Barrel% and HardHit% are both career highs, to go along with the previously mentioned swing statistics. What is more interesting is that we can also see a visual change, this was his stance in 2018–2020:
Now, let’s compare that with his 2021 stance:
Not very subtle! Votto ditched the extremely crouched stance and holds the bat higher now, albeit at the same angle he generally always has. It’s hard to tell whether he’s opened his stance (or if it was ever open) due to the camera angle. I’ll never point to a stance and say “this is the perfect stance that everyone should use,” because that stance doesn’t exist. It’s all about comfort level and results, and Votto seems to be seeing those results in June:
The strikeouts may never go down, but it seems that his BABIP luck and power have bounced back this year. Though there is something else to keep in mind, which is that Votto may no longer be suited to face lefties:
We’re coming up on almost two full seasons worth of data (2020 partial and 2021 partial) and Votto seems to have a future as a platoon bat, which he may fight but the Reds should consider it. It’s possible his BABIP could bounce back, but the power isn’t there either and the strikeouts are growing.
Votto did miss some time this year due to a broken bone in his hand and it’s entirely possible he took that time to continue tinkering. If June is any indication, then Joey Votto is showing he still has a little bit left in the tank and he most certainly will not go down without a fight.