Joey Votto is old. Not in general, he still has plenty of life to live barring tragedy. But in baseball years, he’s at the twilight, the sun low on the horizon of an excellent career. For a while into his 30s, Votto put his foot on the neck of decline and pushed firmly. Unfortunately, that snake doesn’t die, and we are now seeing it bite at the heels of the former MVP.
The last three seasons have shown a decline in Votto’s production.
Votto’s OPS and wRC+ numbers are especially telling. He was an elite run producer in 2017, well above average in 2018, and roughly average in 2019. Votto’s xwOBA numbers show that he went from hitting the ball exceptionally well to middle of the pack in three seasons.
In his first 106 plate appearances of 2020, Votto was continuing this downward trajectory. Votto had a paltry 76 wRC+, meaning he was 24% worse than a league average hitter. His line of .191/.321/.326 would be unacceptable for Michael Lorenzen, let alone the Reds highest paid player.
Below the surface, Votto just wasn’t hitting the ball hard. His exit velocity was 3 MPH below the league average, and much of that weak contact was on the ground (42.7% GB%).
Joey Votto does not beat out many ground balls.
After watching the Reds first baseman go 0-for-20 over the previous five games, manager David Bell benched Joey Votto for three days — August 26-28 — covering four games.
Since the benching, we’ve seen a different player, granted in a small sample. In those 38 plate appearances, Votto’s exit velocity has jumped 5 MPH (90.4), and he’s hitting the ball in the air far more often (29.2% GB%).
The result is a retro Votto slash line of .333/.421/.667 and 183 wRC+. For the season, his numbers now look similar to his unspectacular 2019, but they are a far cry from his low point on August 25th.
Votto has proven he can regain his form for small stretches. Can he perform this way over a long period of time?
Probably not. Votto is not immune to the ravages of time and a long career. But, he’s shown that for a spell, he can still cause havoc with his bat, and if the Reds are going to sneak into the playoffs, they will need Votto to bang. For 19 more games, that’s not unreasonable.
Photo Credit: Hayden Schiff (https://www.flickr.com/photos/oxguy3/33713210684/)