Analysis

The New and (Maybe) Improved Joey Votto

Joey Votto, one of the handful of the game’s most productive hitters since his arrival in 2007, has made some changes in year 15. Coming off of the 2019 and 2020 seasons, his two worst at the plate by his lofty standards, Joey Votto has changed his batting stance as well as his approach at the plate. Unfortunately for him, the results haven’t quite been there thus far, but there is reason to believe that they will, as he appears to be back to the levels of quality contact that we’ve come to know.

When it comes to his stance, it may seem odd to change something so fundamental after over a decade of elite production, but many hitters frequently mess around with this type of idea. In the past, Votto has utilized a very unique, compact, and short stance and swing. However, this year, the Reds first baseman is standing much taller and starting with his hands far higher than he has in the past.

Here is his stance from last season (2020):

Screenshot from MLB Film Room

Here is his stance this season (2021):

Screenshot from MLB Film Room

As clearly seen in the photos, the differences are striking. Before he loads his hands are now above his head as opposed to around shoulder level, and he’s standing nearly straight up rather than in a distinct crouch. This is largely anecdotal, but changes like this can often happen when a player is looking to add power and lift to their game, which is something that Cincinnati’s cornerstone cited going into this year. In a piece on Cincinnati.com, Votto was quoted as saying “I’ve led the league in slugging percentage… I have to remind myself that at the core, that’s who I am.” He has also continued his trend of pulling the ball at a higher rate from last season. Votto is pulling the ball at a 41.5% clip, down from his even higher 46.2% mark in 2020, but still much higher than his seasons in the past, as he usually settled in the mid-30s.

In all fairness, the positive results have not yet come to fruition for Votto early in the season, and baseball, after all, is a results based game. However, some peripheral numbers point to the idea that he may just be running into some poor luck. Going forward, he may be able to cash in on the changes he’s made. Thus far, Votto has posted an underwhelming 86 wRC+ in comparison to his 149 career mark, and even his 101 and 114 figures in the last two seasons. This may be due in large part to a disappointing .230 BABIP, especially when considering his quality of contact. Votto ranks in the 88th percentile in exit velocity, 70th in hard hit percentage, 81st in barrel rate, and 78th percentile or better in all of xwOBA, xBA, and xSLG. Simply put, that’s really good to see. These are also numbers that we haven’t seen from him in several years, and certainly not in his last two down years. Also worth noting, in his first 10 games, Votto earned himself an alarming 25 wRC+, but returned to a more characteristic 153 mark in the subsequent 10, in which 3 of his 4 home runs have come as well. So, perhaps he is already finding better luck after his dreadful start. His walk rate is also down pretty significantly, which could be worrisome, but if there’s anyone to hold off on worrying about walk rate, it would certainly be Joey Votto.

Having said all of this, there comes a necessary acknowledgement of the small sample size. Many of these numbers, for better or for worse, will likely stabilize a bit. However, even with this considered, it’s encouraging to see that his results aren’t completely indicative of how he’s hitting the ball. It may be unlikely that Votto will return to his exceptional levels of production from years past, but the changes he has made are noticeable, and although the results are lacking, the underlying numbers point to these changes being potentially beneficial. At the very least, it’s certainly fascinating to see an all-time great hitter make changes so deep into his sterling career.

Featured Photo: Twitter @Reds

Sam Chapman

Senior at SUNY Oswego, majoring in Broadcasting. Baseball and stat lover. Follow along on Twitter @SamChap219

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