Joey Votto, the bane of uniformed Reds fan’s existence, is off to a poor start to the 2016 season. His .213 average is almost 100 points lower than his career mark and his OBP is a staggeringly low (for him) .330. The only real bright spot so far has been the nine HRs. Votto isn’t an ideal buy low given his atrocity of a team but there is so much to like about the underlying stats that I’m willing to take the risk that his RBI and R totals are a little lower than normal.
The first thing that should jump out is Votto’s .254 BABIP which is significantly lower than his career .354 BABIP. Votto is hitting less line drives and more fly balls which is slightly concerning, but neither of these numbers are poor enough to lead to such a low BABIP. Mike Podhorzer of FanGraphs recently did a piece on xBABIP Underperformers which is a metric he calculates. Votto’s xBABIP was .346 which was good for the second biggest gap in all of MLB. If you need any additional convincing, Votto’s hard hit rate is 44.8% which would be a career high for him and is good for 4th among qualified hitters. Arbitrary end point but the three hitters ahead of him (Wright, Ortiz and Conforto) all have BABIPs over .300.
Votto’s nine HRs are tied for 9th at 1B and are helping to keep him afloat right now. His HR/FB is tied for a career high of 25% which might point to some regression but he is crushing the ball this year. His 314.05 ft average fly ball distance is good for 8th in baseball and is actually higher than his bounce back 2015. As long as he continues to hit long fly balls he will keep hitting HRs in the lefty friendly Great American Ballpark.
Votto’s OBP drop is a result of a career high 26.9% K rate and a five year low 13.2% BB rate. I would have thought for sure that he was just chasing more but that doesn’t seem to be the case with a 22.2% chase rate compared to 24.2% for his career. It is a bit higher than his 19.2% career mark but within Votto’s comfortable range. Votto’s swinging strike percentage is 7.9% this year which is also well within his range. One potential case is a career high percentage of first pitches coming in as strikes. Votto has seen 59.9% first pitch strikes compared to 55.6% for his career. The other stat that stands out is a 35.1% strikeout looking percentage compared to low 30s for the last two full seasons he played. Votto is widely known as having one of the best eyes in baseball and it wouldn’t surprise me if some of that increase is due to umpire error. Let’s be honest, that wouldn’t be very far-fetched given some of what we’ve seen this season. It’s on Votto to adjust but he’s definitely one of the guys I would trust to make that adjustment given his sabermetric philosophy.
I probably wouldn’t try to go out and acquire Votto in a dynasty league unless the discount was steep but if you’re hurting for BA , OBP and some power in a redraft, Votto is a guy I’d target. The discount should be major at this point and the only real thing holding him back so far has been bad luck.