I have to be honest, before he came to the big leagues in 2007, I had never heard of Joey Votto. Didn’t know what to expect of him. Had no idea if he was a big-time prospect. Given what he’s doing lately, I felt bad about it. I did a quick Google search of “Joey Votto prospect” to see what kinds of things were written about him before he made the majors. He was rated as the Reds #4 prospect before the 2005 and 2006 seasons and #3 before the 2007 season by Baseball America, so he was pretty legit; however, I read the following paragraph from a Cincinnati fan site that made me laugh (because I didn’t have to feel bad anymore and a little bit at the person who wrote it…hey, we all miss sometimes).
In addition to his solid hitting skills, Votto possesses some of the best on base skills in the Reds system. Oddly enough, Votto bears many similarities to the man he will be replacing in 2008, Scott Hatteberg. Both have strong on base skills and take a professional approach, but Votto has more power. However, a better comparison for Votto may be Lyle Overbay, a professional hitter who provides solid production, but doesn’t have elite power traditionally found at the position.
Well, he’s been a little better than Hatteberg and Overbay. Votto finished 4th in the league in weighted on base average (wOBA), a measure that sums the run value weights of a player’s plate appearances throughout the year to measure total production while hitting. It’s on the same scale as on-base percentage, so average is about 0.330-0.335 and anything near or over 0.400 is really good. Votto finished 2009 at 0.418 (behind only Albert Pujols, Joe Mauer, and Prince Fielder) and is at 0.417 as of today, which leads the National League.
Votto was a 4-win player as a rookie in 2008 and was worth 4.5 wins last season despite missing 31 games; he’s already been worth 2.7 wins this season through only 63 games. He strikes out slightly more than average, but makes up for it by walking in nearly 13 percent of his plate appearances. Based on FanGraphs pitch type values, he crushes nearly everything thrown at him:
He hits the ball all over the diamond and has shown power to all fields. His spray charts from TexasLeaguers for his career years show a fairly typical pattern in the infield for a left-handed hitter (lots of groundballs to first and second); however, in the outfield, he hits a lot of balls to left field. Against left-handed pitchers in particular, it seems as though he does not even attempt to pull the ball. The following spray charts are Votto’s 2009 and 2010 seasons against left-handed pitchers and right-handed pitchers, respectively.
He obviously has a plan, and it’s working a lot so far in his career. I’m just not sure how many people understand that one of the best four or five hitters in the National League is playing first base for the Cincinnati Reds right now.