RotoWire: Joey Votto Could be Due for a Big Season in 2013

Posted by on February, 16th 2013

Rotowire

Derek VanRiper takes a detailed look at how Joey Votto stacks up against elite hitters in Major League Baseball and why 2013 could be a big year for the Cincinnati Reds’ first baseman.

 

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As noted last week in my Top-50 notes, Joey Votto has ranked in the top-12 among qualified hitters in ISO since 2010, he never wastes at-bats and has a great home park. Beyond that, he’ll benefit from a significant upgrade in the leadoff spot after Reds hitters were a complete failure in terms of setting the table last season.

 

The risk with Votto, is that he showed minimal power from late June on, book-ending surgery to repair a torn meniscus in his left knee in July. Over his final 40 games, Votto hit .295/.445/.403 with no homers, and nine RBI. For me, the surgery would have been more of an issue if it had taken place after the season, but it’s not difficult to see why owners would be scared off by it given the magnitude of his power outage.

 

On the surface, the limiting factor with Votto’s power appears to be is his relatively low flyball rate, but as a player who squares the ball up as well as any hitter (again, look at the IFBB and line drive rates) it might be reasonable to think that he can sustain a higher HR/FB than most. Further, Votto continues to benefit from playing half of his games at Great American Ballpark.

 

To illustrate how Votto’s low flyball rate stacks up to other elite hitters, I’ve built a table that includes the current top 20 hitters according to NFBC ADP data. The batted ball profiles go back through 2010 to increase the sample size involved, and it’s worth noting that there are many variables that can influence this data even over a one-year sample, including but not limited to injuries and the maturation (or decline) of hitters over time.

 

Name BABIP GB/FB LD% GB% FB% IFFB% HR/FB LD GB FB IFFB Batted OFFB OFFB%
Jose Bautista 0.256 0.68 14.8 34.6 50.6 15.0 21.6 168 393 575 86 1136 489 43.0%
Evan Longoria 0.296 0.86 19.8 37.1 43.2 8.0 15.2 211 396 461 37 1068 424 39.7%
Adrian Beltre 0.310 0.95 19.5 39.1 41.4 10.6 15.6 290 582 615 65 1487 550 37.0%
Albert Pujols 0.285 1.02 17.7 41.5 40.8 12.1 16.9 280 656 646 78 1582 568 35.9%
Justin Upton 0.332 1.01 19.4 40.6 40.1 12.4 13.0 242 507 501 62 1250 439 35.1%
Giancarlo Stanton 0.328 1.04 18.3 41.6 40.1 12.5 25.8 165 374 361 45 900 316 35.1%
Troy Tulowitzki 0.310 1.12 17.3 43.7 39.0 15.6 16.4 176 444 397 62 1017 335 32.9%
Matt Kemp 0.341 1.03 21.6 39.7 38.7 2.2 19.5 258 473 461 10 1192 451 37.8%
Josh Hamilton 0.343 1.05 21.5 40.2 38.3 4.2 21.1 266 499 475 20 1240 455 36.7%
Andrew McCutchen 0.326 1.11 20.2 41.9 37.9 7.7 13.2 283 587 531 41 1401 490 35.0%
Miguel Cabrera 0.344 1.13 21.0 41.9 37.1 6.0 20.4 310 620 548 33 1478 515 34.8%
Ryan Braun 0.342 1.21 18.6 44.6 36.7 7.5 18.5 271 650 535 40 1456 495 34.0%
Prince Fielder 0.307 1.15 21.2 42.2 36.6 9.7 19.3 300 597 517 50 1414 467 33.0%
Jose Reyes 0.316 1.21 20.2 43.7 36.0 12.5 5.2 315 681 561 70 1557 491 31.5%
Mike Trout 0.358 1.27 22.2 43.5 34.3 4.5 19.9 114 223 176 8 513 168 32.7%
Joey Votto 0.367 1.22 25.5 40.9 33.6 0.5 20.0 304 488 400 2 1192 398 33.4%
Hanley Ramirez 0.301 1.48 17.0 49.5 33.5 11.5 13.7 204 593 401 46 1198 355 29.6%
Carlos Gonzalez 0.355 1.39 20.2 46.4 33.4 11.5 20.0 248 568 409 47 1225 362 29.6%
Robinson Cano 0.322 1.49 22.4 46.5 31.1 9.1 17.9 362 753 504 46 1619 458 28.3%
Buster Posey 0.342 1.58 21.3 48.2 30.5 2.5 16.2 198 448 284 7 930 277 29.8%
Average 0.324 1.15 20.0 42.4 37.6 8.8 17.5 248 527 468 43 1243 425 34.3%

 

From our group of 20, Votto ranks 15th with a 33.6% flyball rate since 2010. It’s easy to see where some concern might trickle in, especially from those who might also have a completely misunderstood idea of BABIP. “How could he possibly sustain that?” (Screams regression in a crowded draft room, runs. END SCENE)

 

There is a problem here, and it’s kind of a big deal.

 

I think there is an aspect of batted ball profiles that many people are failing to account for. Infield flyballs are essentially outs. Outcome-wise, they are virtually identical to a strikeout. To make matters worse, we seldom discuss removing them from flyball rates when looking at hitters. It’s reasonable enough to target power hitters who reliably loft the ball, as they would seem to be more steady sources of home runs. As mentioned above, Votto very rarely makes mistakes at the plate, and it’s reflected in his extremely low infield flyball rate. More importantly for this piece, we need to consider how the infield flyball rates of other hitters can mislead us to believe that Votto doesn’t hit as many useful (outfield) flyballs than his elite counterparts.

 

Name BABIP GB/FB LD% GB% FB% IFFB% HR/FB LD GB FB IFFB Batted OFFB OFFB%
Jose Bautista 0.256 0.68 14.8 34.6 50.6 15.0 21.6 168 393 575 86 1136 489 43.0%
Evan Longoria 0.296 0.86 19.8 37.1 43.2 8.0 15.2 211 396 461 37 1068 424 39.7%
Matt Kemp 0.341 1.03 21.6 39.7 38.7 2.2 19.5 258 473 461 10 1192 451 37.8%
Adrian Beltre 0.310 0.95 19.5 39.1 41.4 10.6 15.6 290 582 615 65 1487 550 37.0%
Josh Hamilton 0.343 1.05 21.5 40.2 38.3 4.2 21.1 266 499 475 20 1240 455 36.7%
Albert Pujols 0.285 1.02 17.7 41.5 40.8 12.1 16.9 280 656 646 78 1582 568 35.9%
Justin Upton 0.332 1.01 19.4 40.6 40.1 12.4 13.0 242 507 501 62 1250 439 35.1%
Giancarlo Stanton 0.328 1.04 18.3 41.6 40.1 12.5 25.8 165 374 361 45 900 316 35.1%
Andrew McCutchen 0.326 1.11 20.2 41.9 37.9 7.7 13.2 283 587 531 41 1401 490 35.0%
Miguel Cabrera 0.344 1.13 21.0 41.9 37.1 6.0 20.4 310 620 548 33 1478 515 34.8%
Ryan Braun 0.342 1.21 18.6 44.6 36.7 7.5 18.5 271 650 535 40 1456 495 34.0%
Joey Votto 0.367 1.22 25.5 40.9 33.6 0.5 20.0 304 488 400 2 1192 398 33.4%
Prince Fielder 0.307 1.15 21.2 42.2 36.6 9.7 19.3 300 597 517 50 1414 467 33.0%
Troy Tulowitzki 0.310 1.12 17.3 43.7 39.0 15.6 16.4 176 444 397 62 1017 335 32.9%
Mike Trout 0.358 1.27 22.2 43.5 34.3 4.5 19.9 114 223 176 8 513 168 32.7%
Jose Reyes 0.316 1.21 20.2 43.7 36.0 12.5 5.2 315 681 561 70 1557 491 31.5%
Buster Posey 0.342 1.58 21.3 48.2 30.5 2.5 16.2 198 448 284 7 930 277 29.8%
Hanley Ramirez 0.301 1.48 17.0 49.5 33.5 11.5 13.7 204 593 401 46 1198 355 29.6%
Carlos Gonzalez 0.355 1.39 20.2 46.4 33.4 11.5 20.0 248 568 409 47 1225 362 29.6%
Robinson Cano 0.322 1.49 22.4 46.5 31.1 9.1 17.9 362 753 504 46 1619 458 28.3%
Average 0.324 1.15 20.0 42.4 37.6 8.8 17.5 248 527 468 43 1243 425 34.3%

 

When you take out the infield flyballs, Votto ranks 12th in the group with a 33.4% outfield flyball percentage. It becomes a little bit easier to see how the 37-homer season he delivered in 2010 happened, and makes you wonder if another similar campaign is still possible. It should be noted that Votto also turned 25.0% of his flyballs into home runs that season, while his career rate is 18.9%.

 

Still, when you consider the average from this group (34.3%) and that the players around him include Miguel Cabrera (34.8%), Ryan Braun (34.0%), Prince Fielder (33.0%) and Troy Tulowitzki (32.9%), he’s hardly lagging behind other elite power hitters the way some people tend to believe.

 

As mentioned above, the last 40 games of Votto’s season were brutal. In the 71 games before he stopped hitting home runs last season, he carried a .359/.484/.653 line with 14 homers and 47 RBI. On a per-162 games basis, that translates to 32 homers and 108 RBI over 560 at-bats. That damage was done on a team where the leadoff spot was abysmal (thanks in large part to a .262 OBP from that spot when Zack Cozart handled the role for 465 plate appearances). Opportunities to drive in runs should increase for him with Shin-Soo Choo now in the fold as the everyday leadoff man.

 

Other Notes

 

1. Matt Kemp and Buster Posey are also maintaining very low infield flyball rates. Kemp ranks eighth in overall flyball percentage in this group, but jumps to third when you remove the wasted infield flyballs. Posey jumps from 20th to 17th. The glaring concern impacting the latter is that he owns the highest GB/FB rate (1.58) of this group.

 

2. The floor is very high with Robinson Cano, but will 2012 go down as his ceiling?

 

3. Jose Bautista might get a bump in my rankings in the very near future if he proves that he’s healthy this spring. An elite ISO and the steady ability to launch flyballs into the outfield – in a hitter-friendly environment no less. Now the lineup around him has taken a step forward.

 

4. Carlos Gonzalez hit many more groundballs than I would have figured. Playing half of his games at Coors, he can get more mileage out of his outfield flyballs than most, but the three-year trends here need to be reversed if he’s going to swat 34 home runs again as he did in 2010 (42.5% GB, 36.6% FB, 9.6% IFBB that season, his groundball rate has been at least six percent higher in each of the last two seasons).

 

5. I was still on board the Evan Longoria train before doing this research. Seeing his high outfield flyball rate (39.7%, second only to Bautista) only firms that up.

 

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