Earlier this month, Cincinnati Reds first baseman Joey Votto stepped up to the plate against Cleveland Indians pitcher Trevor Bauer.
Bauer, who has baffled opposing hitters all season long en route to his first All-Star bid, was so flustered by the mere presence of Votto that he shook off his catcher eight times before throwing the first pitch of the at-bat.
His explanation after the game revealed the mindset that some opposing pitchers have when Votto steps into the batter’s box.
"He can hit everything. It's a chess match. … So I went to throw something that I don't typically throw in those counts. … So, going through the progression, normally it's this pitch in this count. Not that one, then it's this one. Ok, not that one, maybe this one. Alright, what haven't I called yet. That's all that was. Just trying to mix things up. Play the chess match a little bit and keep him off balance," Bauer explained.
Although Bauer got Votto to fly out, the pitcher's respect for the hitter was obvious.
Heading into Monday, Votto is hitting .287 and although he’s knocked out just nine home runs, he has 52 RBIs. Further, he holds an elite .424 on-base percentage (best in the National League) and has recorded 82 walks (second in the NL) to just 70 strikeouts (the fewest of anyone in the NL with as many at-bats as him) over 104 games.
The 34 year old has spent his entire 12-year career with the Reds and is on the fast-track to the Hall of Fame. A lifetime .312 hitter, Votto’s plate discipline has been a staple of his success over the years as indicated by his lifetime .428 on-base percentage. He won the 2010 NL MVP award, has finished in the top seven of MVP voting six different times and has made six All-Star appearances as well.
Votto leads all active players with his career on-base percentage mark and ranks 12th in MLB history in that regard. In fact, he’s just a hundredth of a percentage away from passing both Tris Speaker and Jimmie Foxx to crack the top-10. For reference, Mike Trout is 24th on that list with a career OBP of .415. Paul Goldschmidt (67th), Miguel Cabrera (78th) and Joe Mauer (103rd) are the next three active players on that list.
Despite the fact that most players in their mid-30s tend to begin the regression process, Votto has done the opposite. Playing all 162 games last season, he hit .320 with 36 home runs and 100 RBIs while also scoring 106 runs. This year, his power numbers are down, but he’s still making a profound impact.
Perhaps most impressively, over the span of 266 games spanning back to the start of last season, Votto has walked 216 times and has struck out just 153 times. With all of the power arms around the league and since seemingly every relief pitcher is groomed to rack up strikeouts, that’s insane.
Focus on analytics
One of the reasons for Votto’s success at the plate has been his focus on the many advanced statistics and analytics that are now accessible.
“More than anything I try to adapt quickly or beat it to the punch,” Votto recently told Jared Wyllys of Sporting News. “The data helps. During the season and during the offseason, I try to keep track of trends. I have my own perspective on things, but often times it can be a little skewed. I think data helps back up whatever I think I’m seeing.”
“To be honest with you, a lot of the league is trending in that direction. I’ve noticed a lot of guys that are doing a little bit more of what I’ve done in the previous years,” Votto added. “More of a patient combination, you know. Walks, and understanding that that can be a good thing for the team.”
Since the start of the 2010 season, Votto has drawn over 130 more walks than the next-highest player in that span.
That shows how unique and cerebral his approach is.
Votto credits his 1,534 games played and 6,596 plate appearances for his development as a dangerous, yet extremely patient hitter.
“The number of pitches I’ve seen. Some guys are just, you can’t help it — they’re overwhelming. But after a while it’s like, it’s just so many arms and so many different pitches … ,” Votto said, explaining why he never gets flustered against any pitcher, regardless of who it is.
As of a couple days ago, he had only swung at 24 pitches out of the strike zone all season long. That's how refined his eye is at the dish.
His elite vision can also be proven by two other ridiculous stats.
In his entire career, Votto has never popped out to the catcher, pitcher or first baseman.
Although Votto doesn’t have an uppercut swing and is a line-drive hitter, that’s incomprehensible considering how many at-bats he's had.
Since 2010, he’s only popped the ball up (anywhere else) seven times.
While he’s a jokester at times, Votto has proven that he means business at the plate throughout his career, especially in recent years.
Since he plays in Cincinnati, his excellence has been hidden due to the yearly struggles of his team. He’s signed through the 2023 season, so he may go overlooked for the entirety of his career, which would be a shame. Considering his eccentric and fun personality and contributions to the community off the field, it’s unfortunate that he has only played for three playoff teams throughout his amazing career.
Right now, it’s easy to make the claim that Votto is the most underrated MLB superstar. Judging by his career numbers, he may eventually go down as one of the most underrated and overlooked stars in the history of the league.