When Cincinnati Reds‘ first-year manager Bryan Price announced that he was shifting perennial All-Star first-baseman Joey Votto from his customary third spot in the batting order to second, there was interest in just how Votto would react to the change.
So far so good. In the first four games since the shift was implemented, Votto is 7-for-14 with two home runs and five RBIs. The small sampling includes an OBP of .611 and an OPS of 1.611. If Votto can keep up this pace as the No. 2 hitter over the course of the season, he’ll be in the running to vie for another NL MVP award.
Of course, the season is early. The biggest benefit the Reds are seeing by having Votto hit second is that it takes any pressure — real or imaginary — off Votto from a role as a runs producer instead of a runs creator, where he can maximize his value as an on-base machine.
Votto has put up big run production numbers in the past: his 2010 MVP season featured 37 HRs and 113 RBIs. But Votto has also struggled to meet that standard: he hit just 24 HRs and knocked in a mere 73 runs last year as the No. 3 hitter.
For a lifetime .314 hitter who punches his average in each year like clockwork, Votto is unusually inconsistent when it comes to power production. It’s not just the difference in power numbers from 2010 to 2013. In 2012, Votto hit the most doubles in his career (44) despite missing 51 games in the season.
The shift to the two-hole may help Votto relax into the role where he does best — runs creator. Votto is an elite first baseman in the NL because of his his ability to produce in the runs created department, which measures a total player contribution to a team’s run total by factoring total bases and bases advanced in relation to total batting opportunities.
So long as Votto keeps rolling along at the rate he’s doing now as the Reds’ No. 2 hitter, the future for Votto as one of the premier players in baseball looks bright.