The Cincinnati Reds probably never saw it coming — former NL MVP with a 30-home run, 100-RBI track record signs to a surprising 10-year extension worth $225 million and then becomes a singles hitter and a base on balls specialist.
Joey Votto had more extra-base hits in 2012 (58) than 2013 (57) despite missing 51 games in 2012 and playing in every game in 2013. His 2014 season has featured just 14 extra-base hits and a .257 batting average.
Votto decided to turn patience at the plate into a regression. He walked a career high in 2013 (135) but also struck out a career high (138). For some reason, Votto decided that not swinging was better than swinging.
The on-base percentage that now quantifies much of Votto’s value to his team still makes him an important part of the Reds, but he’s nowhere near as important as he was when he was a three-hole hitter who struck fear in the hearts of pitchers.
Now pitchers know they can pitch to Votto without fear, comfortable with the fact that they have as good of a chance of striking Votto out as they do walking him. Either way, a disproportionate number of Votto’s at-bats won’t wind up as threats to score runs.
Sure, on-base is important, but for a free-swinging team with poor plate discipline like the Reds, on-base is more likely to translate into left-on-base because the Reds just don’t seem either interested in or capable of advancing runners or not striking out. The Reds had the fifth most strikeouts last year in the NL and are 13th in the NL in batting average with runners in scoring position (.214) this year.
The Reds need somebody to do a whole lot more than just get on base this year or else their season is destined for a .500 straddle at the very best. The Reds need Votto to return from his trip to the disabled list soon and start acting like a three-hole or cleanup hitter, who is hitting in the meat of the order to drive in runs.
Or else manager Bryan Price should consider slotting Votto eighth in the batting order when he returns. That way he can walk as much as he wants and never bother to swing at another pitch.