Since being reinstated from the disabled list on June 10, Joey Votto has not been putting up the numbers we have become accustomed to seeing from him. He is batting .268 with no home runs, 10 runs batted in and a .378 on base percentage. That’s quite the stark contrast from his .311 career average and .418 career on base percentage. However, the Cincinnati Reds are 14-5 during those games. So what gives?
With Votto in the lineup, even without him being 100 percent, the Reds are boasting a lineup that is designed with a purpose. Every player has a job to do and a specific reasoning for their placement in the lineup. Without Votto, players are forced to become something they are not (such as Ryan Ludwick or Todd Frazier batting cleanup).
Fully healthy or not, Votto still has the ability to work a pitcher deep into a count — something that will have a lasting effect later in the game when it comes to pitch count. Additionally, the presence of Votto creates opportunities for others. With Billy Hamilton reaching base, he creates a conundrum for pitchers. Commanding their attention, Hamilton diverts their focus from facing Frazier in the two-hole. At the same time, a pitcher cannot take a chance of pitching around Frazier, because then they risk facing Votto with two men on base. The lineup is perfectly constructed to flow with specific pieces in their correct placement.
Here’s how the lineup, the way it was constructed to be, should flow:
1. Hamilton should use his speed to set the tone and create havoc on the basepaths.
2. Frazier must make contact, get on base, provide occasional power and create runs.
3. Votto’s goal is to reach base, drive in runs and work deep into counts.
4. Brandon Phillips simply needs to drive in runs.
5. Jay Bruce must reach base, drive in runs and provide power.
6. Devin Mesoraco has to drive in runs, reach base and provide occasional power.
7. Ludwick’s goal is to reach base, move runners over and just make contact.
8. Zack Cozart needs to reach base and provide occasional runs.
Now obviously some of those players have “over-performed” as well as “underperformed”. For example, Frazier is doing much more than “occasionally” providing power. Mesoraco and Hamilton are also driving in more runs than initially expected of them. Thanks to those over-performances, lately the Reds have been able mask the under-performers. While Votto is reaching base frequently, he still isn’t providing the production warranted of a three-hole hitter. Just as Ludwick has failed to give the production needed from a “power hitting” left fielder.
For the Reds, this lineup succeeds because of the way it has been structured. It was designed to fill the holes when streak-prone players hit their patented cold streaks. With Ludwick and Votto struggling, players such as Hamilton and Frazier pick up the loss in production. It is naive to assume eight players will consistently produce successfully for a roster, so teams must prepare for slumps. And for the Reds, their lineup (though filled with holes) is able to withstand struggles from key players.
Yet while Votto struggles to produce Votto-like numbers, he is still doing the two things that the Reds need most from him — working deep into counts and reaching base. It is an example of yet another player buying into the team philosophy. There was a time when players seemed more focused on their individual performances than that of the team, and at times it showed (Votto’s 2010 MVP award). But for the Reds to excel, they need players to focus on their individual jobs for the betterment of the team.
Votto may receive a lot of negativity for his approach and struggles, but it cannot be argued that he is still providing for the Reds — just in a different way than everyone else.