In April Joey Votto looked like he had found new life. Just a few weeks into the season my colleague Brian Menendez had an inkling that Votto had plenty in the tank. He pegged Votto as a ‘bounce-back’ candidate, pointing to a number of factors that were encouraging for the near 38-year-old. Over the last four months, Votto has proved Brian was right, and that his renaissance is real and sustainable for a full season.
Although the Brewers are running away with the National League Central, the Reds currently sit two games ahead of the floundering Padres for the second NL wild card slot, in large part due to Votto’s 143 wRC+. Votto’s Reds have not made it out of the wild card round in nearly 10 years, and last year they were swept out of the first round. They lost the best-of-three series in two games, unable to score even one run against Atlanta. In that series, Votto was a meager 2-for-9 with only one walk.
Votto’s batting average and OBP this year are considerably better than last year. To date he’s posted a .275/.371/.562 slash line, a full 43 percent better offensive production than the league-average hitter. While Votto has certainly benefited from a BABIP that is more typical of his skillset (last year his BABIP was a meager .235 compared to a typical .307 this season), it’s the resurgent power that has been the most surprising.
Votto’s 28 home runs is his most since 2017. Votto is projected to finish the year with a home run total in the mid-30s, it’s possible with a bit of a hot streak he can beat his career-best 37 home runs, which he posted in 2010. He’s on-track for his typical full season mid-50s extra base hits, but he’s traded in doubles for home runs (he has half as many doubles this season as he did in the last full season of 2019).
The main catalyst for this power surge is that Votto is hitting the ball harder more often than he has previously. 45 percent of all balls struck are classified as Hard Hit per FanGraphs. It’s a full seven points higher than his career average. Combined with a near 50 percent Medium Hit rate, practically every ball in play is searing off his bat. Consequently, and unsurprisingly, his home run to fly ball rate is up considerably at a full 28 percent.
Going into their weekend series with the lowly Marlins, Cincinnati has a 72 percent chance at making the playoffs. They most likely will end with the second wild card, where they’d face either the Giants or Dodgers, whichever team does not win the division.
It would be fitting for a resurgent Votto to lead the Reds in slaying the wild card demons of the recent past. It won’t come easy however, as their NL West foes are formidable opponents in a one-and-done wild card game.