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4 Reasons Why You Should Draft Joey Votto in 2015

In my last article, I used a series of peripherals to explain why I won’t draft Jon Lester in 2015. This week, I will do the same thing to convince you why you should draft Joey Votto in 2015.

In order to do so, I will use a series of factors to explain why the “Joey Votto hate” has simply gone too far, and you may be likely to get Votto at a bargain this year.

In essence, Votto’s renewed health, On-Base Percentage, Home Run Rates, and Batting Average on Balls In Play all suggest that Votto’s 2015 should be significantly better than his 2014.

4 Reasons to Draft Joey Votto

Each reason on its own might not be enough to warrant drafting any specific player, but all four of these factors should make it an easy decision to draft Joey Votto.

Factor No. 1 – Health

Any discussion of Votto has to begin with his health. In the last three seasons, Votto had surgery to repair a torn meniscus in his left knee and he suffered a distal strain of his left quadricep.

As someone who had meniscus surgery myself, I can attest that one of the most important issues post-surgery is to keep the quad muscle strong. Humans naturally tend to subconsciously compensate for an injury, and it’s very common for the quad muscle to overcompensate for an injury like a meniscus tear, so I cannot say Votto’s quad woes last year surprised me.

That being said, there are several reasons to feel confident about Votto’s health for 2015.

For starters, the Reds were out of the playoff hunt last year, so they shut Votto down early and gave him additional time to rehab. A muscle strain like Votto’s is best treated like traditional swelling — with R.I.C.E. (Rest, Ice, Compression, Elevation).

The “extended offseason” that Votto had from being shut down certainly should have helped him complete this rehab with plenty of time to focus on normalcy during Spring Training rather than recovery.

Keep in mind that sandwiched between those injury-plagued seasons was a 162-game season in 2013 and Votto has played 150-plus games in three of his past five seasons. Assuming no off-season setback, Votto appears likely to enter 2015 at 100 percent.*

*I reserve the right to renege on this entire article if Votto proves unable to stay healthy this offseason.

Factor No. 2 – On-Base Percentage

For those of you in standard Rotisserie leagues, OBP may not seem to matter to you. But it should because even in leagues using Batting Average, OBP is likely going to contribute to improved counting stats. And Votto is an OBP machine like few others.

Consider this —

[Tweet “Votto’s career OBP is .417. Andrew McCutchen had the BEST OBP in MLB last yr — .410.”]

Many people look at Votto’s 2014 as a “disappointing” or “down” season. Do you know what Votto’s OBP was in 2014? It was .390, which, if he had reached the minimum ABs to be eligible, would have placed him sixth in baseball in that statistic.

The fact is that Votto, even with his struggles, still got on base at nearly a .400 clip. When you get on-base that frequently, over the course of a full season, you’re likely going to get a significant contribution in runs scored. While there was a drop in both power (more on that soon) and batting average (more on that later), Votto showed he still has a great eye at the plate and should still be a dangerous hitter.

Factor No. 3 – Home Run Rates

In my last article, I used Lester’s HR rates to show why I expect him to give up more longballs in 2015. Looking at the same numbers, I think there is reason to be optimistic that Votto’s reputation as a “light” power hitter is somewhat unfair and a bounce-back is likely.

For starters, Votto was suffering from a leg muscle injury last year. Weakness in the legs is going to retract from a hitter’s power, and it’s fair to speculate that the injury may have sapped some of Votto’s ability to lift and drive the ball.

That issue may be exemplified in looking at Votto’s Home Run:Flyball Rate (HR/FB%), which calculates the percentage of a hitter’s flyballs that turn into HRs. You can look at Votto’s numbers here, but let’s focus solely on Votto’s rates since becoming a full-time member of the Reds in 2008:

  • 2008: 18.5%
  • 2009: 17.5%
  • 2010: 25.0%
  • 2011: 18.2%
  • 2012: 15.1%
  • 2013: 18.3%
  • 2014: 10.7%

It’s obviously that Votto’s 37-HR campaign in 2010 was a positive outlier, but look at how drastic his 2014 was as a negative outlier. Votto’s career HR/FB is 18.3% and the only other campaign where he had a HR/FB below 15.1% was his rookie season, when he had a 12.5% HR/FB in 2007.

We’re not just talking a small deviation here.

Votto’s 2014 HR/FB is so drastically below his previous low and his career average that it can only be logically explained in one of three ways: 1) The muscle injury sapped his power; 2) Bad luck; or 3) A combination of the two.

Now, let’s look at Votto’s Flyball Rates. Over his career, Votto hits flyballs 33.4% of the time. For comparison, let’s look at Votto’s 2011 season. In 2011, Votto had a 33.4% flyball rate and an 18.2% HR/FB rate. In other words, both of those rates were nearly identical to his overall career norms in those two rates. How many HRs did Votto hit that year? 29. And he did that while still having a .309 AVG and .416 OBP.

In other words, if Votto can stay healthy, lift the ball, and drive the ball within his career norms (emphasis added), it is perfectly reasonable to not just hope for, but to expect Votto to challenge 30 home runs.

Light-hitting 1B, huh?

Factor No. 4 — BABIP

“But Dan,” you might say, “what about Votto’s drastic drop in AVG!?!”

Well, there’s a very easy answer for you — look at Votto’s BABIP.

For those who don’t understand, BABIP stands for “Batting Average on Balls In Play.” Here’s the formula for BABIP, but the short version is that BABIP calculates a hitter’s Batting Average if you remove ABs that end with a HR, strikeout, sac fly, or hit-by-pitch.

Many people misunderstand how to use BABIP. The key to utilizing BABIP is to compare a player’s BABIP not to the league as a whole, but to that particular hitter’s career norms.

In Votto’s case, his 2014 BABIP of .299 may LOOK normal, but it falls far below his career norm BABIP of .355, and it’s also the lowest single-season BABIP of Votto’s career by far.

Now, that does not automatically mean that Votto was particularly unlucky in 2014. To determine that, we also have to compare Votto’s hitter profile (in other words, how he was hitting the ball).

To do that, we want to look at how Votto’s Groundball, Line Drive, and Flyball Rates compare to his career norms in those statistics.

As you can see here, Votto’s 2014 GB (40.7%), LD (26.7%), and FB (32.6%) were all at or near his career norms (41.3 GB%, 25.3 LD%, 33.4 FB%). In fact, as you can see, Votto hit fewer groundballs and more line drives in 2014 than his career norms. In other words, Votto was actually hitting the ball with harder/better contact than his career norm.

Delving into the numbers this deeply strongly suggests that Votto was the sufferer of particularly bad luck in 2014 and he should see a marked improvement in his BABIP, which should also lead to a higher AVG, OBP, and better counting stats in 2015.

Convinced Yet?

As you can see, there is a great deal of factors that suggest that Votto isn’t on a decline, but rather he was the bearer of a combination of bad health and bad luck. While the health concerns are legitimate and are alarming, there is no reason to think that Votto could not rehab the latest injury to 100 percent. It was a muscle strain that did not require any surgical intervention. Therefore, he should enter 2015 completely healthy (barring a Spring Training setback).

With that health concern behind him, Votto should be able to get back to his normal power and BABIP rates, and even with last season’s struggles, Votto showed an elite ability to get on-base.

Many sites like FanGraphs’ Steamer system and ESPN project Votto to barely challenge 20 home runs.
I am much more bullish on Votto than that. I expect Votto to be able to play 140-150 games, and with that in mind, I think Votto is far more likely to push 25-plus HRs. Assuming Votto bats second in the lineup, I think he’s a strong candidate to hit .300-plus with an OBP over .400, 25 HRs, 70-75 RBIs, and challenge 100 runs scored.

For reference, Votto put up a line very close to that in 2013, and it made him the No. 7 overall hitter in standard Rotisserie leagues. Considering ESPN ranks Votto 91st overall in standard Roto leagues, a season like the one I’m projecting would make Votto a HUGE bargain.

Draft Joey Votto with confidence, and pray that the injuries stay away.

Joey Votto Photo Credit: Keith Allison

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