Death, taxes, and Joey Votto looking mortal during April. It is an odd thing to guarantee but here we are, the fourth year in a row that Votto looks more like Skip Schumaker than one of the greatest hitters of this generation.

For me, Votto’s struggles can be compared to pet peeves we have with our significant others. For example, my fiancé and I recently discussed the fact that I oftentimes leave the toilet seat up. It annoys her and she would prefer I did not do it, but in the grand scheme of things it is not a big deal and she still loves me like Kanye loves Kanye (which is a good thing).

That is very much how I feel about Joey Votto not being awesome at baseball to start the season. It’s a little annoying because I would rather watch perfect hitting than imperfect hitting, but in the end, he is still my favorite player and will go down as one of the best Reds of all-time. So, really, who cares about another April slump?

The answer is that we all care because we love the Reds and unfortunately this is a pretty important part of the Reds season so far. With that in mind, here are Votto’s last three plus years of wOBA.


Aside from 2015, the past three seasons have been a straight drop off starting with day Opening Day. Interesting note that of the seven “slumps” that are visible, six of them have come in the first half of the year. The four circles pinpoint the specific games that I targeted that represent the lowest point in each drop. The table below details the length and time frame of each slump that I looked at.

Year Start Date End Date # of Games % of Season
2018 Opening Day 22-Apr 21 12.9%
2017 Opening Day 15-Apr 12 7.4%
2016 Opening Day 26-Apr 21 12.9%
2015 20-Apr 16-May 24 14.8%

Although this is not super scientific, it does give a pretty accurate representation of the toughest stretches Votto endured. The length varies from 12 to 24 games and lasts anywhere from April 15 to May 16.

Comparing wOBA, which measures overall offensive value, and xwOBA, which uses Statcast data to blend in the quality of contact and provides a more predictive number, can show us if a player is outperforming or under performing their actual performance.

Date wOBA xwOBA Variance
4/22/2018 0.272 0.406 -0.134
4/15/2017 0.283 0.308 -0.025
4/26/2016 0.257 0.349 -0.092
5/16/2015 0.321 0.339 -0.018

During each of Votto’s early season slumps, he under performed relative to his xwOBA. The degrees to which he under performed is what make this year stand out, as he currently has a wOBA of .272 compared to an xwOBA of .406. That is a huge difference and places him 3rd in MLB for players with over 50 at-bats.

In each of these seasons, while his actual stats were very un-Votto like, there were always underlying metrics that showed he would turn it around. Based on his current xwOBA, it appears as if the trend will continue, potentially in a big way.

Aside from solo performance it is also important to consider the overall context of the team. Just because Votto is Votto and is expected to be fine in the long run does not mean that his performance in the first 21 games has not hurt the Reds.

4/19/2018 1.45 1.68 -0.23 -2.92
4/15/2017 0.65 0.78 -0.13 -1.6
4/26/2016 1.19 1.41 -0.22 0.71
5/16/2015 1.53 1.68 -0.15 -0.71

So far in 2018, Votto has contributed -0.23 Win Probability Added, which is just slightly worse than 2016. It is really not that far out of line with previous slumps, though his  RE24 (run expectancy in any given base-out state) is significantly lower than last year. It is always frustrating to watch him struggle, but those struggles have come at less opportune times and have hurt the team a bit more so than in years past. However, Votto is not alone as the entire team has been miserable this year.

Date Team Record Win % Runs/Game
4/19/2018 3-18 0.143 2.90
4/15/2017 8-4 0.667 5.00
4/26/2016 9-12 0.429 3.95
5/16/2015 12-12 0.500 3.90

There seem to be two distinct sides when talking about Votto’s struggles. While his past performance has earned him the benefit of the doubt from some, others will burden him with more of the blame because he is the team’s best player. Both of these are correct, in a sense. Yes, Votto will turn it around and there are other people and factors that have hurt the Reds more. Also yes, Votto’s MVP caliber play in the past leaves more room for him to underperform, creating a bigger hole for the rest of the team to have to fill.

The reality is that it is impossible to say that Votto has not been part of the problem with the first 21 games of 2018. However, with his pedigree being what it is and statistics that say he will improve, he should not be the main concern of this team going forward.

2018 has been historically bad and make the past three seasons look like the glory days. With so much going wrong, it is no surprise that Votto’s poor performance is a bit tougher to stomach. In a year when any glimmer of a bright spot helps to dull the pain, Votto has been mostly unable to provide any relief. However, as the season trudges on, this will more than likely become another trivial episode in an otherwise dependable relationship.

52 Responses

  1. Still a Red

    The eye test suggests to me his early season slump this year is mostly due to bad luck. I haven’t done the ‘bad luck’ analysis, but I’ve seen quite a few games where he has shot balls to various parts of the field just to be caught (haven’t compared line drives/exit velocities). In past seasons it seems like he’s had trouble adjusting to changes in how pitchers are pitching him, or trouble grooving changes in his batting strategy. ONe noticeable difference this year is the lack of power so far. He has admitted that as he ages, we may have to accept that loss of power. P.S. If I remember correctly, Pete Rose sometimes had slow starts…he loved batting in August.

    • greenmtred

      Quite a few bad outcomes can be attributed to bad luck. All of them ,if you want to expand the definition of luck (It’s such bad luck that I can’t hit that change-up). I expect Votto to improve, of course, and hope that many other players will, as well , but the cliche about games in April counting as much as those in September applies.

  2. cfd3000

    I posted this on the recap thread, but one Votto detail that summarizes for me the state of recent offense is this: Votto has been on base 32 times in 21 games (leads the team) but has scored two (that’s a 2) runs. In part due to his own power slump, with the majority due to a lack of support behind him. I’d like to see what his expected runs scored should be. Again, much room for improvement with reason to expect that will happen. That said, Votto looks very defensive at the plate. He’s really good so he still hits line drives, but until he starts seeing the ball better and can be more aggressive with mistake pitches he won’t be the monster Votto of old. I take it as a very good sign that he’s seeing pitches well enough to have a pile of walks in the last few games. That’s good Joey.

  3. james garrett

    Eventually because well we all age he will become Hal Morris from a power standpoint.However he will still hit around 300 and get on base at a 400 clip.Don’t know if its this year or not that his power numbers go down but he will be a heck of a 2 hole or even leadoff guy down the road.

  4. bred

    In the first weeks of this season and last he started off the season with the tight inside out swing. You see him swing like that when he steps out of the batters box. Last night I noticed he was swinging freely more often. For what that is worth. To me I think he getting close to being SuperJoey again.

  5. Wayne Nabors

    I just don’t think he is used right in st,toward the end when most teams are playing their regulars, price was not,and especially with votto’s slow start history he should have been given more pa’s.not sure that’s all of it but I’ve noticed it last few years

    • james garrett

      Good point.I know its a long season but the first thing is are the players ready for opening day.Have they hit live pitching and played in the field and where are they at with their hitting stroke.Hitting a baseball is the hardest thing to do in sports and even the best make an out 70% of the time.Makes sense to be as ready to go as you can

    • greenmtred

      I don’t know this, of course, but I’d suspect that Joey has a lot of input into his use in spring training and, almost certainly, his own regimen for preparing. Unless the regimen is poor, though, it doesn’t account for the slow starts. People from Northern climes take longer than others to believe that spring is here.

  6. David

    It is just really obvious because the rest of the team really stinks this year, offensively.

    Schebler is back now (and had a monster Spring Training) and Eugenio will be back soon.
    Somebody, or a couple of somebodies needs to get a little hot. Last night against Atlanta, they didn’t look too bad.
    More of this, please.

    Joey will hit, but I just wish it was now, because the losing is hard to take.

  7. Wobaisnotyoda

    Good analysis and yes, he will catch on fire one of these days. It will probably be in a game against the Marlins or better yet, the much maligned Cubs or Cards at the end of May. Thing is my fellow Reds fans, that it’ll happen when the season is already lost, mostly because of a terrible offense where he’s supposed to be the big enchilada.

    What is really annoying though, is that for a guy who is praised ad nauseum for his working ethics and hitting knowledge, he has not been able to solve this riddle that has cripple the team so much for years now. Please do not tell me is the cold weather. He’s famously a terrible hitter in spring training in Arizona. And you know, he’s Canadian!!.

    Yes, he will hit, probably .400 after the all-star game and at the end his obp, WAR, WOBA, SAT and IQ numbers will all be otherwordly. But, once again, not WHEN IT COUNTS!!

    • Hanawi

      I didn’t realize they counted games differently at the end of the versus the beginning. Your obsession with criticizing a guy who has been one of if not the best hitter in baseball the last few years is insane. I assume it has to do with him getting the contract that he earned. It’s like the fans who were just waiting for one bad outing from Hunter Greene to start criticizing, which I think stems from a resentment that he held out toward the end to get the largest contract.

      • Bill

        You must have missed the new weighted game system, where April wins are worth 1.5 wins. August and September games are only worth .8 wins

      • Wobaisnotyoda

        And you probably missed the recent trend of 30th in runs scored, Hrs, RISP, and some other stats, 4-18 record, 11GB…..
        or that Billy Ham and Peraza have more XBs, a putrid .623 OPS, not a single hr, the worst record in Reds history and many more. Don’t want to be underwelming, tho.

      • Bill

        If Votto was hitting his career numbers, .427 OBP, .536 SLG do you think the Reds would be 18-4?

      • MrRed

        Yeah, because if they had Trout or Harper (instead of Votto) this offense wouldn’t still be terrible. Stop trying so hard to troll.

        I’m surprised you haven’t argued that the pitching staff has been bad because Joey is off to a slow start. Or maybe that’s the next argument you want to bring up?

      • Wobaisnotyoda

        That’s another problem with the guys who live and die for stats: You live in a parallel world. All the games count the same for your calculator and excel dreams. Now, if you ever paid real attention to baseball or better yet played the game, try to dig out of a 4-18 start. Better yet, used your worshiped fangraphs and find out how many it has been done in history.

        It’s about the contract as long as it means he’s being paid so much to produce much better than Peraza and others. It’s called accountability. I don’t know what’s your job, but highest paid Executives are the first ones fired when the Company goes in the wrong direction. Not the cleaning lady.

        BTW, I love Hunter Greene. Hopefully they don´t mess with his development.

      • Bill

        Do the highest paid executives get fired when the company has one poor month of performance after the previous year was record profits? Your analogy doesn’t work. Votto is the least of this teams problems

      • Wobaisnotyoda

        Sorry, the company has filed for bankruptcy the last 4 years, has the worst profit record in 137 years (even in attendance!) and your Top guy is looking like Rainman at the plate and on the bases. Yes, he’s big part of the problem.

      • Bill

        Except Votto is not the CEO, if anything he is in charge of one of 25 divisions. Of which, is the top performing for the company and was the runner up for best in the industry the previous year. So using your analogy if the company has been failing for four years you don’t start by firing the top performer after one month of struggles, you instead replace the individuals who have not done their job the last four years

      • Wobaisnotyoda

        When your salary is 25% of the payroll you are not a Division Manager. You’re the big fish. And when the company is in trouble is when you have to earn the big bucks, not when everything is fine. And if your company fails for 4 years in a row, yes I made big changes starting from the top. In baseball, it means trading your expensive contracts for new talent. The Tigers did it with Verlander, Pujols was let go. I really hoped last season his stats were enough to move that albatross contract.

        Because my friends, I know many of you hate to read my comments, but believe me. If it’s bad now, just wait until the contract is over.

      • Matt WI

        So how is it then, that when Joey is playing at MVP caliber play for 5/6 of the year, this team isn’t about 15 games over .500 by the end? If he can single handedly “let them down” so significantly in April, why wouldn’t it lift them up in May/June/July/Aug? At least be consistent.

        Joey Votto is struggling and it’s hurting the team right now. But not any more than a lot of things that are hurting this team. You’re letting your emotional reaction to his salary color your perceptions unfairly.

      • docmike

        You cannot be serious. Woba, are you actually suggesting that the games count more at the beginning of the season than the middle or the end? Sorry to burst your bubble, but they all count the same. What is the difference between a team that starts 4-18 and catches fire to get back to .500, and a team that starts 18-4 but goes cold and falls back to .500? Not a dang thing.

        I’m willing to bet that if Joey was tearing it up in April and May, but went into a slump in September if the team was chasing a playoff spot, you’d be the first to say that he stinks because he only hit “when it didn’t matter”. Good grief.

      • redsfan06

        I have been in manufacturing for over 40 years. When business starts to turn south, believe me when I tell you the CEO is not the first to go. Plenty of others go on the chopping block well before it gets to the point where the top dog gets the ax.

      • Dave Roemerman

        Yes. The middle managers (Price) and the expendable/low-value line workers (Gallardo) exit first. Top management (Castellin/Jocketty/Williams) only leaves when the board steps in (none), shareholders (fans) revolt (stop buying tickets and gear), or there is a takeover (sale of the team). The LARGEST ASSETS with the best historical returns (which is where Votto properly fits into this analogy) are retained, sold, or leveraged into other assets (the latter two of which are “traded” for MLB players or prospects, respectively). I’m just a corporate finance/derivatives attorney in New York – it’s possible Yoda knows more about this misguided analogy than I/any of us do. *shrug*

      • greenmtred

        Joey’s great, and he’s not mostly to blame for the bad start, but neither is he blameless. He’s not above criticism, and criticizing him is not evidence of insanity or moral depravity.

      • Wobaisnotyoda

        Thank you Sir. That’s my point exactly.

      • Bill

        What exactly is your point? That he should get some blame or most of the blame? GREENMTRED stated he is not mostly to blame and you stated ” Yes, he’s big part of the problem.” I don’t think anyone here thinks Votto is doing a wonderful job, but any rational person understands that Votto hitting at his career norm doesn’t get this team to .500 baseball.

      • Wobaisnotyoda

        I see that for you and some others issue is about retorics. Some blame, most blame, blameless.
        The fact is he has failed when the team needed him as he did in the 2010, 2012 and 2013 postseasons when he DID NOT GET a single RBI in over 33 at bats, and has been part of some of the most embarrasment moments in Reds history (you know, being no hit or losing that 2-0 series when his line was 111/110/111). And for that I dislike him and you and your stats won´t change my mind or the fate of this team. Trading his contract probably would. Of course, now is too late for that.

      • docmike

        Wait a minute, you’re saying he failed because he “didn’t hit” in the postseason. I thought all that mattered was hitting in April? Which is it?

      • Matt

        Guys, just give up debating him. He flip flops like a politician to the opposite of whatever is stated just so he can emphasis he’s not a Votto fan. Let him troll while while we enjoy one of the best hitters ever in a Reds uniform. Obviously everybody has their slumps no matter how great they are. I’ll take an out of this world Votto 5/6 of every season vs a Billy Hamilton at the plate all season every year.

    • lwblogger2

      Look, I have played an awful lot of baseball. Yes, Votto’s teammates are counting on him to hit. That’s what he’s supposed to do. Votto, is the team leader. He’s not a rah-rah guy, he leads by example. His example so far this year and in some prior years early on in the season hasn’t been very good. He’s not above blame. Steve, a “stat guy” as you call them, even wrote that Votto needs to do better. Having said all of that, as his teammates you’ve got to be thinking to yourselves “Votto is 1 guy. We’re 7 guys. We’ve got to pick him up while he’s struggling because he’s going to come around. When he comes around, he’s going to pick each and every one of us up at least once this year. Early on, it’s our turn.”

  8. RedsInROC

    There’s a lot to unpack with how he’s played. I am not a stats expert by any stretch, but the last time I looked a FanGraphs it looked like his hard-hit ball percentage was well below his last three years, and his line drive percentage was way up…. So, a lot of moderately-hit line drive singles or outs would give a low BABIP and few extra base hits, I would guess. With the eye test he has looked terrible against anyone’s fastball too, and I don’t remember him getting robbed by wall-climbing outfielders lately…. I come back to the Ferrari swing theory. If we all know he’s going to spend April tinkering with his swing and then destroy the league for five months, wouldn’t management tell him to tinker all he wants in March spring training games but to turn it on when the games mean something? (And mix in off days, because of Father Time.) I pray to the Votto Fathead on my son’s wall each night that he turns it on quick because it’s hard to argue that a little more run production from him wouldn’t have made the Reds a six-win team instead of four wins. Just hate to see him look so disjointed and worry that he’s either hurt or that time suddenly caught up.

  9. Old-school

    Barry Larkin was a notoriously slow starter. I remember years he was below . 200 in late April and by June was back to his Silver Slugger self.

    Votto is going to hit, but I do think he will take a small step back from his career year 2017 and a 5 WAR season is more realistic this year and next year.

    I really like Scheblers power. I’d like to see Winker/Senzel/Votto/Suarez/Schebler in 2 months- assuming Senzel takes off. Votto is going to get help…he needs help.

    Adam Duvall is an outstanding 4 th outfielder and back up first baseman for Votto and could be the NL best RH power bat off the bench.

    End the OF rotation. Winker is the LF and leadoff hitter. Schebler is the RF and 4 hole hitter until Senzel arrives.. Hamilton is CF and hits 9th and starts 120 games. Duvall plays 100 games as a platoon player in RF and spot starter and a big bat off the bench in the late innings.

    • Phil

      I think the outfield “rotation” should be: Winker in LF, Hamilton in Center and Schebler in RF against right-handed pitching. Against lefties Hamilton sits, Schebler slides to center and Duvall plays the other corner outfield.

      • Dave Roemerman

        Phil, the numbers (R/L splits) absolutely back you up! I was hoping this was Price’s plan from spring training. Instead he batted .241 OBP against lefties Hamilton leadoff in 3 or 4 games.

        It really isn’t that complicated and your solution is exactly what Houston, Chicago, the Yankees, or anyone else with a decent front office would do, given these players (barring free agent signings and trades).

    • greenmtred

      I like Schebler, too, but he’s never been an on-base machine. Nor is he more than adequate defensively (if that, in center). This team needs power, but it really needs guys to get on base. Maybe he will. I hope so.

    • james garrett

      Normally I am with you Old School but I am not ready to give up on Duvall especially if it means Billy starts 120 games.Personally I would start the other three guys for 75 games or so and if one falters and if Billy is the next best option then he starts.Duvall has two year of 30 homers and Billy has 4 years of not getting on base and no power.I am not much on the platoon system unless you ride the hot hand.Schebler put a spark in this team last night and he is setting tonight I assume because of the platoon.Its not about for Adam and against Billy its just that power and getting on base does it for me and Billy does netiher.

      • Old-school

        I am not a Hamilton supporter…but I do like Winker in left and Scheblers pop in RF and recognize the niches of Hamilton and Duvall. I can’t disagree with you that much. Duvall has had 2 solid years in LF….it just seems when he is off…..he is way off. Hamilton hitting is always off but his speed and defense are skways on.
        Sitting schebler after his night last night is dumb.

  10. Wobaisnotyoda

    MRRED ( LOL) I see it’s hard for you to debate in a civil matter, so I just let you live in your name calling and low standards.

    For you it’s trolling when somebody talks about Votto, not when you ripped on daily bases the Owner, Front Office and the rest of the team. Even some HOF called Barry Larkin, who gave this city the last ring in more than 25 years. Something The Pefect will never sniff at.

    • MrRed

      So it’s ok for you to come on here and knowingly provoke others with rhetoric (do folks call Votto “The Perfect”?) and false arguments but if someone calls you on it, then you have a problem with that? Got it. BTW, it’s not name calling. That what trolling actually is.

      • greenmtred

        I’m pretty sure I’ve seen “Joey Votto is perfect” here on several occasions. It’s hyperbole, I understand that. Some people are contrarion, and if you add disappointment in a terrible start to the season to contrarionism, you get something like this. Votto is the face of the franchise, so fairly or not, he’ll take some heat. Most of us get exercized about something.

      • MrRed

        That was my conclusion too, Green. Contrarianism, frustration and boredom leads some people to take it out on others.

        I would add that I agree that Votto deserves criticism for his lousy start. But, it should be rational and balanced with some reality. His performance is one of many causes, not even the primary cause, of the teams record so far.

  11. big5ed

    I am not convinced Votto will fully snap out of it this time. He will be 35 in September.

    He did an interview with MLB-TV’s “30 Clubs in 30 Days,” which many on here lauded. But to me, it was an eye-opener, as Votto clearly stated that his bat speed and exit velocity had slipped and that he had had to reach into his bag of tricks to keep up with the power pitching game. Sooner or later, he will run out of tricks, and age will catch up.

    This article focuses on OBA, which is fine as far as it goes. But one game against the Cardinals, when they inexplicably walked him 4 times, adds more than 40 points to his OBA.

    The real issue arises in the obliquely-referenced RE24 (run expectancy in any given base-out state), which is far below the other examples in the article. Votto is not hitting the ball very hard. His exit velocity is 1 mph lower than the league average, and only a hair above that of Tucker Barnhart. He has 1 extra base hit in 91 plate appearances. His slugging percentage is lower than every regular, except Billy Hamilton. When pitchers quit fearing his bat, they will pound the strike zone on him, and his OBA will suffer in turn.

    And at times this year he has looked not just uncomfortable, but overmatched. Yeah, he may very well come out of it in full force like he has before, especially as the season enters the grind phase, but I don’t think it is a given that he will get to a .900 OPS or even .850 this time. He may turn into Hal Morris sooner than we think.

    I believe that Suarez if healthy will surpass him this year as the team’s best hitter.

    • greenmtred

      Sobering thoughts, and he will decline, perhaps sharply, perhaps gradually, someday. But maybe not today: the drop-off is so precipitous that I find it hard to hang it all on aging. He always starts slowly.

    • Dave Roemerman

      If anyone ever “pounds the strike zone” on Joey Votto, this discussion/article is over. His walks will decline, his power numbers will skyrocket, and pitchers will stop being stupid, at which point the walks again increase and the power will remain steady (he will stay locked in). In other words, April will have ended and the second half will have come early!

      • lwblogger2

        That’s kind of how he adjusted last year.

        I’m not sure how well he’ll rebound but I’m sure he’ll rebound some. I seriously doubt he’ll hit at last year’s levels but an .850+ OPS season is still very likely. He’s going to enter the decline phase eventually, maybe this year is the year. Reds have wasted what are likely his best seasons.

  12. docmike

    Anyone who is criticizing the next few years of Votto’s contract by saying he will not play well enough to justify it, has to acknowledge that he vastly outperformed the value of the first several years of said contract. Even he never finds his wallet again from this day forward, he still earned every penny of what he has received and will receive.

    • Dave Roemerman

      PS – WAR to actual wins has roughly a .65-.92 correlation. So, for the extra 8 wins between 3-18 and 11-10, Votto would have to have accumulated a WAR total of 5.2-7.36 in under a month.

      Good start for a guy who was two votes from his second MVP last year with a mere 7.5 bWAR. And hey, even large-hat-sized Barry Bonds would be proud of a season totaling between 36.4 and 51.52 (7x21games = 147, for a seasonal estimate). That would certainly top Ruth’s measly record of 14.1 from 1923…

      Thus endeth the discussion on whether the poor start is solely, or even largely, attributable to Votto…sorry to revert to using lies.

    • lwblogger2

      Which is exactly why even if he was willing to waive his no-trade clause, he probably wouldn’t be traded for anything without sending along money. Up to this point, he has been well worth his contract and if you look at market WAR value (don’t like it but it is what it is), then he’s been worth quite a bit more than he’s been paid so far. However, a team trading for him doesn’t get that front-end production. They get whatever he’s got left and they are paying full money on the back-end of the deal. Sorry to hijack your comment for this reply but it made me think of how a lot of people in the “trade Votto! Trade off that contract!” camp don’t seem to get it.

  13. Dave Roemerman

    Matt, I need some relationship advice. I really thought my fiancee and I had good thing going. I told my parents and closest friends three weeks into our relationship I would marry her. Four and a half years later, I just have to make it to November…I thought she really loved me…

    How do i get her to love me like Kanye loves Kanye (which is even better than Rickey loves him some Rickey!)? Help me Yoda! 🙂

  14. lwblogger2

    Good stuff Matt. Love the data. Votto’s detractors will say that as the team’s best player, and as the leader of the team, Votto’s bad starts are contributing to doomed seasons. In other words, he shoulders more of the blame because the team is depending on him to produce more than they are depending on anyone else to produce. I’m not completely on board with it, but from a “baseball player” headspace, it does make a certain amount of sense. I generally counter with “Well then we need to pick him up because he’s going to get going, and when he does, he’s going to pick us up when we are slumping.” Sometimes that soothes their Votto anger and sometimes it doesn’t.