If you haven’t checked out of the Reds season yet, you know the offense has been almost non-existent. It’s painful and hard to watch, the last three games against the Atlanta Braves excluded. It’s especially hard to watch when first baseman Joey Votto struggles, because fans know what he’s capable of and he’s at the age where if he struggles, people start to fear it’s the start of his decline.
Votto isn’t struggling in a way others in the Reds lineup are struggling. He’s hitting .256/.363/.337, but he hasn’t hit the way fans expect him to hit. In reality, Votto just starts slow. Since 2010, in the month of April, Votto has only hit above .300 twice and his OPS (on-base + slugging) has been over .950 only twice.
This season, it seems like Votto’s “power outage” is a large reason for his struggles. His OPS as of Wednesday is .643. That would be second worst in April in his career as it stands right now. Votto also has only one double and two home runs thus far. The first home run this season came on Tuesday night, 111 plate appearances since his last one, the third longest of his career. He finally surpassed his April low of two home runs in 2012 and 2016, but combine it with the fact that he has one double and it’s a bit out of the ordinary for Votto.
Votto had a strong power surge to start April in 2017, as he hit eight home runs, but his OPS was only .914 and his OBP was just .337, which is low for him. It seems that Votto’s power and the number of extra base hits he gets is tied to how well he performs to start a season. His best start came in 2011, the year after he was named NL MVP, when he had a 1.132 OPS with five home runs and seven doubles.
2016 was the worse start of Votto’s career. He hit .229/.327/.313 with just two home runs and two doubles and an OPS of only .640. May was an even worse month for him that year, as he hit just .200/.333/.484. However, his OPS went up to .818, attributed to his power surge, as he hit seven home runs. He really didn’t turn it on until June — though when he turned it on, he really turned it on. From June-Sept in 2016, Votto’s OPS was over 1.000 every month. Overall, he rebounded quite nicely, ending the season with a slash line of .326/.434/.550, an OPS of .985, 29 home runs and 34 doubles.
So what is causing Votto’s power numbers to be slightly down in 2018? According to FanGraphs, Votto’s Hard% (percentage of balls in play classified as hit with hard speed) is 28.6%, so it’s down about eight to ten percentage points from previous years. His Med% is about ten percentage points higher than his career numbers. Does this mean Votto is losing some of his power? It’s hard to tell at this stage of the season, especially when he traditionally has lower numbers in April.
Votto’s LD% percentage is at 34.3%, the highest of his career thus far. It’s usually in the low to mid 20s range. His FB% is usually in the lower 30s percentage, but this season it’s just a bit lower at 28.6%. While he’s not hitting fly balls at an significantly lower percentage, he’s hitting a lot more line drives early in the season, and those line drives are only being hit at medium speed rather than hard speed.
ISO measures isolated power and tells us a hitter’s extra bases per at bat, or how often a hitter hits for extra bases. In 2018, Votto’s ISO is currently .081, way below his career average. Per Fangraphs, anywhere between .200 and .250 is great, and Votto has consistently been between .220 and .230.
Unless June comes around and Votto still hasn’t shown noticeable improvement, Reds fans shouldn’t worry. This week has shown that he’s already starting to hit better. Every season, Votto has one out-of-this-world month and is pretty consistent the rest of the season with the exception of April. His lack of power, with only three extra base hits, could be concerning, but let’s wait a little longer before making any judgments. The Reds have far bigger issues to worry about at the moment than Votto’s power.