Today will kick off a series we’ll be doing during the offseason, looking back at the 2019 campaign for the major players on the Cincinnati Reds.

The Preseason Projection

Joey Votto entered the year as a 35-year-old, and thus should be in his decline phase. He even poked fun at that early in the year, donning a “Decline Phase” t-shirt.

Dan Szymborski’s ZiPS projections for 2019 had the Reds first baseman in line for this:

AB 2B 3B HR BB K AVG OBP SLG WAR
475 26 2 18 104 100 .291 .421 .467 4.3

The 2019 Season

When compared to the ZiPS projection, Joey Votto had a down season. Near the end of the season he told Bobby Nightengale of The Cincinnati Enquirer that 2019 was “the worst year of his career”. He wasn’t exactly wrong, either.

His .261 batting average was the worst of his career in which he played something resembling a full season. His .357 on-base percentage was easily the worst of his career. It was also 79 points lower than his mark over the previous three seasons – all of which led the National League. His slugging percentage of .411 was the lowest of his career in a full season. And that came in a year in which the entire league saw a boost in power thanks to the juiced baseball of 2019. All together that obviously left his .768 OPS as the worst of his career – nearly 200 points below his career mark entering the year (.957).

The ZiPS projections had the power output about right. Sort of. It projected a .176 isolated power mark (SLG-AVG) and he went out and had a .150 mark. That’s close-ish. But ZiPS didn’t project a juiced baseball, either. Where Joey Votto really fell short, though, was in the average and walk departments. Both were down. His walk rate of 12.5% was the lowest it’s been since his rookie season of 2008 when it was only 10%. His strikeout rate was also the highest of his career, and significantly higher than it’s been since 2015.

What happened?

Joey Votto said his season wasn’t good. You’ve probably said it. And if you haven’t said it, you’ve probably thought it. And the reality of the matter is that if you squint hard enough maybe you can say that he was a league average hitter (98 OPS+, 101 wRC+) who overall was a slightly below-average player overall. His WAR according to Fangraphs was just 0.7. According to Baseball Reference it was 1.6. The average starting caliber player in Major League Baseball is roughly 2.0. Slice it how you want to, but you’re going to have a hard time making the argument that his season was good.

There are probably more than a few reasons for what happened with Joey Votto in 2019 at the plate. As he’s done for a long time, he was tinkering with his swing during the year. For most of the season he took more of a crouched approach at the plate and it just felt like it wasn’t quite working for him. Just a week after the All-Star break Joey Votto made that change, and in the 55 games from that point through the end of the year there was a big difference in his production. Let’s look at the splits:

PA BB% K% AVG OBP SLG OPS
Before 369 11.4% 20.6% .257 .347 .396 .743
After 239 14.2% 18.8% .267 .372 .436 .808

The numbers were better across the board after the change. The sample size was smaller, but it wasn’t exactly small, either. He walked a decent amount more, struck out less, and he hit for more power and average.

That adjustment certainly helped bring up the numbers in the second half of the season. But even so, the year as a whole was down, and it was down quite a bit. And that’s before you try to adjust for the baseball making everyone a better hitter, too.

Season Stats

PA 2B 3B HR BB K AVG OBP SLG OPS
608 32 1 15 76 123 .261 .357 .411 .768

What’s to come?

This is the big question, isn’t it? Joey Votto is one of the best Cincinnati Reds of all time. He’s been an All-Star caliber player every year of his career except in 2014 when he was injured, and in 2019. That’s it. He’s been an MVP caliber player several different years in his career, including the year he took home the award in 2010. But as the t-shirt right before the season showed – everyone eventually hits the decline phase. For Canada’s finest, that took hold in each of the last two seasons.

Joey Votto certainly wouldn’t be the first player to have a bounce back kind of season after he turned 36. It’s usually the better players that are the types who can have those turn arounds, even if they don’t keep happening year after year. What we know is that Votto’s going to do all that he can to try and figure it out. He’s got a great hitting mind – he always has. And he clearly has had the talent, too. He’s worked through many different swing changes over the course of his career. It even happened last season, and we saw some improvements. But at some point father time just slows us all down. For athletes that can come rather quickly. The Reds and Votto are going to be hoping that hasn’t happened just yet. Time will tell.

15 Responses

  1. AirborneJayJay

    Nice summary. Fair.
    I like the second half turnaround. I hope Votto doesn’t get off to one of his notorious bad starts again in 2020. Votto and the Reds both need to get out of the gate quickly next season. The Reds can compensate for a declining Votto if the decline is slower. But they have to improve other areas of the roster to do so. This off-season is a golden opportunity to beef up the lineup and roster.
    I don’t think the 2019 season sat well with Votto and he is going to work hard over the winter for corrections.

  2. BigBill

    While I have always loved Votto, the Reds need to start treating him more as the 36 year old that he is rather than the MVP candidate that he was. A day or two off a week against lefties would help get him away from lefties where he has just been bad for the past two years and also keep him more fresh for the long haul. I think in a more limited dose he can go back to being an impact player. This also means we need another right handed bat that hits lefties well to play 1st during those games that Votto rests.
    There is a certain catcher that can play first that pummels lefties while also bringing power and solid defense behind the plate that the Reds need to throw a large check at to solve two problems at once. Grandal makes this club a 4-5 more win team and by giving Votto a few days off that number might be closer to 7-8.

  3. Pete

    The Reds desperately need JV to bounce back. With Senzel’s health up in the air and AA’s true worth still unknown, the Reds could be hurting at: C, 1B, 2B, SS, RF, and CF not to mention they need some reinforcements in the bullpen.

    I’m very high on Aristides, probably higher than anyone here but until he proves it for more than 30 days… I’ll go so far as to predict that if healthy, he will lead the NL in home runs. I believe if VanMeter plays everyday, he will hit well but many questions remain about his defense. There is plenty of work to do, whether this is the year to go all-in I’m skeptical.

  4. Justin

    I think if the Reds create a wild card caliber team without accounting for an up year from Votto, we will be fine. If they are counting on him to get us there, we will not. A great year from Votto needs to be what puts us in the WS conversation, not just the playoff one.

  5. Robin Roland

    Yes, Votto had a disappointing year
    But the Reds hitting as a team was much worse in 2019
    I don’t really know why but several players had very long slumps: Dietrich, Van Meter, Aquino, Barnhart, Peraza, Senzel, even Suarez. Well, just about everybody
    . Iglesias seem to be the only consistent hitter.
    So I am optimistic with a new hitting coach. A rising tide raises all boats. If the guys hitting around Votto raise it up I think he realistically could hit 295.

  6. Cbus

    Suarez, Aquino, Senzel and Winker are the core of this lineup now. Votto is at best a table setter, he’s lost all of his opposite field power which was one of his best attributes. He won’t ever walk as much as before because the power is gone. Suarez is already a star, we need 2 or 3 of the other guys to go from slightly above average to all-star level or better for this offense to succeed.

    • Bill J

      Cbus, 2 of your 4 core can’t even finish a season without being on the injury list.

  7. Steve Schoenbaechler

    As far as I’m concerned, this makes 2 straight seasons that weren’t “Votto-esques”. I mean, when his career OPS+ has been 150, and the last 2 seasons finished well under that, the performance is starting to lag.

    I hope Joey can break out of it, at least one more time. But, if he can’t, I believe this might be Joey’s last season. He’s 36 right now, will turn 37 before the end of next season. He wouldn’t have too much longer left.

    That’s sort of another reason why I wouldn’t have a problem with the Reds going after someone like Rendon, also. I mean, we have plenty of money right now, and Joey is going to come off the books very soon, giving even more money we can use.

    • jon

      Joey always said he would retire if he’s no longer one of the best.Would he walk away from $75 million and retire if he is sub par in 2020?

  8. Curt

    Declining players can be worked around but ONLY if the slack is picked up somewhere else. The manager must take full responsibility for this, it’s his job. Will Bell be able to see Votto for the name on the front of the jersey or will he continue to see the name on the back. Bell wasn’t even able to move him from the two hole this past season, even just for a change. It would be wise at the very least for the FO to have a serious sit down with Joey and discuss the inevitable end game. Willingness to adapt, sharing time, make a graceful exit in a few years or maybe, just maybe he really would like a ring after all and he’d waive the no trade clause…who knows…
    One thing’s for sure, he should probably be heading off for spring training early. November? Now? The 2-3 months it’s taking him to “get going” during the season has been…not helpful. He’s never been much of a group leader and his production could be replaced by someone making league minimum. Makes the 25mil a hard pill to swallow. Hope something can be figured out.

  9. TR

    In 2019, I noted Joey taking too many third strikes with runners in scoring position. That’s more deflating than swinging striking out even if it’s not a perfect pitch. I think time has arrived to give Votto more rest and to gradually slot someone else into first base which should be a premier offensive position.

    • Reaganspad

      I agree that he was taking too many strikes. His problem seems to be one of where the strike zone is, which has never been a problem for Joey in the past.

      For 2020, for Votto to be Votto, stay more upright and don’t choke up. But more importantly, be ok with a few more strikeouts and swing the bat with the vigor of your youth. Give up the check swing attempts to foul off pitches. It is screwing with your mechanics.

      See the ball, pull the trigger, hit the ball

  10. RedNat

    after the Puig trade I noticed a difference in Votto’s demeanor. for the first time In his career I saw some frustration and the look of a defeated man. a look of “what in the world am I doing here in Cincinnati”. he had some moments in the second half but I think that the losing has finally got to him. he was probably thinking that with Puig and scooter getting healthy that they could finally compete for a playoff spot but when they were traded it was like the rug had been pulled from underneath him. maybe I am reading too much into it but I just didn’t like his body language at the end of the year,

  11. Steve Schoenbaechler

    I think it’s part “age and performance” and part “the other teams are starting to learn how to pitch to him. At least, it’s seemed like to me they have learned not to get him out with the outside pitch but the inside pitch, maybe even making it a breaking ball. He can’t get around on it. Which would sort of make sense to me. Votto killed baseball for years taking the ball the other way. Challenge him, see if he can pull anything.