Batter’s Box: Winning the Votto-ry

In 2018, Joey Votto (1B, Cincinnati Reds) did everything we expected him to do except for one thing: he didn’t hit home runs. We hemmed and hawed about it all off-season, with some saying the 35-year-old was washed up and others saying that his incredible track record of success forced us to overlook this outlier season. At worst, I think many of us expected a repeat of 2018, which would provide decent counting stats and strong ratios, even if it came with little power. To say that his 2019 campaign has left something to be desired would be a significant understatement. Sure, he went 3-5 with two runs, a double and an RBI on Memorial Day, but he has just four home runs on the season and 10 RBI. His .242 batting average is 67 points below his career average. His OBP, which has been a calling card for nearly a decade, sits at just .340, and his walk and strikeout rates have regressed to 11.6% and 22.8% respectively. While those, by themselves, wouldn’t be cause for concern, they mark a drastic change from what we’ve seen Votto do throughout his career.

In times like these, we often look to Statcast to show us some kind of sign  that indicates our hero still has something left in the tank. Unfortunately, that’s not what the data reveals at this time.

You can find this little graphic on the top right corner of a player’s page on Baseball Savant, and when it’s all blue like this, it means a whole lot of not-so-great things. He is in the bottom third of the league in all but one of the metrics shown. His 38th percentile wxOBA is the only stat that even sort of approaches league average. Back on May 15th, my colleague Kyle Frank covered Votto in his weekly Patience or Panic piece (the new one should be up on Wednesday around 12:30, and you should read it) and pointed out some changes in the ways pitchers are approaching him and in his batted ball profile. He came to the conclusion that it was time to panic and the last two weeks have only helped prove his point. He’s owned in over 85% of leagues, but it looks like it’s time for that number to start dropping. He’s outside of my top 15 first basemen in all formats, and in batting average leagues, he might be outside of my top 20. I know you don’t want to be the one who puts him on the waiver wire just to see him succeed elsewhere, but it seems like it’s finally time.

Yuli Gurriel (1B/3B, Houston Astros)—3-4, R, 2B, RBI. He had a bit of a hot streak at the beginning of the month that looked like it might get his batting average back up to the .280 to .290 range that his owners were hoping for when they drafted him, but it fizzled out too quickly. He’s a fringe corner infielder for me in 10- and 12- teamers, and that’s being generous. If there’s any good news, it’s that he has found his way back to the four and five spots in the lineup for the time being, which is a good place to find RBI in Houston.

Austin Meadows (OF, Tampa Bay Rays)—3-5, R, HR, 3 RBI, SB. That’s back-to-back combo meals (home run and steal in the same game) for the 24-year-old southpaw. He’s the Rays’ primary lead-off hitter against right-handed pitchers and should remain as such for the rest of the season. I rank him right around his teammate Tommy Pham among outfielders, which means you’re starting him every day.

Joc Pederson (OF, Los Angeles Dodgers)—3-3, R. Speaking of southpaws on a streak, that’s four straight multi-hit games for Pederson. He has been building on the strikeout reduction we’ve been seeing for the last two seasons, which has made the notoriously hot-and-cold outfielder a bit less volatile. He’s best used in a platoon in both real life and fantasy, as he struggles badly against left-handed pitching, but at his current pace, he might finally reach the 30 home run mark for the first time in his career.

Amed Rosario (SS, New York Mets)—3-5, 2 R, 2 2B. I’m a little disappointed to see only four stolen bases on the year (and zero since May 3rd), but the five home runs in 50 games is a step in the right direction in terms of power. He’s been moved to the lead off spot for his last six outings, so hopefully he can string some more outings like this together and win that job outright. It would certainly do some good things for his speed numbers.

Eugenio Suarez (3B, Cincinnati Reds)—3-4, 2B, 2 RBI. Looks like 2018 was no fluke after all. The 27-year-old is in his prime and is on pace for another 30+ home runs with strong ratios. There probably isn’t another level to his game (not that he needs one), but he’s going to be a stud third baseman for the foreseeable future.

Chris Taylor (2B/OF, Los Angeles Dodgers)—3-5, R, HR, 2 RBI. He had a breakout in 2017 and was moderately useful in 2018, but he now looks more like a 15 home run, 10 stolen base guy with a low batting average. That’s not really worth owning in any 10- or 12-teamers I know about. I’m not happy about owning him in 15-team formats, either.

Nick Ahmed (SS, Arizona Diamondbacks)—2-5, R, HR, RBI. He’s slashing .293/.362/.463 in May and has finally become a full-time player in Arizona, but his overall skill set makes him best suited for the waiver wire. I guess you can use him as a short-term fill-in while he’s hot if you need to justify that choice, but I’d rather use that roster spot on someone with more upside.

Orlando Arcia (SS, Milwaukee Brewers)—2-3, 2 R, HR, 2B, 3 RBI. He looks more like the 2017 version of himself than the 2018 version, which means those in deeper formats might be able to find some use for the double-digit pop and speed he can provide.

Jackie Bradley (OF, Boston Red Sox)—2-3, R, 2 2B, 2 RBI, BB. He’s hitting .290/.371/.710 over the last week with three home runs and four doubles. Ignore the rest of the numbers (spoiler alert: they’re terrible) and focus on this if you need to speculate on a final outfielder in a 15-team or AL-only format.

Photo by Quinn Harris/Icon Sportswire.

Scott Chu

Scott Chu has written about fantasy baseball since 2013. In addition to being a writer and content manager at Pitcher List, he creates content with Friends with Fantasy Benefits. If you want to chat about baseball, fantasy curling (featured in WSJ), sports in general, deaf culture, being a twin, or the oddities of having Irish and Korean ancestry, Chu's your guy.

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Comments


Jim

Hey Scott,
How do you feel about grabbing Mallex Smith as a bench OF in a 3 OF league, 6×6 OBP. For an owner that kind of punted SBs, it would have been nice to have those 4 last night. But as a reserve, when could you guess right to plug him in and will he ever have a night like that again? 😉
I think I answered my own question.

Scott Chu

Hi Jim, sorry for the delay. I also think you answered your own question. Those 4 would have been great, but like many of the rest of the steals he gets, they’d be on your bench. I doubt you’d ever feel comfortable starting him over your other OF. Let him stay out there.

Swfcdan

Speed is becoming an endangered species. L Cain has been a huge disappointment so far, wheres his steals and his hits?

With him and T Turner im currently being buried in speed cat. Is it crazytown to offer Cain for Kiermaier? OBP league and Cain isnt even walking so far, and not running with yellboy behind him.

Also you consider moving Devers for Robles in a keeper? Love both but Devers steals seem a fluke whereas Robles is a burner.

Scott Chu

Cain’s walk rate history isn’t so good, and it appears that he’s gone back to his career norms in that department, which obviously impacts his stolen base rates. I think he can still get to 20 steals on the season.At worst, I’d be willing to bet that his final numbers look a lot like Kiermaier’s but with a better batting average.

Kiermaier is an interesting player who really struggles with contact and health. Back to back to back seasons with less than 110 games played. I can’t imagine really wanting him more than Cain, and even if I did, I’d want more in trade due to perceived value.

theKraken

Re: Votto – I am not sure that all those xStats (barrels included) are not derivative of the low EV except for the sprint speed (which is completely worthless) of course. Its really just one red flag, not 5 – the color scale is almost exactly the same for each derivative stat which isn’t a coincidence. It is important to understand the underlying components of the metrics, which I think is nothing more than LA and EV. Not saying he has been good or I am hopeful, but xStats worship a swing hard approach, which Votto clearly doesn’t have. xStats like giant men that swing hard plain and simple -IMO it as flawed a metric as you could ask for – may as well just count XBH or HR. Votto is on the books for several more years for the Reds – yikes!

Scott Chu

You aversion to Statcast data is well known, Kraken, and it’s true that many of those metrics rely on similar data (exit velocity and launch angle). It should be noted that it’s both stats together, though, and it’s based on the average outcome of balls hit with a certain velocity and launch angle. It’s also worth noting that these metrics do provide slightly different information. It’s certainly possible to have a high xBA with a lower average exit velocity and launch angle, and it’s possible to have a higher xBA and lower xSLG (this would be common with what xStats used to call “low drives”). Plenty of correlation, but there are enough differences in there be to be concerned.

I’d also argue with your contention that they are flawed for using EV and launch angle. In fact, we know that xBA and xSLG are highly correlative with actual BA and SLG. How? Because the league averages for both are INCREDIBLY similar. The key in their value is that they use both together, as each is independently quite meaningless. A higher exit velocity is GENERALLY better than a lower one, but hard hits into the dirt and soft hits into the dirt are still both usually outs, as are pop ups. Launch angle is even trickier—anything too high or low is almost certainly an out, and any launch angle can lead to an out depending on how hard it is hit. Combining these two is the best representation of contact quality we have.

If there’s a flaw, it’s that expected stats can generally only tell us about quality of contact, which means they can’t tell us about steals or plate discipline. That’s just fine, though. We have plenty of other stats for that. Sure, it means big sluggers will have favorable expected stats because they often make solid contact, but there is plenty of other data to help us understand the limitations of those types of hitters.

An expected stat tells us more than any other single stat we have available to us. Embrace it.

Chelsa

Hi Scott. Good article! Need some trade advice…someone in my 10 team, roto, keeper league is offering me Thor and JoRam for A. Riley, Tatis and Soroka. Should I pull the trigger and do the trade? Please advise.

Scott Chu

That’s a close one, Chelsa! Seems like your opponent wants to unload some struggling regulars. I’m of the sort that would take this if my window to compete was sooner rather than later.

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