Going Deep: Becoming Joey Votto
Back in December, Jamie Sayer wrote a fun article comparing Jesse Winker to none other than Joey Votto, noting, among other things, that Winker’s injury-shortened 2018 closely resembled Votto’s 2007 season (which was mostly spent in AAA).
Consider this somewhat of a follow-up to Jamie’s idea. Funny enough, I hadn’t even read his article before considering comparing Winker to Votto myself. Great minds, right?
Maybe, maybe not. The reasons to compare the two are obvious enough: two lefties with notoriously excellent plate discipline playing for the Cincinnati Reds.
But the similarities don’t stop there, which is what got me really intrigued. To illustrate, I compared Votto’s 2016 season to Winker’s 2019. I chose 2016 because Votto’s been mediocre offensively (at least for traditional 5×5 fantasy baseball leagues) since 2017, but I felt it was unfair to select 2017 because that was an outlier season in terms of power. Instead, in the prior two seasons, Votto hit exactly 29 homers, which is basically what I expect for Winker (more on that later). Ultimately, 2016 just felt like a better comparison.
Comparisons are fun, but they matter for fantasy baseball too. If Winker really is 2016 Votto, then we have an idea of what to expect from him going forward.
Before I dive into their plate discipline, let’s take a look at how 2016 Votto and 2019 Winker compare on a basic level.
|Joey Votto 2016||695||29||.326||.434||.550||.366||.304||.449|
|Jesse Winker 2019||98||8||.239||.316||.534||.210||.287||.446|
The two primary differences I spy are in the BABIP, AVG, and OBP. At bottom, Winker’s low BABIP is dragging down his AVG and OBP such that the comparison doesn’t look great at first blush. But if that BABIP is unfairly depressed due to luck, then it might look a whole lot better. Perhaps that’s what their nearly identical xwOBAcons, a reflection of how their performance should have been, are indicating.
What’s more, their SLG and xBA are similar. Winker’s the loser in both, but he’s not far off, and at the very least his xBA illustrates how unfairly low his BABIP is dragging his AVG.
It gets better. Bear with me.
|Player||BB%||K%||O-Swing%||Z-Swing%||Swing%||SwStr%||First Pitch Swing%|
|Joey Votto 2016||16%||17.7%||20.8%||68.6%||42.2%||7.1%||30%|
|Jesse Winker 2019||9.7%||18.4%||23%||71.5%||45.1%||6.5%||29.6%|
That’s more like it! Winker’s swinging strike rate is actually lower than Votto’s despite a higher strikeout rate. His strikeout rate should, accordingly, drop, as the generally accepted 2-2.5x multiplier would peg him for a 13-16.25% strikeout rate. Their plate approach is similar, as both swing at the first pitch about 30% of the time. Winker swings more at both balls and strikes, and I like that he’s more willing to put the ball in play.
As for the substantial difference in walk rate, we know that chase rate is highly correlated to walk rate. Winker chases more than Votto, but his slightly-above average 9.7 BB% is not commensurate with his elite 23.1 O-Swing%. Consider Xander Bogaerts, whose 28.5 O-Swing% has yielded a 12.2 BB%. I expect Winker’s walk rate to climb closer to the 14.7% mark he posted in 2018 when he had a nearly identical 22.2 O-Swing%. With that in mind, take a look at the table above and pretend his walk rate is 14%. With a lower strikeout rate too, the entire table looks very similar.
Batted Ball Profile
The coincidences don’t stop there. Beyond their similarities in plate discipline, these two are also almost indistinguishable in the contact that they do make.
|Joey Votto 2016||27.3%||43%||29.7%||0%||36.9%||35.4%||27.7%|
|Jesse Winker 2019||27.1%||40%||32.9%||0%||37.1%||32.9%||30%|
I think my favorite part of this table is the infield fly ball rates. Frankly, it’s probably my favorite part of the entire article. In 2016, Votto didn’t hit a single infield fly ball (he actually hadn’t popped up to the first baseman ever until recently), and Winker is following in his footsteps. This is obviously an excellent skill, as infield fly balls are nearly automatic outs. And it’s telling in how uniquely unwilling they both are to get too far under a ball.
But there’s more. Apart from ridiculous infield fly ball rates, their batted ball distributions are identical, give or take a few percentage points. They have basically the same line drive rate, with Winker hitting a few more fly balls and Votto a few more ground balls. They pull the ball at the same rate, with Winker hitting a few more to the opposite field and Votto going to center a bit more.
I think this is best illustrated with their spray heatmaps. Here’s Votto’s 2016:
Votto sprays his fly balls to all fields and clusters his ground balls to the right side. Here’s Winker’s 2018 and 2019. I included both partial seasons because it was hard to visualize his approach with just one month of data:
Hmm, where have we seen that before? It’s pretty clear from their spray heatmaps that their approaches are incredibly similar. All else equal (i.e. they hit with the same exit velocity — more on that later), if Winker puts the ball in the air slightly more, he’ll have a few more home runs than Votto’s 29, which is unsurprising given he’s on pace for over 40. But with more fly balls, his batting average will be slightly worse.
On that latter point, I’ll refer you back to Votto’s .304 and Winker’s .287 xBA. Spraying the ball to all fields with an elevated line drive rate and a lot of ground balls suggests that BABIP regression is coming for Winker. This is simply not the profile of a .210 BABIP guy.
Separate and apart from their eerily similar plate discipline and batted ball profiles, commonalities abound in Votto and Winker’s power metrics as well.
|Player||Launch Angle||Sweet Spot%||Exit Velocity on FB/LD||Hard Hit%||Brls/BBE%||Brls/PA%||HR/FB%|
|Joey Votto 2016||11.6°||41.4%||93.5 mph||39%||9.7%||6.4%||22%|
|Jesse Winker 2019||10.5°||41.4%||94.1 mph||42.9%||8.6%||6.1%||34.8%|
Winker and Votto have similar average launch angles and identical sweet spot rates (percentage of balls in play struck between 8 and 32 degrees). That mostly just furthers my points above though: Their batted ball distributions are alike.
But again, their exit velocities on fly balls and line drives and hard hit rates are close, and, correspondingly, so too are their barrel rates. Winker hits the ball a little harder, while Votto elevated better, which enabled him to achieve higher barrel rates. You may be surprised to hear that given Votto’s lower FB% and higher GB%. But it’s entirely possible that Votto’s fly balls and line drives were hit at much higher launch angles than Winker’s, or that Votto pounded fewer balls straight into the dirt at negative launch angles, even if Winker has a few more fly balls overall.
In any event, it’s unrealistic to expect Winker to maintain his 34.8 HR/FB%, given his power metrics don’t suggest he’s Giancarlo Stanton, Aaron Judge, or Joey Gallo. Still, he could have a similar or better HR/FB rate than Votto. With Votto hitting 29 homers on a slightly lower fly ball rate and less attendant exit velocity, I don’t think it’s unreasonable to pencil Winker in for 30 homers. He’s already at eight after all.
And with nice raw power, more arrows point toward BABIP regression for Winker. If you’re hitting line drives, fly balls, and ground balls harder, it should be harder for the defense to field them. Indeed, with similar raw power and a nearly identical batted ball profile, Votto’s BABIP was .366.
I would be remiss if I didn’t mention Winker’s troubles, as he showcases a .178 career batting average against fellow lefties. Votto never exhibited such extreme splits. If Winker is to take the next step, he’ll need to figure lefties out.
Still, in Winker I see a lot of Votto. There’s 30+ home run potential. Like Votto, he doesn’t profile as your typical slugger but is greatly assisted by his home ballpark. And he’s got even more raw power and he hits more fly balls than Votto did in 2016.
I also believe that, like Votto, Winker should be about a .300 hitter. Votto hit .326 with basically the same plate discipline and batted ball profile. Winker may be hitting .228 now, but he has regression coming for his walk rate, strikeout rate, and most importantly, BABIP. Their spray heatmaps are particularly telling in this regard.
Some may read this and scoff at comparing Winker at such a nascent stage in his career to a potential Hall of Famer. While I acknowledge that Winker may not be Votto in the long run, he’s exhibiting a lot of the same traits that made Votto special and that’s what’s important for fantasy baseball. Get him now before it’s too late.
Featured Image by Justin Paradis (@FreshMeatComm on Twitter)