The Cincinnati Reds franchise is one of storied history. Many superstars and legends have come and gone from the rosters of old. Names like Joe Morgan, Pete Rose, Barry Larkin and Ken Griffey Jr.. all come to mind. There is one superstar though who doesn’t seem to get a lot of attention though, and that is first baseman Joey Votto. Quietly, Votto has been one of the best players of his era, and one of the best in Reds history. After struggling for the last couple years, he has returned to his MVP form, which earned him the nickname “Vottomatic”.
Votto was drafted in 2002 as a catcher out of a Canadian prep high school. Soon thereafter, he was moved to his current home of first base. It took him five years to reach the Majors, breaking through in 2007, and he hasn’t left since. In a division chock full of really good first baseman, Votto made a name for himself in a different way. At the time, the St. Louis Cardinals had Albert Pujols, one of the best first baseman of all-time. The Milwaukee Brewers also were enjoying many productive years of slugger, Prince Fielder. The Reds had been mired in mediocrity, unable to win the division, and get a steady, productive first baseman who was a leader. Enter Joey Votto.
On Base Machine
Votto splashed onto the scene, becoming a force to be reckoned with almost immediately. It wasn’t because he was bashing home runs, or driving in hundreds of runs, it was because of his elite plate presence. Through his first two years in the majors, Votto had a .309 batting average, but carried a .364 on-base percentage. As Votto improved at the Major League level, so did his hitting. By 2010, Votto turned into one of the premier first basemen in the league. In that 2010 season, Votto hit .324 with a whopping .424 OBP, which led all of Major League Baseball. He also added in 37 big flies and 113 RBI, while wining the NL MVP award, and helping the Cincinnati Reds win the Central Division for the first time since 1995.
Votto wouldn’t stop there though, he would continue to collect obscene amounts of walks, while not striking out very much. While this happened, Joey became a leader in the Cincinnati clubhouse, leading the team to two more playoff berths and another division title in 2012.
Time to get Gaudy
After obtaining the MVP, Votto didn’t slow down whatsoever. In 2011, he posted a .474 on base percentage, and drew 18 intentional walks. Furthermore, that began a string of six eligible years where his seasonal OBP didn’t drop below .417. During that time, Votto also carried some really bad Cincinnati teams, as they were in the midst of rebuilding. And in 2017, Votto almost secured his second MVP award, losing in the closest MVP race since 1979 (tie between Keith Hernandez and Willie Stargell). Giancarlo Stanton edged out Votto by two measly points, and took the trophy. In that 2017 season, Votto slashed .320/.454/.578 with 36 homers and 100 RBI. This would be the final season of gaudy on-base numbers for the first baseman though, as the decline came fast and furious.
The Decline: Father Time or Self-Induced?
After that 2017 season, Reds fans had every reason to believe Votto would keep producing at a Hall of Fame level. That didn’t happen. In 2017, Votto played all 162 games, but then missed 17 games in 2018. He also saw an alarming drop-off in power and average, hitting only .284 with 12 home runs. That was his lowest total since his injury-riddled 2014 season. This continued through the next two seasons as well, as Votto started to tinker with his stance, and struck out a lot more than we were all used to seeing. Combining 2018 and 2019, Votto hit a measly .272 with an OBP of .355. During this time he collected only 27 homers, 114 RBI and struck out a combined 224 times. This was unlike the Joey Votto of old, who collected walks and hits like no one else in the league. The new Joey Votto looked a bit slow, and he looked the age of a mid-30s first baseman (He was 36).
2020 was a weird season for everyone, and will go down as an outlier, but Votto showed some promise. In 54 games, he hit 11 home runs, and thus he stopped tinkering with his stance as much. This lead into spring training of 2021, which saw Votto go to the IL for COVID-19 related reasons. Once he got going though, he became the Votto we know and love again. He has given the Cincinnati Reds a breath of fresh air this season, and has produced at a high level again. On April 30th, he mashed his 300th career home run. Since then, he’s been going crazy with the power. On the season Votto is hitting .285/.375/..583 with 25 homers and 75 RBI. This has helped the Reds tremendously, as they are in the hunt for a playoff spot and sit seven games over .500.
Since the All-Star break, Votto has been on an otherworldly tear. He has 15 homers, including a stretch where he hit nine home runs which included seven straight games with at least one. He holds the team lead for both home runs and RBI, and adds another potent bat to an already deadly lineup of hitters.
Joey Votto is 37 now, and there is no telling how much longer he will be with the Cincinnati Reds. It is so much fun to see him produce at super high level again, and look like the Joey Votto of old. Right now, he is doing everything he can in order to help the Reds make a deep playoff run while he still has time left in the league. So sit back, relax and enjoy the ride, as Votto keeps banging and the Reds make a run at the playoffs.
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Joe Morgan, Pete Rose, Barry Larkin, Ken Griffey Jr., Joey Votto, Albert Pujols, Prince Fielder, Keith Hernandez, Willie Stargell, Giancarlo Stanton