On May 5, Reds first baseman Joey Votto was hit by a pitch in the hand, and, as a result, suffered a broken thumb. He was then headed to the shelf for four-to-six weeks. At the time, Votto was hitting. 226 with a .305 on-base percentage. Pretty low numbers for him, even at his age. The 37-year-old did have five homers and a .425 slugging percentage, reflecting his desire to hit for more power, even if it meant fewer walks and more strikeouts.
He returned on June 8 and what has happened since then has been remarkable. Let's dive into his Year 15 renaissance.
An individual explosion
In the 62 games since Votto's return, he's slashed .308/.408/.638 with 21 home runs and 59 RBI. How about that, huh? It's one of the best stretches of his career and he's 37 years old. Even with the slow start, Votto is posting his best average and on-base percentage since 2018. The .570 slugging percentage is his best since 2017, and if he can get it up over .578, it'll be the second-best slugging of his career after his 2010 NL MVP season -- when he was 26 years old.
Even the counting stats are flying, despite missing a month with the injury. He's easily on track -- with 26 right now -- to top 30 homers for the third time in his career. He only has three 100-RBI seasons, and with 76 right now, it seems attainable. Hell, he's only been over 90 RBI four times.
The change in approach has been accompanied by a much more upright stance than last season and it's paying huge dividends for both Votto and the Reds.
The team gets right
The Reds lost in Votto's first game back. After that loss, they were 28-30 and in fourth place in the NL Central. Wild card standings aren't and shouldn't be followed then, but for purposes of illustration, they were already six games out there. They were 6 1/2 behind the Padres.
Since that night, the Reds have gone 37-26. They now sit just 1 1/2 games back of the Padres for the second NL wild card spot.
In looking at the remaining schedules, the Reds have a pretty easy road. They have 41 games left, including nine against the Pirates, seven against the Marlins, four against the Nationals, four against the Cubs and three against the Tigers.
The Padres, meanwhile, have 40 games left. That includes 10 games against the Giants, nine against the Dodgers and three against the Astros. Even the three each against the Phillies, Cardinals and Braves are tough. They only have eight games left against sub-.500 teams and four of those are against the Angels.
It certainly isn't all Votto, but if the Reds make the playoffs, Votto's power resurgence would have been an integral part.
Hall of Fame case looking up
Had Votto continued the decline it looked like he started in 2019 (94 OPS+; the first such mark below 125 in his career), the longtime Votto naysayers would've been pleased to continue making the case against him when he eventually graces the Baseball Hall of Fame ballot.
For those wondering, Votto has long been a darling for the crowd that values on-base percentage and doesn't get worked up over RBI totals. Meanwhile, there's the crowd that thinks a first baseman needs to hit more home runs than Votto generally did while driving in over 100 runs on a regular basis. Votto generally always carried high averages, but for whatever reason, the latter group either doesn't respect the value walks bring to a lineup or flat-out think Votto shouldn't have accepted as many walks.
Votto still accepts walks at a high rate, but it's his lowest rate since 2008. He is striking out at the highest rate of his career. As noted, he felt like he could make that adjustment at his age to help generate more power, and it is working.
And yet, we shouldn't discount all those years of walks. Walks help an offense. They harm the pitcher. Sometimes it happens because the opposing team doesn't want to throw a strike to a feared hitter. Other times it is an on-base pest working over a pitcher. The top five all time in walks are Barry Bonds, Rickey Henderson, Babe Ruth, Ted Williams and Joe Morgan.
As things currently stand, Votto carries a career slash of .303/.417/.520. Among players with at least 5,000 plate appearances, Votto is one of 22 players in history above the .300/.400/.500 threshold (the only other active player is Mike Trout).
In JAWS, he's 13th all-time among first basemen, a touch above the average Hall of Fame first baseman. The only ones he trails who aren't in the Hall of Fame are active players Miguel Cabrera and Albert Pujols along with the PED-stained Rafael Palmeiro. He's ahead of the likes of Willie McCovey, Eddie Murray, Hank Greenberg and Harmon Killebrew.
So, yes, on a rate basis, Votto is there.
It's the counting stats where some are wanting to see more. Votto got his 2,000th hit earlier this week. He's got 427 doubles, 321 homers and is over 1,000 in both runs and RBI.
We don't need to do a deeper dive yet, because he's signed through 2023 with an option for 2024 and pretty clearly has unlocked a different sort of Votto at the plate. If he can keep playing close to this level for another few years, there really won't be any questions.
For now, Votto is looking to power the Reds to a playoff spot. How weird would we have thought that sentence looked in late May?