Please, Get off the Joey Votto Bandwagon

Admit it: you’re on the bandwagon. After Votto’s breakout performance in 2010, you weren’t one of the fantasy managers who cautioned going all-in on him. “He’s the real thing,” you said. “I expect a repeat performance in 2011.”

After 2011 was solid but not amazing, some managers doubted whether Votto would reach Pujols territory. However, you were still sold. “Okay, so he didn’t hit 37 HR again, but he hit 29, and I’m very happy with a .300/100/30/100 hitter as the anchor to my franchise.”

Then 2012 came, and Votto’s season was shortened by injury. Many people weren’t happy with his HR total and HR/FB, which were career lows. You retorted, “Hey, he was hurt and was probably playing injured. Also, sluggers often have a surge month, so he probably just got hurt before he had his. He’s still a legit first-round pick.”

If you haven’t seen reason after 2013, then you never will, and there’s nothing I can say to you that will convince you otherwise. However, if you’re curious as to why a player is still being chosen in the first (or early second) round of the draft, yet in 2013 he’s only valued at #34 via ESPN’s Player Rater and #30 in CBS’s 5×5 rankings, then read on, and I’ll tell you why Joey Votto is overrated, especially in roto 5×5 leagues.

Why His Batting Eye Doesn’t Necessarily Help

A lot of sites preach the value of a great batting eye, and in the game right now, nobody beats Joey Votto. He leads the majors in BB% in 2013, he would’ve led in 2012 if he’d had enough PA to qualify, and he was #6 in 2011. He’s chasing far fewer balls outside of the zone in the last two years (21%) than he did earlier in his career (25% in 2011, 30% in 2010). He’s set a career high in contact on pitchers inside the zone, and his general ct% is on a 5-year rise. What’s the problem?

Well, for one thing, walks don’t help a 5×5 roto manager. That career-high walk rate has helped maintain his 100 runs, but fewer PA where he gets a hit means fewer RBI and fewer chances at a HR. Even in CBS points leagues, a walk doesn’t get as much value as a double or homer; it’s a consolation point, but it doesn’t help you put up huge numbers in a H2H matchup.

Being selective probably also helps Votto maintain a .300 average, but unless he keeps up a BA over .320, he’s not as valuable. There are 23 other hitters with a .300+ BA, and 2 hitters are at .299. Votto’s .305 this year isn’t that special. And before you get nostalgic about his 2012 .337 BA, remember that it was a shortened year, and therefore the odds are his career-high BABIP would’ve corrected some in the second half, and at best he would’ve ended up more near 2009-2010 territory, in the .320s. I’d even be okay if we could bank on .320, but come 2014 those seasons were four and five years ago. It’s three-year trends that are the most important for predicting future stats, and in two of the last three years he’s hit under .310.

Where’s the Power?

When you think of elite players, you usually assume they’re a good source of power. Votto is good, but 2010’s surge of 37 HR is out of reach, and I wouldn’t go into 2014 banking on more than 25. Let’s look at several statistics. Despite his rebound from a low HR total in 2012, the numbers don’t indicate a steady, reliable outlook. How about career lows in SLG and ISO? His wOBA is good enough for top-10 in the league, but it’s his lowest in five years.

A few managers will still deny the truth and point out, “Hey, he posted a HR/FB that is tied for second best in his career! He’s got the power back!” It’s true that when he hits a fly ball, he’s doing a good job of getting it over the fence. However, more important for me is the five-year decline in FB%, from 39% in 2009 to 29% in 2013. The ability to turn fly balls into HR isn’t going result in many HR if Votto simply stops hitting fly balls. Fantasy managers need good power sources at the deep positions, and Votto’s ability to even reach 25 HR is in doubt unless he alters his current trends.

MLB Value Greater Than Fantasy Value

I’m not saying Votto’s a bad player. I respect his amazing intelligence for hitting. What he does for the Reds is impressive. But I cringe when I see fantasy managers continue to draft him in the top-15 or even top-20 the last few years. Ever since his 2010 breakout season, he has not returned value in the top-15. Come 2014 it’s time to place him at the proper value, which is more in the 20-30 range. If you draft him any higher than 20, there’s a high chance you’re taking a loss in value. If you’re in a dynasty league, it may be time to move him before he loses any (more) perceived value; 2013 is a good season to sell after, showing he rebounded from injuries. But if you can solidify your team in several areas and trade him to someone who expects .320/100/30/100, I wouldn’t hesitate to pull the trigger.

Before 2013, in a 15-team 5×5 league that allows 4 keepers, I traded Joey Votto and my first two draft picks for Mike Trout. I ended up netting a second round pick in a different trade, so it really only cost me my first round pick and Votto to nab a truly elite player. I definitely preferred gambling on a Trout repeat compared to hoping Votto would return to his peak performance, and I haven’t regretted the move. Come 2014, with my first round pick still with me and a much better keeper in Trout, I plan to compete for the championship. I got off the Votto bandwagon and haven’t looked back.

Kevin Jebens

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Fantasy baseball player since 2000; winning leagues ranging from 12-team H2H to 18-team experts 5x5. Has written for various baseball blogs, including the 2013 Bleed Cubbie Blue Annual.

2 thoughts on “Please, Get off the Joey Votto Bandwagon”

  1. And I suppose there’s no Santa either!
    In my pts league, he still came up 6th best hitter in 2013…but as I looked closer, some of this was driven by his insane PA #s. Even with scoring system that obviously favours him (a good system I would argue), on a per plate appearance basis, he falls below Freddie Freeman and even *gasp* Carlos Gomez.
    You made me check myself, so thanks.
    I love the player, I hate the game haha!

  2. Great piece Kevin. As a Votto owner in a roto league, I am torn between keeping the consistent production of Votto or keeping a second pitcher (it is a 12-team league w/ 5 keepers, keeper limit of 3 years). My second pitcher would be Jose Fernandez, so I will probably keep him.

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