Over the previous two seasons Joey Votto has produced a 173 & 158 wRC+. Remember, 100 is league average. After "struggling" during the first half of the 2016 season (121 wRC+), Votto turned into an absolute monster en route to a 201 wRC+. The next closest hitter during the second half of 2016 was Miguel Cabrera with a 179 wRC+.
For years the knock on Votto was his unwillingness to swing the bat more often and produce RBI. With the Reds in rebuilding mode and their lineup particularly weak, I assume many expect his runs and RBI totals to suffer. Over the previous two seasons however, Votto has averaged 98 runs and 89 RBI.
Votto receives more love in OBP leagues which makes sense. A career .425 OBP will certainly improve your value in that format. What I find strange is because he's such a stud in OBP leagues, people almost seem to discount him in batting average leagues. I believe this has led to his current early NFBC ADP of 30th overall. Votto is being selected on average as the 6th first baseman off the board. The names ahead of him are: Paul Goldschmidt, Anthony Rizzo, Miguel Cabrera, Edwin Encarnacion & Freddie Freeman. All of these names are great baseball players, but in terms of my personal rankings, the only first baseman I have above Votto is Paul Goldschmidt.
Using the ESPN Player Rater for 2016, only Goldschmidt was ahead of Votto in value returned. Just behind Votto was Daniel Murphy & Miguel Cabrera. Wil Myers, Freddie Freeman, Edwin Encarnacion & Anthony Rizzo followed, but were a step below Votto in overall production. Votto was top three at the position in both runs scored and batting average according to the player rater.
As mentioned earlier, we all understand that Votto has an elite eye at the plate. The amazing part is how few pitches Votto actually receives in the zone.
It's clear pitchers are attempting to attack Joey Votto low and away. Votto's highest in-zone percentage is just within the strike zone over the outer-half, basically when a pitcher misses his spot while trying to keep the ball away.
When the pitch is in the zone, Votto does damage. First his batting average for pitches in the zone:
Second, his slugging percentage on pitches in the zone:
The ability to discern strikes and make hard contact on hittable pitches is the core skill that makes an elite hitter. For years now Votto has owned that skill. Using Hard% found on FanGraphs we can see that Votto has been at 38% hard contact the previous two seasons. For reference the league average rate in 2016 was 31.4%.
Taking a look at the Depth Chart and Steamer projections found on Fangraphs, I can begin to understand why some might be undervaluing Votto. It's true Votto will play the 2017 season at age 33. Projection models will use an age regression formula to attempt to simulate how a skill set and overall production will age. While this works in an overall sense, certain players possess a skill set that will not conform to this type of modeling. With an elite batting eye and a line drive swing, Votto would seem to be this type of player.
I also find it strange that the projections have his ISO dropping from a two year average of .226 down to .199. This seems particularly strange after looking at his hard contact rate and zone slugging percentages. Again, it seems like just another example of a projection model using a one size fits all approach and missing out on the elite skills Votto owns.
While a .408 batting average like the one Votto posted during the second half of 2016 is unlikely, the skill set is that of a .300 hitter. If Votto could start hot and continue it through the majority of the season, a .325-.350 season isn't out of reach. This makes the .288 batting average projected by these systems particularly strange.
Votto makes for the perfect second round pick after selecting either a five category player early in the first round, or an ace starter later in the first round. His current ADP will allow almost any draft position in the first round a chance to land him in the second. I currently have Votto ranked as my 7th hitter overall.