Fay: Joey Votto wants to be a Cincinnati Red and lead the team back to winning ways

Star once again putting up MVP numbers

CINCINNATI -- Joey Votto was talking about getting out of a slump.

“Just playing, making sure I’m sticking to the fundamentals of what I think creates my success,” Votto said. “The key is not panicking and buying into the failure. I personally think I don’t want to ever get in the way of my success.

“I don’t perpetuate it. I don’t want it to last one more at-bat than it has to because I’m buying into the BS of the cold or hot stretch.”

Votto might have been talking about the Reds' rebuilding process. Now would seem like the time to panic, but Votto isn’t. He believes better days are coming and he wants to be a part of them.

Joey Votto was once again an All-Star this season despite the Reds having a down year. (Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images)

That believe-in-self approach has always worked for Votto. That’s how he goes from hitting .128 in one 12-game stretch to hitting .500 in the next 12-game stretch -- as he just did.

That optimism and a tendency to believe in his teammates is why Votto’s stance on his future at a Red has not changed: He wants to be here. He’s willing to weather the bad times, however long they may last, because he believes things will get better.

“We’re seeing guys get better and become everyday Major League players,” he said, “players that in the past we had question marks about. It think that’s exciting. The onus is on the future players. We’ll see what kind of players we have come up and carry the torch and bring winning baseball back to Cincinnati.”

So this season that’s going horribly south hasn't changed his long-term outlook?

“Not at all,” he said.

So Votto grinds on -- not giving away at-bats, putting up incredible numbers and hitting as well as he ever has. The thing about Votto’s numbers is it’s hard to pick out a few a to illustrate how good he is. Consider these (all entering Wednesday):

  • His slash line (average/on-base/slugging) is better than his MVP year of 2010. He’s at .314/.439/.602 this year. He ended ’10 at .324/.424/.600.
  • He’s hitting .487/.638/.848 with four home runs and 12 RBI on his current 13-game hitting streak.
  • Over his last 162 games, he’s hitting .340/.446/.623 with 41 home runs and 121 RBI.
  • He leads the National League in OPS (one-base plus slugging) at 1.041. 
  • In historical perspective, Votto has a higher batting average as a Red than Pete Rose (.314 to .307), a higher on-base percentage as a Red than Joe Morgan (.426 to .415) and a higher slugging percentage as a Red than George Foster (.541 to .514). 

My guess is Votto will end up in the top five in the NL MVP voting and he could be top three. But you’re not going to see a lot of him on ESPN and the MLB Network.

“I think one thing is market size,” Reds Manager Bryan Price said. “There’s no one in Cincinnati that doesn’t appreciate what he’s done in the course of his career. You need more of a front-and-center team. We were in the playoffs in 2010 and ’12. In ’13, we played some Sunday night games, some nationally televised baseball. He doesn’t get that exposure as much.

“I think being on a winning Reds team would draw more attention to him, well-deserved attention.”

Price compared Votto to Joe Mauer of the Minnesota Twins a few years ago as an under-the-radar player.

“It’s kind of same thing with Joey,” Price said. “He just consistently does the things he does and does them as well as anybody in the game. We all admire it in Cincinnati and those in the baseball community.”

Votto’s numbers at the plate this season have been comparable to his 2010 NL MVP campaign. (Joe Robbins/Getty Images)

But there are still those out there who no matter what Votto number you mention, they bring up runs batted in. That, frankly, is a ludicrous argument. RBI are a product of the team around you. Votto has been exceptional in the clutch. He’s hitting .362 with runners in scoring position this year and .334 in his career.

The most amazing thing about Votto is he’s continually able to adjust as a hitter. He’s able to do that because of his self-confidence.

This year, for instance, he’s dropped his strikeout rate to career low, while he’s on pace to set a career high for home runs. More home runs are usually equated with swinging harder and, thereby, striking out more. That’s the conventional wisdom. Votto doesn’t buy into that.

“What? Hold on, who says?” Votto said.

The emphasis on putting the ball in play began last year. Votto struck out 88 times in the first half and 33 in the second half.

“Last year, I made striking out less a priority,” Votto said. “That was lesson learned from last year.”

Votto’s strikeout rate is a career low 11.5 percent this year, down from 17.4 last year, while his walk rate has increased from 16 percent to 17.4.

In another example, Statcast has proven the worth of “launch angle,” i.e., if you hit more fly balls, you’re going to hit more home runs.

“That’s what the time is calling for,” Votto said. “That’s one of changes that is leading to a lot of success of players who are making changes to their game. Do I buy into it? I don’t think there’s anything to buy into. It’s factual.”

So Votto is hitting fly balls at a 40.2 percent rate, by far the highest of his career.

“I think there are some adjustments every player makes as they get older or as demands change,” Votto said. “It’s changed over time. But I think the intensity has been pretty consistent. My goals and objectives have been pretty steady.”

So Votto has changed as a hitter, but he hasn’t changed as a person. Fox Sports Ohio had players describe Votto in one word on the broadcast the other night.

Not one of them came up with the word I’d use to describe Votto: “driven.”

I never been around a player who worked harder, who put more thought into the game, who built his life -- from nutrition to rest to exercise -- around keeping his edge.

Maybe that’s why he thinks he can help drive the Reds back into a winner. 

John Fay is a freelance sports columnist; this column represents his opinion. Contact him at johnfayman@aol.com

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