I’ll be honest, at this time last year I had my doubts about Joey Votto. It wasn’t that I thought he was going to be a flop, because we all knew he’d be a good player, one worth grabbing to use as your corner infielder at the least. While he was not among the elite, he certainly gave us a lot to be happy with:
526 At Bats
.297 Batting Average (156 Hits)
24 Home Runs
7 Stolen Bases
.368 On Base Percentage
.506 Slugging Percentage
.330 Batting Average on Balls in Play
One of the concerns entering last season was the playing time, but that certainly proved to be moot. He established himself as a very good young 1B that will certainly have value for fantasy owners moving forward. Is he good enough to be your starter, however? Let’s dive a little bit deeper into the numbers.
When thinking of your starting 1B, you want power, plain and simple. Ryan Howard hit 48. Miguel Cabrera & Albert Pujols hit 37. Prince Fielder hit 34. Of the players eligible at the position, 11 of them hit over 30 HR with three other falling just short at 29 (including Lance Berkman and Kevin Youkilis). Can Votto get to that level?
It’s possible, but he’s going to have to increase his FB%. Last season he posted a 30.7% FB%, second worst among 1B (ahead of just Casey Kotchman). The problem is his HR/FB rate is likely to fall a little bit (he was at 18.5% last season). While hitting more balls in the air will help to offset a drop in HR/FB, it makes it tough to imagine him increasing his HR’s tremendously.
I know, we want to believe that he has the advantage thanks to the ballpark he plays in. He hit 14 of his 24 at home last season and if the flyballs do increase, a few more could find their way over the fence. Still, that’s not something I’m going to gamble on.
A similar HR total does put him at a slight disadvantage, though it certainly doesn’t cripple him. Some of the guys with more HR last season come with some big questions, like Carlos Delgado and Aubrey Huff (can they repeat?) and Jason Giambi and Mike Jacobs (can they hit for average?).
Still, if you aren’t going to get the power, does Votto offer you upside somewhere else to make up for it? He showed decent speed in the minor leagues, stealing 24 bases at Double A in 2006 and 17 bases at Triple A in 2007. You have to like that, but last season he stole just 7 bases. At that number, he’s not going to gain ground over the rest of the field. If he could double it, that’s a different story, but I wouldn’t hold my breath for that.
How about the average? At .297, you had to be happy as he was right among the best for 1B. Just sixth eligible players had a higher average then him, and 2 of them were at .300 (one was Conor Jackson, who really lacks the pop to be considered as a 1B).
His BABIP was a believable number as well, and there is no reason to believe that he’s going to suddenly struggle at the plate. His worst months were June (.257) and July (.261), which certainly are palatable as far as down stretches go. Obviously, it’s not what we are looking for, but they aren’t devastating.
His career minor league batting average was .289, so while I could see him raising his average slightly, I think what we’ve gotten is more or less what we are going to get, +/- .010.
He’s likely to hit higher in the order this season, having spent the majority of his time in the #7 hole last season. That’s going to give him the opportunity to both drive in and score more runs, making him more competitive with other 1B. It’s possible that he closes in on 100 RBI if he’s hitting in the middle of the order, which will help. There were 12 1B last season who drove in over 100 runs, with 7 more with at least 90. If he can’t get into that range, he’s unusable as he’d be putting you at too big of a disadvantage.
That’s not something I’m worried about. As long as he’s slotted in the middle of the line-up, he’s going to get his share of RBI.
So, let’s take a look at where I’d project him for 2009:
.293 (167-569), 27 HR, 97 RBI, 82 R, 9 SB, .330 BABIP, .368 OBP, .506 SLG
Those are very good numbers, but considering the other players available to you at first base, they are far from the elite. When I did my 1B rankings, I placed him at #11, which seems about right. With those type of numbers, he seems like a last resort as a starting option, bettter suited if you can snag him as your corner infielder.
What do you think? Would you be happy with him as your starting 1B?
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