Joey Votto has redefined himself.
The 38-year-old slugger for the Cincinnati Reds has reached 30 home runs this year. It is only the third time in his long career he has reached that milestone.
Votto is a shoe-in for the Baseball Hall of Fame, even before his resurgence. He has more than 300 home runs, more than 2,000 hits, and more than 1,000 RBIs. Over the first decade of his career, starting in 2008, Votto’s numbers are among the very best in baseball history. Over that span, Votto led the Majors with a .428 on-base percentage, won an MVP Award, and hit .300 or more eight times in a nine-year span. Going into the 2018 season, he was the active Major League leader in OBP and 11th all-time, tucked between Jimmie Foxx and Tris Speaker.
Had it not been for Mike Trout, Votto would have arguably been considered the best player of the decade.
Votto slumped in 2019, and he was benched part way through the shortened 2020 season. After getting back in the line-up, he hasn’t looked back. The highlight of his 2021 season came after the All-Star Break, when he hit home runs in seven straight games. He was the eighth player in Major League history to do that.
In a SportsNet interview with fellow Canadian slugger and fellow MVP Justin Morneau, Votto discussed his turnaround and his newfound approach to hitting.
All the very best hitters hit home runs, and I wasn’t doing that,” said Votto. “So now I’m going to do that.”
Votto made swing changes and changed his approach to hitting. He has stopped obsessing with some of the smaller details, saying he can just go with the flow of the game and take hacks at the plate. The new approach has made him one of baseball’s hottest hitters in 2021, and a big reason why the Cincinnati Reds are in the playoff hunt.
“The only thing I was really missing was power – driving the ball in the gap, driving the ball over the fence,” he said. “Once I started standing up taller and taking more aggressive swings, and started seeing the ball come off my bat and calibrating that move over the last calendar year. Once I started building confidence that, holy cow I can hit the ball hard, that’s when I really leaned into it and trusted that this is real, and I’m able to repeat this.”
Votto went through what many players go through in their mid-to-late 30s. The power fades, and the timing disappears.
“In 2017, 18, 19, I was trying to be perfect,” Votto said. “I was trying to hit for power, I was trying to get on base a ton, trying to hit for a high average, basically try and do what I had done my entire career. Once the power portion fizzled out, everything else falls apart.”
Votto began to study players who had achieved success at the plate late in their careers, along with analyzing what some of the most successful current hitters were doing in their approach to hitting.
Studying Big Papi
“I watched a lot of old video from some of my favorite players,” he said. “Mostly I watched video of players who performed well deep into their 30s, and David Ortiz is the one who stood out. As he got older, I noticed he was standing taller, taking more aggressive, wilder cuts and swings.
“I started watching some of the modern day players,” Votto said. “Mike Trout, Bellinger, Yelich. Acuna Jr. is probably my favorite, Bryce Harper of course. I noticed watching them that they would swing at a variety of pitches that I couldn’t even fathom swinging at. For a bit, I turned myself into one of the best contact hitters in the sport. You could tell what a ball was from from a strike based on what I swung at. The best players in our sport were not doing that.”
Votto had to let go of his own approach to being a contact hitter to be more aggressive at the plate and hit the ball harder. The results have paid off for him.
“I decided I’m going to try to start hitting the ball again, but it’s going to come with some swings and misses,” he said. “I started leaning into it and embracing it, accepting it. So something that for year, I would lose sleep over, would fume over, get frustrated because I co-related strikeouts with getting on base and hitting for a high average and being the best version of myself. Now, here I am, basically punting on that, accepting that this is going to be part of the process. And then all of a sudden, the ball started coming off my bat harder.
“I’m glad I have made those changes. It was a little awkward at times, but it was necessary.”
Votto in the Hobby
Despite his Hall of Fame numbers and resurgence in success, Votto remains one of the most overlooked superstars when it comes to the sports card and collectibles market.
Over the past month, there has been some increased movement for Votto cards. But despite his Hall of Fame numbers and career, he is not at the same level as Mike Trout or Bryce Harper in the hobby.
In the last month, the highest selling Votto card on eBay was a 2004 Bowman Signs of the Future Autograph graded PSA 10 that sold for $1,500.
One card in particular that is worth watching is Votto’s 2002 Bowman Chrome Draft Picks BDP#44. Last week a PSA 9 version of that card sold on eBay for $175. That card seems to be the one where movement and interest is picking up, and it may have the best long term upside as far as Votto rookie cards go.
Should the Reds reach the post season and make a run in the playoffs this year, Votto’s status in the sports card market will only rise. Among Reds fans and collectors, the staples will always be Johnny Bench, Pete Rose and Joe Morgan of the Big Red Machine of the 1970s.
Joey Votto does not have the World Series rings and appearances that those players have, but he certainly belongs with that group as one of the greatest players in Reds history, as well as one of the best players of the 2010s.
You can learn more about his earliest cards and see a list of the most watched Votto cards at auction now here.