Fantasy Baseball Playoffs 2012: 6 Reasons Joey Votto Will Be Top X-Factor

Geoff Ratliff@@geoffratliffContributor IIISeptember 10, 2012

Fantasy Baseball Playoffs 2012: 6 Reasons Joey Votto Will Be Top X-Factor

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    Most fantasy baseball playoffs will begin today, and Cincinnati Reds first baseman Joey Votto has returned from the disabled list just in time to make his owners very happy. In fact, Votto's return makes him the biggest X-factor in fantasy baseball leagues over the next four weeks.

    If Votto's 49-game absence contributed to your team's second-half collapse I truly feel for you. But for those who managed to keep the ship afloat and sail into the playoffs, congratulations. You're about to be handsomely rewarded.

    Votto—who required two operations to repair damaged cartilage in his left knee—returned to the Reds lineup this past Wednesday for the first time since July 15. He promptly reminded fantasy baseball owners what they were missing with a 2-for-3 performance in his first game back.

    Championships are often won on the bats—and arms—of September call-ups, late season injury replacements and underperforming players that catch fire at the right time. But here are six reasons why Joey Votto will outshine them all and lead many fantasy baseball owners to the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow.

He’s Joey Votto

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    If your team is in the fantasy baseball playoffs, then you’ve obviously gotten lucky with free agent acquisitions, waiver wire claims or trades—maybe all three. 

    But there's transaction can eclipse getting a former league MVP back from injury just in time for the start of the postseason. That’s how big Votto’s return is this season.

    He was well on his way to earning his second NL MVP award before he was injured, and he's been an All-Star during each of the past three years.

    Votto entered the 2012 fantasy baseball season as the seventh-best player according to Yahoo! Sports' preseason projections for standard five-by-five scoring leagues. He finished 18th overall at the end of 2011 and was the fourth best player during the 2010 season.

    Still just 28 years old and entering the prime of his career, Votto will provide fantasy owners with an immediate upgrade in four of the five hitting categories (runs, home runs, runs batted in and batting average).

He's Healthy and Well Rested

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    When Votto got hurt on July 15, the Reds were 50-38 and held a one-game lead in the NL Central. But other Cincinnati players—namely Ryan Ludwick, Jay Bruce and Todd Frazier—stepped up their games in Votto's absence.

    The Reds were an incredible 33-16 while he was out of the lineup and managed to increase their division lead. Cincinnati’s lead over the St. Louis Cardinals had grown to 8.5 games by the time Votto returned to the lineup on September 5.

    Cincinnati was unlikely to rush its star first baseman back into action regardless of where it was in the standings. The 10-year, $225 million contract extension that Votto signed this past April made sure of that. 

    The Reds' strong play without him gave management greater peace of mind as he worked his way back into game shape. Now fantasy owners will share those happy thoughts as they watch Votto rake over the next four weeks.

The Cobwebs Will Be Dusted Off

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    The timing of Votto’s return is huge for fantasy owners. The Reds were able to ease him back into the lineup last week which gave him a few days to work off any rust from the long layoff.

    Votto has hit .400 in 10 at bats since his return from the knee injury. While he has yet to hit a home run or drive in a run, the hefty average shows that he’s poised to break out at any moment.

Cincinnati Has a Great Lineup...

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    The Reds got major contributions from a number of key players while Votto was out, allowing them to win at a .673 clip while he was on the mend.

    Left fielder Ryan Ludwick has had his best season since his 2008 breakout with the St. Louis Cardinals. He's slammed 25 home runs and driven in 74 baserunners in just 380 at-bats while helping Cincinnati's postseason odds and reviving his own career.

    Right fielder Jay Bruce has put together the best season of his five-year career. With 21 games remaining, he's already hit a career-best 33 home runs this season. Bruce is also just two runs and one RBI short of tying his best single-season totals in each of those categories (84 and 97 respectively).

    The biggest surprise for Cincinnati this year has been rookie Todd Frazier. Injuries to Votto and third baseman Scott Rolen have allowed the 2007 supplemental-round pick out of Rutgers to accumulate regular at bats for the Reds.

    Frazier has responded to the increased opportunities by hitting .284 with 18 home runs and 62 RBI in 114 games, giving Washington Nationals phenom Bryce Harper serious competition for the NL Rookie of the Year award.

    Votto will get will get plenty of RBI and run-scoring opportunities in the middle of the Cincinnati lineup. That'll be a blessing for your fantasy team.

...And a Favorable Schedule

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    Although 12 of Cincinnati’s final 21 games are against teams in the thick of the NL Wild Card race, the schedule isn’t as daunting as it may seem. 

    Six of those 12 games are against the struggling Pittsburgh Pirates, a team whose pitching staff has been a major disappointment over the past few weeks.

    The Reds also have nine games remaining against the Miami Marlins, Milwaukee Brewers and Chicago Cubs. Those three teams rank 12th, 13th and 14th in the National League in team ERA respectively. 

    Cincinnati’s six other games are against the Los Angeles Dodgers and the Cardinals. But outside of Clayton Kershaw (LAD) and Adam Wainwright (STL), neither team's pitching staff has a starter that Votto's owners should fear. 

    Votto also gets nine more games in Cincinnati’s hitter-friendly Great American Ball Park. The Reds’ 12 remaining road games are all in parks that rank no worse than 17 in MLB Park Factor, so there are no true pitcher-friendly parks on the schedule.

Reds Have Everything to Play For

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    Joey Votto can’t help your team unless he’s in the lineup everyday. Lucky for fantasy owners, the Reds are locked in a tight race for the best record in the National League, and they’ll need Votto’s production to help them earn it. 

    Entering today’s play, Cincinnati (84-57) trails Washington (86-54) by 2.5 games in the NL standings. Most of the Reds’ opponents will be fighting for playoff spots, so they can’t afford to keep Votto out of the lineup unless he aggravates his knee injury.

    That’s good news for fantasy owners who will need his prodigious bat all the way through the last day of the regular season. With a season-ending series in St. Louis, Cincinnati may need Votto’s bat even more than you do.