With less than one month left in the 2012 Major League Baseball season, Cincinnati Reds first baseman Joey Votto needs to finish the season strong with big numbers.
The first baseman played three games after the All-Star break but did not play again until the first week of September.
Since returning to the lineup, he is hitting only .278 while hitting third in the lineup. His average is below what was expected, but he has an on-base percentage of .519 in the past six games. Although he continues to get on base, he is not swinging the bat the way he normally does.
Votto has yet to hit a home run or drive in a run since returning to the lineup. He has only one extra-base hit during the past week, which is not what the team expected.
He is still recovering from knee surgeries, so it is natural to not be performing at a high level after one week back in action. After seven weeks of not playing, he needs to catch fire by the time October comes around.
Do not expect Votto to put himself in position to re-injure his knee. It is obvious that he will not go in hard to break up a double play or try to take an extra base. Votto and manager Dusty Baker told John Fay of the Cincinnati Enquirer that Votto will not fully recover from the injury until the offseason.
With a 10.5-game lead in the National League Central and a magic number of 10, Cincinnati is closing in on clinching a division title. Once the team clinches, Votto should get some rest in order to be fresh for the postseason. His projections are based on the assumption that he will get time off over the final three weeks.
The Reds official team website breaks down his numbers through September 11.
What should Reds fans expect from Votto in the final 19 games?
Getting on base
Votto is a career .316 hitter, so he will eventually get back to driving the ball. He has not had great swings in his first week off the disabled list, but he is making contact. With only three strikeouts since his return, he will eventually get hits to fall in because he makes contact.
Until he gets his swing back, the first baseman will rely on his patience to get on base. He has drawn at least one walk in five of his six games this month. Pitchers still give him respect, and he is willing to get on base to help the team.
Once he gets on base, Votto was never a threat to steal bases consistently. He may occasionally take advantage of a young pitcher who does not pay attention to him, but he just does not have the wheels to take second. He suffered the knee injury by sliding, so there is no chance the team gives him the green light to steal in the last three weeks of the season.
Let's assume he plays in no more than 15 of the final 19 games. The only way he should play in the final series of the season against the St. Louis Cardinals is if the Reds have a chance to knock the Cardinals out of the playoffs. There is no reason to overuse Votto down the stretch as the division is all but over.
|Final 19 Games||15||0||.320||.461|
The projections seem very optimistic, but it is based on the assumption he will get around 65 at-bats. He will not qualify for the batting title, but he will get his stroke back by October.
The 29-year-old will continue to get on base, but do not expect him to be a power hitter during the final three weeks of the season. He still ranks in the top ten in the league in walks and doubles.
Before his injury, Votto was on pace to break the MLB record of 67 doubles in a season. He will now need to find a way to return to driving the ball to the gaps. He may not get as many doubles as he used to because he will not put the stress on his legs by going for an extra base.
Votto has been hitting the ball in the air lately, and he will eventually get his first home run since returning from injury. Reds fans hope it comes sooner rather than later, but he does not need to press to hit one out of the stadium.
The All-Star was hitting a home run every 27.8 at-bats this season, which means fans should not expect many long balls from Votto in September.
He is still searching for his first RBI since returning from his injury, but pitchers have been reluctant to pitch to him in key situations. With Brandon Phillips at the top of the lineup, Votto will get opportunities to drive in runs.
|Final 19 Games||6||2||7|
As previously mentioned, the Reds could clinch the NL Central by next weekend or shortly after. Once the team secures a postseason berth, it must decide if it has a realistic shot at the No. 1 spot in the playoffs.
If the team goes for home-field advantage, Votto will play almost every day. The Reds are currently 2.5 games behind the Washington Nationals for the top spot and 5.5 games ahead of the San Francisco Giants for the second seed in the NL.
Cincinnati appears to be locked in as the No. 2 seed, so the team should give Votto some rest down the stretch. Resting the All-Star will allow rookie Todd Frazier to play every day. Depending on the wild card race, Votto should get some time off during the final series of the season in St. Louis.
Fans do not need to put extra pressure on Votto to hit for power, and his ability to get on base will allow the players behind him to continue to drive in runs.