It is hard to imagine Joey Votto improving on his 2010 NL MVP numbers, but the Reds first baseman has already greatly improved the very few weaknesses in his game. Dave Cameron of Fangraphs dissected Votto in "The Evolution of Joey Votto," but that was two weeks ago and Votto has improved since the post.
Votto has been on a roll to start this season with four home runs and posting a line of .395/.515/.658. He is leading baseball in WAR along with Jose Bautista and is also leading in OBP. In addition, Votto is eighth in SLG, third in wOBA, and fifth in wRC+.
The 23 percent strikeout rate was the only real weakness in Votto's approach at the plate in 2010. So far Votto has cut down on his strikeout rate dramatically to 13.2 percent, while improving his 2010 walk rate from 14 percent to 19.6 percent in 2011.
Votto has improved his overall plate discipline by taking more pitches that are out of the strike zone. His overall swing percentage has decreased to 43.5 percent from 47.9 last season, while his percentage of swings on pitches out of the strike zone has decreased from 29.9 percent last year to 26.1 percent.
Votto is still seeing roughly the same amount of pitches in the strike zone, but his discipline has improved his contact rate. The 2011 campaign represents a career high in contact rate at 81 percent, and he has cut his swinging strike percentage from 10.4 percent to 7.8 percent this season.
Votto's batted ball statistics show that his improved plate discipline has lead to better overall contact. He is hitting line drives at a 30 percent rate (fifth in baseball), and Votto has not made one out by hitting an infield fly ball. In addition, his ground ball to fly ball ratio remains the same, while his home run to fly ball ratio has decreased slightly.
The result is that Votto has improved his batting average overall to .395, but his BABIP (.413) is not as inflated with the decrease in strikeouts. If Votto keeps up this new trend, he should finish with a batting average slightly higher than his .324 average in 2010.
While it remains to be seen if he will stick with the approach as the season progresses, it is great to see a MVP make adjustments to keep himself ahead of the curve.