LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. — New Cincinnati Reds manager Bryan Price said he has heard the talk about slugger Joey Votto needing to tinker with his approach. Votto, who is third among active players in OPS, supposedly needs to be more aggressive, expand his strike zone and not take so many pitches — the argument goes — so that he might drive in more runs.
Votto has resisted that notion, and Price doesn't buy into it, entirely. Speaking on Monday at baseball's winter meetings, Price said:
"It's been mentioned, 'Oh, I think he needs to extend the plate and drive in runs' and I don't believe that. It can be very difficult to work hard and get an understanding of the strike zone and be able to manage it like Joey does, and then ask him to go outside that strike zone and be productive with runners in scoring position."
Phew. You've got to be blotto to want to change Joey Votto.
It seems silly to ask Votto to do anything at all differently, considering the production he already gives the Reds. His career line of .314/.419/.541 is topped only by Albert Pujols and Miguel Cabrera since Votto came into the league in in 2007. And yet, critics see his RBI totals the past two seasons —56 in 2012 and 73 in 2013 — and see a problem with Votto. He's also led the league in walks the past three seasons — so he must not be swinging enough.
His critics include Reds GM Walt Jocketty. Dennis Janson, a TV reporter in Cincy, brought up the topic to Jocketty earlier in the offseason, shortly after Price was hired:
I asked Walt Jocketty if Price is up to the task of disabusing Joey of the notion that a base on balls is as beneficial as a run scoring sacrifice fly.
Walt gave me an emphatic “Yes,” but added, “that is something many more of us in the organization will also try to convey.”
Including Price, who explained it this way:
"What we hope is, he's able to take more advantage of those 'cripple counts' where he's in a good count and maybe not be quite as selective in that situation," Price said. "Still trying to hit strikes but ... there were some times when maybe he got deeper into the at-bat but maybe he had some pitches to hit (that he didn't swing at). In the end, he did have a phenomenal year.
"He is conscientious that one of his responsibilities will be to drive in runs. We've got to present him with those opportunities. I think we'll see some differences between 2013 and 2014."
Price makes it sound like a reasonable request. They want Votto to swing earlier in the count, sometimes, if he gets a strike. It sounds great, but it's a dangerous game the Reds are playing, with hitting being such a mental thing. Especially because they are trying to change something about their team that already works. Is Joey Votto the issue? Or is it that the other players in Cincinnati's lineup aren't as good at their jobs as him? No offense to them, but the tinkering the Reds need has more to do with the other spots in their lineup.
Leave Joey Votto alone. Hitters like him hardly ever come along. Why would you want to change that?
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