Cincinnati Reds v San Diego Padres

Just incredible stuff from Buster Olney of ESPN on Cincinnati Reds first baseman Joey Votto today. The piece is ESPN Insider only and will appear in the next edition of ESPN Magazine. If you weren’t already an Insider for Keith Law’s prospect insights, this might push you over the edge.

Olney gets down and dirty and inside Votto’s head, learning how the former MVP and Canadian wunderkind out-thinks every pitcher in the big leagues.

There are far too many outstanding pull quotes in this article, including a gem on how he all but ignores runs and RBI and the like. Joey Votto is focused on hitting the ball hard every single time he digs in.

Part of Joey Votto’s approach includes guessing along with the pitcher, rather than sitting dead red and hoping for his cookie. Votto studies pitchers, learns their tendencies in not only pitch selection but location, too.

His perspective changes as he goes deeper into an at-bat. “I start off at the very beginning of the at-bat with the highest expectation of success with whatever pitch is available to me … and then I shrink it down as the strikes dwindle,” he says, meaning he will do as much damage as the count allows. “I get one strike and I shrink down my expectations and my swing slightly.”

As the count deepens, he chokes up on the bat a little; while he was thinking about driving a ball earlier in the count, now he’s more focused on putting it in play, hard. He spreads out his stance slightly, like a football lineman digging in. “When I get two strikes,” he says, “I open up [the pitch possibilities] to just about everything and try to do less with the ball.”

This plate coverage approach makes Joey Votto unique among big league hitters, owing mostly to his ability to balanced swing and impeccable eye. Votto translates his knowledge of opposing pitchers patterns and “hit it hard” philosophy into incredibly hard contact, even with two strikes.

Courtesy of ESPN Stats & Info

Courtesy of ESPN Stats & Info

Courtesy of ESPN Stats & Info

Courtesy of ESPN Stats & Info

The two charts demonstrate how much better Votto covers the plate with two strikes. He hits the ball harder on the outside corner in addition to the lefty haven that is down and in. Over the last two years, Joey Votto ranks in the top ten for well-hit average, ranks second in on base percentage and eighth in wOBA when batting with two strikes, according to ESPN Stats & Info. But two strikes success is only part of the Joey Votto Plan for World Domination.

The next phase of Votto’s slavish devotion to excellence came after Votto felt he gave away too many plate appearances in the first inning. Votto vowed to prepare more vigorously, aiming to have his focus tuned all the way in by the time the game begins. The process is fascinating (you’ll have to click through for the details) but the results are interesting at the very least.

Rk Player Split From To OPS OPStot PA H 2B 3B HR BB SO BA OBP SLG OPS BAbip
1 David Ortiz vs. SP, 1st 2010 2012 1.061 .950 362 101 28 0 22 54 70 .328 .428 .633 1.061 .366
2 Troy Tulowitzki vs. SP, 1st 2010 2012 1.038 .918 308 89 15 3 20 35 42 .331 .406 .632 1.038 .329
3 Joey Votto vs. SP, 1st 2010 2012 1.029 .998 412 116 23 1 21 61 80 .338 .434 .595 1.029 .383
4 Miguel Cabrera vs. SP, 1st 2010 2012 .990 1.025 470 133 27 0 23 61 68 .332 .419 .571 .990 .349
5 Buster Posey vs. SP, 1st 2010 2012 .977 .893 290 91 17 1 13 24 38 .350 .403 .573 .977 .366
6 Josh Hamilton vs. SP, 1st 2010 2012 .970 .952 396 115 34 3 18 34 86 .324 .381 .589 .970 .379
7 Giancarlo Stanton vs. SP, 1st 2010 2012 .959 .903 357 87 25 1 23 37 97 .282 .367 .592 .959 .332
8 Prince Fielder vs. SP, 1st 2010 2012 .948 .930 484 120 26 0 27 60 80 .293 .395 .554 .948 .304
9 Lance Berkman vs. SP, 1st 2010 2012 .948 .874 278 69 16 0 13 44 50 .297 .414 .534 .948 .331
10 Carlos Gonzalez vs. SP, 1st 2010 2012 .940 .918 392 116 25 2 19 26 88 .323 .378 .563 .940 .383
Provided by View Play Index Tool Used
Generated 3/19/2013.

Joey Votto’s approach to hitting isn’t for everyone. Many hitters prefer to drilling down to the brass tacks versus overloading their brain with knowledge they can’t use or can’t wade through to get the goods. Quite clearly, Derek Jeter built a pretty good resume just pounding fastballs and all but ignoring the rest (a simplification but a decent reflection of the opposite attitude.)

Read Buster’s story and appreciate Joey Votto for his unique and acerbic approach to the game. The perfect marriage of the tools that make scouts drool (his swing would probably survive all on its own) and the desire to get better — to improve via all available avenues — that result in the franchise investing a quarter billion dollars and their entire future in your abilities.