Apr 16, 2014; Cincinnati, OH, USA; Votto talks with Reds manager Bryan Price, right, prior to a game with the Pittsburgh Pirates at Great American Ball Park. (David Kohl-USA TODAY Sports)

The Joey Votto experiment is working

It’s only five games, but Cincinnati Reds manager Bryan Price may have hit upon a gold mine when he moved first baseman Joey Votto from third to second in the Red batting order. Yes, the small sample alert has been activated.

There has been a long-running debate within the Reds fanbase (and even outside of their fans) as to where Votto should be placed within the Reds lineup. Some have long cried for Votto to be moved up to the 2-spot. Others have felt that with the money Votto is making that he is paid to drive in runs and the 3-hole is best suited for him.

When the move was made roughly a week ago, Votto had this (via Mark Sheldon of MLB.com):

“I won’t mind read the motives of why I was changed. Thus far, I haven’t been the most productive hitter on the team. My track record will rear its ugly face at some point. I don’t really know if it makes too much of an impact overall. I think it’s pretty minimal. I’m not sure if it’s going to make big swings. But I think that what Bryan is doing, I fully support and I’m excited about the change.”

Looks like Votto has been up to the challenge so far. Here’s a look at some of Votto’s numbers for this season:

2014: .327/.446/.615, 4 HR, 9 RBI, 11 R
#3: .257/.372/.400, 1 HR, 2 RBI, 5 R (43 PA in 10 games)
#2: .471/.591/1.059, 3 HR, 7 RBI, 6 R (22 PA in 5 games)

One theory in play here is that Votto should gain more plate appearances with the move. As the #3 hitter, Votto was averaging 4.3 PA per game. As the Reds #2 guy, his PA/G has risen, but only to 4.4. Sure, too close to even arrive at a decision at this point, but over the course of the season, those averages may not change, but you can see where this should lead to more PAs.

Let’s say Votto stayed in the 3-hole for the entire season and played in all 162 games. He would have roughly 697 PA. Now let’s take and see how many PAs Votto would have if from the onset of the season, he was batting second with those 4.4 PA/G. That leads to almost 713 (712.8) PA. It’s 16 more PA.

Another theory – of the many that have been brought forth – is that Votto could see more fastballs. Of course, with this premise, one must assume that Billy Hamilton would assist by getting on base at a higher clip. So far, that hasn’t been the case. In those same five games since the Votto move, Hamilton’s OBP sits at .222. Prior to that, it was .219. In fact, three of Votto’s RBI and runs scored have been a product of himself via the long ball. So, for this short period, we can actually toss that out the window, right?

As far as Hamilton getting on base we can. We can also toss aside the notion Votto will see more fastballs (almost 71% as #3, 68% as #2 as taken from Brooks Baseball) but we can certainly wonder what would happen should Hamilton reverse his fortunes and up his OBP. What I’ve always wondered about this move is this: How will Votto react when Hamilton is on the move?

As with all small samples (especially in this case), no one would dare believe that Votto could sustain what he has done to date. But if anything, it appears that Votto has, in some manner, re-discovered his power stroke. And maybe the most surprising is that Votto hasn’t been going oppo on those homers as much as he did last year when 15 of his 24 were to the left of straightway center field. Contrast that to the four home runs he has this season. Of those four, three have gone to the right side of straightaway center field. And if you refer back to the numbers above, you see that those three that have been “pulled” have come since being moved up that one spot.

One thing that I have yet to see (and that doesn’t mean it hasn’t already been said) is that this could be a case where Votto simply feels more comfortable at the plate as the #2 guy. You could call this the “honeymoon period” if you wish. Newness can tend to bring about positive change. Sounds strange even considering that since Votto has been the Reds #3 almost since the day he donned a Reds uni (3,235 of 3,855 PA, 84%).

The move has paid off so far, small sample clearly noted. But unless the Reds get on a roll, the move will do nothing but to pad Votto’s numbers.

And we can all can agree that won’t mean a thing to Votto.

Tags: Cincinnati Reds Joey Votto

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