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Saturday, October 6, 2012
How do you defend against Joey Votto?

By Justin Havens

Joey Votto is the rare breed of hitter who not only possesses devastating power but also exhibits some of the best plate discipline in the league and a penchant for recording high batting averages.

He’s a complete hitter. No player in baseball has posted a higher on-base percentage in the past three seasons than Votto (.433); in other words, no player has avoided recording outs as well as Votto has.

So just how do you get him out?

Over the past three seasons, no left-handed batter has recorded a higher OPS against left-handed pitching than Votto.

In fact, his lead over second-best (Adrian Gonzalez) is equal to the gap between Gonzalez and the ninth-best option. But even taking that into consideration, Votto does appear to have a (relative) weakness: soft stuff on the outer half from those left-handers.

Since the start of 2010, 43 left-handed batters have seen at least 400 off-speed pitches on the outer half of the plate from left-handed pitchers.

The group hit .195 with a .529 OPS and a home run rate of 2.1 percent.

Votto ranks 34th out of that group in batting average (.150), 30th in OPS (.440) and 31st in HR rate (0.7 percent). Even James Loney has a higher batting average in such scenarios.

It gets even worse when looking at Votto's performance against those pitches with two strikes.

Votto has seen 218 off-speed pitches from lefties on the outer half with two strikes in the past three years. He has exactly nine hits to show for it, good for a .095 batting average.

Only two left-handed batters have seen more such pitches and come up with fewer hits -– Adam Dunn and Carlos Pena.

The good news is that although this remains a distinct weakness, Votto seems to be improving against this plan of attack.

From 2010 to 2011, Votto hit .144 with a .409 OPS and a 31.2 percent strikeout rate. In 2012, those numbers are up to a .200 batting average, a .646 OPS and a 21.4 percent strikeout rate.

As you can see by the heat maps below, he has managed to do some damage with the pitches that have stayed on the upper/outer half but remains susceptible to down and away.