By Hal McCoy
Joey Votto not only enjoys ‘The Bat Flip Brigade,’ he wants to join them. . .blast some baseball so hard he can nonchalantly flip his bat in celebration.
“You see guys doing some real cool bat flips on Twitter that you forward to your buddy,” said the Cincinnati Reds 37-year-old first baseman. “Those are the players that are most fun. Some of the young guys are so entertaining. When it’s timed right. . .they’re fun. Real cool bat flips are all part of it.
“I kind of miss being in that group,” he said. “I’ve led the league in slugging percentage, I was in the top two, three, four or five in batting average throughout my career. I just got so dead-set on commanding the strike zone, assuming I was going to help the team that way.”
Votto wants to return to yesteryear, back to before he now admits he has been too selective at the plate. And to return to his days of wine and roses, Votto realizes he has to return to his days of aggression.
Votto was deadly frank and deadly honest about what has happened in recent years, why he has had power and production slippage.
“I’ve always been a power hitter. . .well, not always — mercy, not the last couple of years now,” he said on a Zoom interview Sunday from Goodyear, Ariz.
“I just want to get back to being dangerous, difficult to defend. I’d hit balls into the shift and I’d hit it pretty hard. It would be a step or two to the left for the second baseman to stop and I’d be like, ‘What am I doing? This is unsustainable. This will never last.’
“So i’ve gotta hit the ball harder and be more difficult to defend,” he added. “I refined it late last season and I’ll be better at it because I’ve worked on it this winter.”
Votto said his production subsided because he became too selective at the plate and his aggression dissipated.
“When I first came to the league, and certainly in the minor leagues, I was a bit more aggressive,” he said. “Then I was dead-set on cutting down my strikeouts because I wanted to be a well-rounded hitter. Listen, I led the league in extra base hits when I was 18 years old as a newbie from Canada. I have to remind myself that at the core, that’s who I am.
“Eventually, I lost some of the things, some of my strengths that I first came to the league with. . .hitting the ball hard, specifically,” he said. “And hitting the ball all over the field with power, making me difficult to defend. I did that in exchange for command of the strike zone, putting the ball in play, being a tough at-bat.
“It zapped my power,” he said, “In ’17 I played really well because I had that nice combination of low strikeouts, tons of power, lots of walk. It was like a dream season.”
In 2017, Votto .320 with 36 home runs, 100 runs batted in, 134 walks and only 73 strikeouts.
Then it was a case of slip-slidin’ away. In 2018 he batted .284 with 12 homers, 67 RBI, 103 walks and 101 strikeouts. In 2019 it was .261 with 15 homers, 47 RBI, 76 walks and 122 strikeouts.
“I stuck to that the last couple of years,” he said. “I have to let that go and get back to what got me to the league.
“Now I’m back to a more comfortable place, in terms of hitting,” he added. “It is going to come with more swings and misses and some strikeouts, but as long as I’m productive, as long as I’m dangerous at the plate, it will pay off.”
With what he did late last season, when he returned to a more upright stance instead of a milker’s squat, and with the work he put in this off-season, Votto begins the 2021 campaign with an air of newly acquired confidence.
“I’m as excited as I’ve ever been, maybe in my major league career, to start a major league season,” he said.
And the more bat flips, the merrier.