The Cincinnati Reds have toyed with Joey Votto batting second and fourth, but they need to leave him batting third.
The Cincinnati Reds tried Joey Votto batting second last season because of the sabermetric idea that a team’s best player should bat second. The Los Angeles Angels let Mike Trout bat second and the Washington Nationals did the same with Bryce Harper. Unlike those two teams, though, the Reds are completely built around Votto.
For as long as Billy Hamilton is a starting outfielder for the Reds, he will bat lead-off. He needs at least one batter to steal a base whenever he gets on base. That means that Votto is not best used batting right behind Hamilton.
Batting Votto in the clean-up role diminishes both Votto’s skills and the ability of the rest of the Reds to drive in runs. Votto’s best talent is getting on base. That is not the key skill of a clean-up hitter.
The rest of the line-up is filled with batters that hit line drives or home runs. Any of the Reds hitters could be the clean-up hitter behind the combination of Hamilton and Votto. The Reds just need to pick the right one.
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Almost as importantly is who the Reds let bat between Votto and Hamilton. They need someone who can look at a good number of pitches, but also gets on base enough to be there for Votto. Right-handed slugger Eugenio Suarez got on base at a .317 clop last year and looks at a ton of pitches.
The Cincinnati Reds need to figure out who they can bat behind Joey Votto to get teams to pitch to him.
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It is easy to eliminate one player and one position right off the bat. Zack Cozart for all of his offensive improvement cannot bat clean-up. His power has improved, but his .308 OBP is still lacking.
The one position that cannot take the stress of batting clean-up is catcher. Whether it is Devin Mesoraco, Tucker Barnhart, or someone else, the Reds’ catcher needs to focus on defense and pitch calling. The Reds also need to let the catcher stay healthy.
That leaves Adam Duvall, Scott Schebler, and the second baseman. As left-handed hitters, the Reds need to separate Schebler and Votto in the order. Schebler also had a good end to the season, but didn’t seem settled in his new role.
That leaves Adam Duvall and whoever plays second. Duvall doesn’t get on base enough to discourage people from pitching around Votto. Duvall is more of a number five hitter as a true slugger.
The Reds need a second baseman who hits well enough to bat clean-up. If not Suarez may have to slide down from the two hole. That would be bad for the two hole and worse for Votto’s ability to maximize his impact on the Reds’ line-up.