Cincinnati Reds’ Joey Votto is capable of carrying team back to the playoffs in 2017

Mandatory Credit: Sam Greene/Cincinnati Enquirer via USA TODAY Sports
Mandatory Credit: Sam Greene/Cincinnati Enquirer via USA TODAY Sports /
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After leading the National League in Runs Created in 2016, Joey Votto is ready to carry the Cincinnati Reds back to the playoffs in 2017.

The Cincinnati Reds are a team in transition.  They are trying to move their last few pieces from the 2013 team that was competitive.  Joey Votto is one of only four players that the Reds have designated from that team as being in their future plans, along with Homer Bailey, Tony Cingrani, and Billy Hamilton.

The difference is that while Hamilton can be transformative defensively in center field, he cannot carry the team defensively.  Bailey and Cingrani, meanwhile, are essentially 50-50 players.  They are plenty good to be in the majors, but have rarely been elite.

Votto, meanwhile, made a run at the National League MVP in the second half of the 2016 season.  He was closer to MLB leading Mike Trout in RC at 130 to 137 than his was to Kris Bryant of the Chicago Cubs who was 10 behind Votto at 120.  Trout and Votto have something else in common besides leading their leagues in RC, they weren’t able to carry their respective teams to the playoffs in 2016.

The difference is that Votto is working with a group of youngsters nearly across the board.  If the Reds could clear the decks of Zack  Cozart with Brandon Phillips gone to the Atlanta Braves, every meaningful position player other than Votto would be younger than 30.  Trout’s Los Angeles Angels are still riddled with mid career veterans.  There are also several players nearing retirement like future Hall of Famer Albert Pujols.

The Cincinnati Reds are not that far away from sneaking into the playoffs, but Joey Votto will need his second MVP season for that to happen.

Clutch hitting was debunked years ago.  What hasn’t been debunked is that a better hitter is more likely to drive in a run in an RBI situation than a bad hitter.  Votto needs to continue to be on both sides of that equation.

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Votto needs to bat third in 2017 and both score and drive in 100 runs.  He scored 100 last year, but only drove in 97.  Those are baseline numbers for the Reds just to get to .500.

That will make the offense competitive.  The pitching issues were somewhat overblown last season.  Aside from the home run issues the pitching staff should be good enough.

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The Cincinnati Reds have good enough pitching to compete, if they lean on Scott Feldman.

The biggest off-season signing for the Reds was Scott Feldman.  Having a multi-inning middle reliever to bridge the gap from the starters to the set-up staff will turn around the pitching staff.  The Reds lost many games in the sixth or seventh innings.  If Feldman has to stay in the rotation, the hole opens up again.

Votto, though, needs to help the pitching staff by playing better defense.  He was the worst everyday defensive first baseman in baseball last year.

He single-handedly cost the team two wins with his bad defense last year and that cannot continue.

More than any of the above, though, Votto can carry this team to the playoffs in 2016 with his advice.  What is the difference between a competitive team and this version of the Reds?  The non-competitive Reds had issues during the past few seasons in the areas of OBP and defensive consistency.

Next: Reds need healthy pitchers to be competitive

If Votto can help the younger players focus on getting on base and playing consistent defense, the Reds can make the playoffs this year.  There are a couple of key pitchers that need to stay healthy, but that is true for every team.  The Reds just have less room for error than the other teams in the NL Central.