Cincinnati Reds: Joey Votto’s report card for the 2020 season

ST LOUIS, MO - SEPTEMBER 12: Joey Votto #19 of the Cincinnati Reds yells at the home plate umpire. (Photo by Dilip Vishwanat/Getty Images)
ST LOUIS, MO - SEPTEMBER 12: Joey Votto #19 of the Cincinnati Reds yells at the home plate umpire. (Photo by Dilip Vishwanat/Getty Images)

It’s obvious Reds legend Joey Votto has entered the twilight of his amazing career.

Father time is undefeated and Joey Votto is facing the one opponent he won’t be able to overcome. Since finishing second in the MVP voting following the 2017 season at 33-years old, it’s been a slow and steady decline for Votto production-wise. However, this past year, Cincinnati Reds fans witnessed two events they’ve never seen throughout Votto’s 14 years in the Queen City.

First, the almost unthinkable happened after a 3-2 loss on August 25th in Milwaukee. Votto had just finished the night going 0-for-4 at the plate with four strikeouts while committing an error to add to the misery. Reds manager David Bell would bench Votto for three days after the six-time All-Star saw his average drop to a paltry .191 with only one homer over a 30-day period.

Second, for the first time in his career, Votto proved to be a below replacement level player. His -0.2 bWAR was easily the worst of his 14 seasons and only the third time since 2008 he posted a bWAR of 4.0 or less. Unfortunately, two of those three seasons have been in 2019 and 2020. There’s no gentle way to say it, but vintage Joey Votto is not walking through that door.

JOEY VOTTO. D. . 1B. Cincinnati Reds

Offensively, an argument can be made that Votto was better this year than during the 2019 campaign. In 2020 he posted a 110 OPS+ compared to the 96 mark he posted the previous season while increasing his slugging percentage rate. Nevertheless, a slash line of .226/.354/.446 is nothing to get overly excited about.

What became painfully obvious throughout the 2020 season is Joey Votto is absolutely killing the Reds on defense. While he’ll never be described as a great defender, despite what his lone Gold Glove might tell you, he’s always been at least adequate; that is until this year.

Not only was his -7 defensive runs saved total the second-worst mark of his career it was the worst among all National League first baseman. Unfortunately, the misery didn’t end there. His five errors equaled the total of the Mets Pete Alonso for the most by NL first baggers as well. For all of our sanity, let’s hope the universal DH is adopted in the NL and Votto’s glove is put to rest.

In retrospect, it wasn’t a completely lost year for Votto. Following his benching in late August, the left-handed slugger hit six homers in September and showed signs of life in the power department. Next, his .354 OBP is still well above the .325 league average in the senior circuit. Finally, the 37 free passes he compiled was still good enough to rank in the top 10 of the league.

Heading into 2021, we know Joey Votto will be in Cincinnati for at least three more seasons and, minus the universal DH, he’ll be starting at first base on Opening Day. For Reds Country to entertain any other scenarios is pure folly.

With that in mind, two things need to happen. The 37-year-old Votto can no longer hit at the top of the order. He needs to be dropped to fifth or sixth in the order at best. Finally, if the Reds are forced to play him in the field, he’ll need to be replaced late in games to preserve wins for defensive purposes.

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When Joey Votto eventually retires, his place among the greatest to ever play for the Cincinnati Reds will be well secured. Heck, it already is. His No. 19 will be retired, he’ll be inducted into Cooperstown and a statue will be erected in his honor. As painful as the next few seasons may be, nothing will diminish everything he’s brought to the franchise.