Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Joey Votto opens up on tedious hitting approach to ESPN

The April 1 edition of ESPN The Magazine will definitely be something that Reds fans will want to get their hands on.

One of the articles set to appear in the issue features a compelling, insider's look at the way of MVP first basemen Joey Votto approaches hitting.

The piece is written by Buster Olney and it is absolutely superb.

ESPN Insider's can read the article in its entirety before the magazine hits shelves via this online version. But for those of you who don't have an Insider membership, and still want to know the gist of the article, here is a brief synopsis of Olney's masterful work.

- The article begins by referencing an exchange between Votto and Todd Frazier in the dugout during a game last summer. Apparently, Votto has a reputation for being very quiet and reserved in the clubhouse, and the fact that he approached Frazier for a conversation surprised the rookie. Votto, who was on the disabled list at the time, was simply wanting to get to know his teammate better.

- We all already knew this, but Votto devotes a ton of time and effort into each at-bat. He vigorously scours over scouting reports, videotape, and statistical data over opposing pitchers before each game. One of his goals is to break down the tendencies of the pitcher so that he can better predict which pitches are coming next, and where. Olney calls him the "Einstein of the batter's box." "I've stopped caring about runs and RBIs," said Votto. "I care more about how high a percentage of productive at-bats I can have, how consistently tough and competitive I can be for the opposing pitcher. That's my goal every single time I go up there. If I drive in 90 runs, I don't care. I know a lot of old-school people wouldn't believe I'd say something like that."

- During the 2011 offseason, Votto worked with a tutor for four or five times a week to learn Spanish so that he could communicate with his Spanish-speaking teammates better. By the spring, Votto had mastered the language well enough to challenge Aroldis Chapman to a duel: Votto could speak Spanish better than Chapman could speak English.

- The first time Olney met Votto, Votto made Olney wait for awhile as the All-Star stared intently at his phone. Once Votto called Olney over, Olney claims he had been playing Words With Friends. I thought that was rather amusing.

- Votto doesn't think there is a pitch he can't hit, as long as he is well prepared. "I'm a firm believer that I can handle just about every pitch in every part of the zone as long as I can anticipate them and execute on them."

- His strategy at the plate changes depending on the count. For example, he attacks more aggressively at the beginning of an at-bat as oppose to if he has two strikes on him. "I start off at the very beginning of the at-bat with the highest expectation of success with whatever pitch is available to me ... and then I shrink it down as the strikes dwindle," he says, meaning he will do as much damage as the count allows. "I get one strike and I shrink down my expectations and my swing slightly."

- Dodgers catcher A.J. Ellis says Votto is a menace to pitch to. "From my crouch, I can feel his mind grinding and turning and thinking his way through the at-bat. Most every hitter has set patterns, and there are safe places to go to attack their weaknesses. If the pitcher is able to execute, we should be successful and limit the damage. With Votto, well-executed pitches often end up driven into gaps and even over the fence. You can never pitch with a set pattern, and rarely should you repeat pitches in the same location. He is too good."

- Votto talks a little bit about when his father passed away during his rookie season in 2008. He was treated for anxiety and depression and missed about a month of action on the field. He said the experience changed his whole outlook on life and the way he approaches baseball.

All in all, the article is a great piece on Cincinnati's franchise player. I would highly recommend for all Reds fans to read it if they get the chance.

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