Cincinnati Reds first baseman Joey Votto made it to Spring Training on Saturday, two days before the full squad is required to report. Anyone who has followed the Reds over the last five years knows that the team rises and falls with Votto, and that vital role leaves him open to second-guessing. Based on his opening remarks yesterday, Votto will not shy away from addressing his critics.
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Chief among the high-profile voices pointing a finger at Votto as he comes off a season-long quad injury is Reds announcer Marty Brenneman, as Tweeted by Lance McAlister last week:
Brenneman’s sentiment is one shared by many Reds followers, but Votto has managed to rebuff most of this talk in the past with his bat. Even though he has seen a steady decline in his slugging percentage over the last five seasons, his on-base percentage remains strong, over .400 each season but 2014. Thanks to his selectivity, Votto has offset his declining power and still managed to produce 6+ Wins Above Replacement (WAR) when he plays a full season.
At age 31, and coming off a second season marred by lower-body problems, it seems unlikely that Votto will be able to pump his power back up to 2010 level, when he slugged .600 and hit 37 home runs. Even though first base is typically seen as a power position, the Reds’ best bet is probably to let Votto play his game and create runs with his bat AND his batting eye.
For his part, Votto recognizes the debate his approach spawns, and he’s generally OK with letting the talking heads talk. As Votto told the media on Saturday:
"I’m the big money guy. I’m the guy that is supposed to do certain things and has done certain things in the past and it’s expected in the future. I’m not doing it so let’s talk about it, let’s get after it and I think that it’s great. I’m glad I can be a lightning rod, as long as I’m a lightning rod while performing one way or the other. Whether it’s the 2010 version or the 2013 version, you cannot deny that I haven’t performed and been able to provide value for the team and able to help the team get to the playoffs. Both examples, I was part of a playoff team."
If the Reds are going to be a playoff team again in 2015, then they will definitely need Joey Votto to play a huge role.