Joey Votto’s fantasy owners can relax now. The Cincinnati Reds 1B was off to a dreadful start this season, but in the last few weeks, he’s improved exponentially at the plate.
The baseball season never lies. More than any other of our major sports, individual games are regularly defined by quirks, and those quirks can change the entire complexion of a game. But over the course of a full season, the bumps are smoothed over, and everyone’s stats and all team’s records reflect who they truly are. The volume of games and plate appearances eventually overwhelms those individual lies.
Even though the fantasy community knows this broadly, there’s still a player or two every year who sends us into a harried frenzy when his early-season results are out of line with his expectations. Sometimes it’s a player like Justin Upton, and we need to recalibrate our thinking. Other times, however, it’s a player in that special subset of players who deserve our unwavering trust. The latest player to prove that the baseball season never lies, that the bumps eventually smooth out, is Joey Votto.
Last year, Votto enjoyed his best season since 2011. He played 158 games for just the third time in his career, slashing .314/.459/.541 with 29 homers, 80 RBI, 95 runs and 11 steals. That, combined with a largely spotless track record, made him an easy player to protect in all keeper formats, and drove him to a top-30 average draft position in redraft leagues. That lofty spot led some of Votto’s owners into a shortsighted feeling of buyer’s remorse over the first two months of the season.
At the end of April, Votto looked like anything but a star. He slashed .229/.327/.313 with just three extra-base hits in the month. Things took a turn for Votto in the power department in May with the 32-year-old leaving the yard seven times, but he still hit just .200 with a .333 OBP in the month, far below his standards. All told, he went into June hitting .213/.330/.404 with nine homers, seven doubles and 30 RBI.
The first two months of this season were unprecedented for Votto. Sure, he struggled through an ugly 2014 season, but he missed 100 games due to injury that year, and he still posted a .390 OBP in 272 plate appearances. The Votto of the first two months of 2016 was a player we had never seen before—in a bad way. Votto turned 32 last September. Could it be that we were seeing the early stages of a substantive skills decline? Those who answered that question in the negative have likely enjoyed what they’ve seen from Votto over the last two weeks.
Let’s go back to May 27 to find the beginnings of his in-season rebound. The Reds began a three-game series that day with the Brewers at Miller Park, a stadium in which Votto has always loved to hit. He’s a career .330/.448/.597 hitter in the Brewers home, and while he didn’t quite live up to that line, he did start to shake off the cobwebs. He went 1-for-4 with a homer in the series opener, then got two hits, including a double, drove in one run and scored two more in the second game. He followed that up by going 6-for-16 with two homers, two doubles and five RBI in a four-game series at Colorado. Since then, Votto hasn’t looked back.
Votto is hitting .341/.472/.610 with two homers and five doubles in 53 plate appearances in June. His strikeout rate for the month (20.8%) is back in line with his career average, while his walk rate is up that same 20.8%. Over the last two weeks, he has been the fifth-ranked hitter in standard 5x5 leagues, trailing Wil Myers, Mookie Betts, Edwin Encarnacion and Nolan Arenado. In short, across the last two weeks, Votto has been the player everyone expected him to be heading into the season, and there’s no reason to expect him to be anything other than himself for the summer and into the early fall.
Something like this will happen again next season. A player who we should trust without question will likely get off to a bad start. If you own that player, take a second to breathe and remember Votto’s start in 2016. The baseball season doesn’t lie. That player will eventually get back to being the player we all know he is. Rather than his owners hitting the panic button, those who don’t own him should be trying to buy him at a discount.
Hitters to watch this week
Wil Myers, 1B/OF Padres
It seems the former top prospect turned AL Rookie of the Year turned bust is figuring it out in the post-hype stage of his career. Myers has been on fire in his last 13 games, hitting .389 (21-for-61) with seven homers, four doubles and 16 RBI. That has pushed his season slash line to .287/.328/.514 with 14 jacks and 38 RBI. He’s striking out in more than one-fifth of his plate appearances and still isn’t walking much, but he’s doing everything right when he puts the ball in play. His .315 BABIP is completely sustainable, especially when you consider that he has a hard-hit rate of 34.6%, which is about two-and-a-half times his soft-hit rate. Myers had some nasty reverse splits coming into this season, but he’s hitting lefties to the tune of .299/.329/.493 with four homers in 2016.
Adam Duvall, OF, Reds
Duvall has ridden the homer to fantasy relevance this season, hitting 18 longballs in 220 plate appearances. At the same time, he’s hitting .258 with a .286 OBP, so he needs to keep hitting home runs at the same prodigious rate to sustain his fantasy value. Duvall has a 29% strikeout rate and 3.2% walk rate, which suggests that his batting average and OBP could get worse as the season progresses. There’s no question that Duvall’s power is for real. He had 30 homers between the Reds and Giants Triple A teams last year, and has an impressive 39.4% hard-hit rate this season. If he’s burning nearly one-third of his plate appearances with the whiff, however, he needs to make the absolute most of every at-bat. Duvall is 4-for-24 with six strikeouts and a homer in his last six games.
David Peralta, OF, Diamondbacks
Peralta returned from the DL last week, going 5-for-20 in his first seven games back. He started five of those games, getting a day off in both of Arizona’s series last week, though he did appear as a pinch-hitter in the games he didn’t start. Peralta spent about a month on the DL because of right wrist injury, so it shouldn’t be a surprise if it takes him some time to shake off the rust. As a left-handed hitter, Peralta’s right hand is his bottom hand, which, for all intents and purposes, is the hand that matters for hitters. It’s certainly possible the wrist injury could sap Peralta’s power for the entire season, even if it isn’t really bothering him any longer. That’s something to keep an eye on over the next few weeks.
Dae-ho Lee, 1B, Mariners
Lee isn’t likely to become an everyday player for Seattle any time soon. Adam Lind has made a career out of raking against right-handed pitching, and even though he hasn’t lived up to his end of the bargain this season, Scott Servais is going to give him plenty of leash. Still, it’s clear Lee has been the better hitter this season, slashing .296/.333/.574 with 10 homers in 114 plate appearances, with more than half of those coming against lefties. Despite the fact that Lind starts regularly against righties, Lee has been better against same-siders than he has against lefties, hitting .319/.360/.574 in 50 plate appearances with a righty on the mound. This could be a big week for the 33-year-old MLB rookie. The Mariners are scheduled to face four lefties (Drew Smyly, Blake Snell, Roenis Elias and David Price), and Lee should start all of those games. If he continues to hit, he just might earn himself more starts against right-handed pitchers.
Todd Frazier, 3B, White Sox
Frazier is pushing the bounds of how valuable a player can be when he’s getting all of his production in the counting-stat categories. Frazier is second in the majors with 19 homers, to go along with 43 RBI, 38 runs and five steals. He’s also hitting .206 with a .301 OBP. Despite having the second-most homers in the league, Frazier sports a disappointing .466 slugging percentage. Since 2000, one player—Chris Carter in 2014—finished the season second in homers (he tied with Giancarlo Stanton) with a slugging percentage south of .500. Frazier could very well become the second.
Joey Gallo, 3B/OF, Rangers
The fantasy community knows Gallo better than the average prospect. He made it to the majors last year, and was supposed to be part of the historic rookie class that included Kris Bryant, Carlos Correa and Francisco Lindor, among others. Instead, he flamed out across 36 games and 123 plate appearances, hitting .204/.301/.417 with a ridiculous 46.3% strikeout rate. Gallo has spent all but one day of this season with Triple A Round Rock of the Pacific Coast League. The Rangers may not have a spot for him at third base, with Adrian Beltre firmly entrenched. Gallo may not be an ideal outfielder, even in a corner spot. If he keeps hitting the way he has in the minors, however, the Rangers aren’t going to have much of a choice. They can’t ignore his bat too much longer.
The 22-year-old Gallo is hitting .286/.431/.651 with 12 homers and 31 RBI in 160 plate appearances with Round Rock this season. He has cut his K-rate dramatically to 25.6% after it sat at 39.5% at Triple A last year. At the same time, his walk rate is up to 20% from 11.8% a season ago. Essentially, Gallo has done everything the Rangers have asked of him at Triple A this season. Sooner rather than later, we’re going to see him back in the majors.
The question for Jeff Bannister will be how to get him in the lineup. One obvious spot would be left field. Shin-soo Choo returned from the DL on Monday, and while he may not play every day because of the leg problems that have plagued him this year, he will join lineup staples Ian Desmond and Nomar Mazara in most games. Mitch Moreland is the team’s regular starter at first base, while Prince Fielder, who is dead last among everyday hitters in fWAR (-1.4), gets most of the team’s DH starts. Any of those could be a spot for Gallo. Between the three, the Rangers should be able to find him enough at-bats to make him fantasy relevant once he gets the call to the majors. Gallo is someone you should think about stashing now.
GIF of the week
The perfection of this play by Lorenzo Cain cannot be overstated. If anything is off—his jump, his route, or the timing of his leap—it’s a home run for Pedro Alvarez. That makes this the best outfield play we’ve seen this season.