Tale of Two Streaks

 

 

Remember the All-Star festivities? Four weeks ago, right here in Cincinnati? It was a glorious experience for the city, for Reds fans, and—especially—for Todd Frazier.

We don’t have to recap all the excitement, but it’s safe to say that Frazier was flying high even before winning the Home Run Derby. Though he had slumped a little just before the break, Frazier was still hitting .284/.337/.585 with 25 home runs. Those numbers were down a little from his 2015 peak of .297/.363/.641 (on June 21), but he was clearly the best third baseman in the National League, and a deserving starter in the All-Star Game.

Meanwhile, across the Great American Ball Park diamond, Joey Votto was not selected to play in the Midsummer Classic. Sure, he was having a good season, but a miserable two-week slump before the break dropped his numbers to a season low: .277/.392/.484 with 15 homers. Excellent on-base percentage, but the other numbers were not elite (to steal one of Marty Brennaman’s descriptors).

What a difference a month makes.

In the first 20 games after the All-Star break, Votto was 29-for-62 at the plate, with 29 walks. That’s a dazzling slash line of .468/.641/.774, all numbers that lead the majors in the second half. On Saturday, against the Diamondbacks, Votto failed to reach base. In the fifteen prior games, however, Votto had been on base at least twice, in each game. That’s almost impossible to fathom and, in fact, it is a Reds franchise record.

If you haven’t been following Reds stats-guru Joel Luckhaupt on Twitter (and you should be), he’s been tracking Votto’s magical run on a daily basis, with a number of interesting nuggets. It has been something to behold. For example, Votto struck out in his first two at-bats of the second half; he made only 31 outs in his next 90 plate appearances. To put that into context, since 1974, only three players have reached base 59 or more times within a stretch of 90 plate appearances: Votto, Barry Bonds (three times), and Jason Giambi.

So Votto is on a pretty historic run, and he’s now hitting .303/.435/.521. Since the All-Star break, Votto has raised his season batting average by 26 points, his OBP 43 points, and his slugging percentage by 37 points. His total numbers are now among the best in the game. He’s in the top five for all of baseball in wOBA (.412) and wRC+ (164), behind only Bryce Harper, Nelson Cruz, Mike Trout, and Paul Goldschmidt. Votto ranks eighth in baseball, and fourth in the NL, in fWAR (4.8).

That’s good. If it weren’t for the fact that the Reds are pretty lousy, Joey Votto would be a strong candidate to win his second MVP award.

Todd Frazier, on the other hand…well, it’s a different story, unfortunately. I mentioned above that Frazier’s slump began just before the All-Star break, and that’s true, but since the second half began, his production has taken a marked turn for the worse: .155/.209/.274 in 91 plate appearances. That’s 13 hits in 84 at-bats, with only 6 walks. It’s a miserable slump that has seen Frazier’s season numbers dip to .258/.312/.523.

What has changed? Reds manager Bryan Price gave some insight to beat writer Mark Sheldon. On Frazier, he said: “He’s a little out of character right now, swinging at pitches that aren’t really good pitches to hit early in the at-bat. That would suggest that he’s pressing.”

Maybe. If you’re watching the game, you’ve probably noticed Frazier swinging at more pitches outside the zone than we’re accustomed to seeing over the last couple of seasons. (I haven’t dug down into the analytics to see if it’s actually true, though.) I do know that Frazier’s BABIP in the first half was .282; in the second half, it’s .177. His average exit velocity is down recently, as well. Those seem to be indications that Frazier isn’t squaring up the ball as often, which would happen when you’re swinging at more bad pitches.

As for Votto, Price had this to say: “It’s not the streak having been broken that was impressive to me, but the fact that he was on base two or three times a game for such a long period of time. It was quite a run and I think that will continue. He just doesn’t stretch his [strike] zone a lot.”

Funny how that works, despite Marty’s insistence to the contrary. Votto is white-hot, and we are seeing the fruits of his great approach at the plate. But even when Joey was slumping, he still had an OBP close to .400. That’s why Votto’s command of the strike zone is so important to the Reds. It permits him to contribute even when he’s not hitting particularly well. And when he does start hitting…watch out.

As for Frazier, I wouldn’t worry just yet. Despite his recent struggles, he’s still among the best third basemen in the majors in wOBA (.356) and wRC+ (125). Those are good numbers. You have to believe that Frazier will come back around, even if not to the heights he reached earlier this year.

I often caution fans that the Reds are never actually as good as they look when they’re at their best, and they aren’t as bad as they look when they are playing their worst. The same goes for Votto and Frazier. The truth is somewhere in between.

But, sheesh, it’s fun to watch when these guys are bashing the ball, like Frazier did in the first half, and like Votto has recently. More of that, please.

Chad Dotson is a Nuxhall Way contributor. He is also the founder of Redleg Nation and a contributor to ESPN’s SweetSpot blog. You can follow him on Twitter at @dotsonc.

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