Certain pitchers will still try to induce pop-ups from the player that has hit the fewest infield flies in baseball — Jeff Sullivan famously noted that there have been more perfect games than Votto infield flies since 2009 — but being level with his swing allows Votto to “cover up” whatever holes a pitcher might be trying to target. “It’s got to be the perfect sliver of the strike zone, up and in-ish, and I have to take the wrong swing, and I have to swing at it,” said Votto. (And, yes, Matt Cain is good at it.)
The data once again supports Votto’s assertion. Jeff Zimmerman showed last year that for all hitters, high and inside is the spot for infield pop-ups. The difficulty is that, as he points out, 73% of pitches taken in those spots are called for strikes, so batters often have to swing. He looked at Buster Posey against Edwin Encarnacion — Votto’s infield fly in 2012 came after his injury and didn’t make for good comparison — and found that batters that keep up their back elbow find success. That back elbow is also related to how pull-happy your swing is.
We’ve talked about how level his swing is, and how pull-conscious he’s been. But how hard Votto swings is part of it, too. As he said above, he’s had better power years than he had before his injury last year, and yet he felt better about his swing last season than he ever had before. “I bet if you took my average home run distance my rookie year, it was probably a good ten or twenty feet further, maybe.” Last year, Votto’s fly balls and home runs averaged 300.8 feet, good for the bottom of the top 20 among qualified batters. In his MVP season, they averaged 316.7 feet, or third in baseball.
As you can see, Votto “took less risks” with his swing as he puts it. And his swinging strike rate, which used to be above average (10.4% in 2010), has plummeted the last two years (6.9% last season). “There’s less of a chance I miss the ball with this swing,” says Votto, once again backed by the numbers.