Maple-Boner Alert: Joey Votto’s low homerun total is due to bad luck.

I don’t want to let my maple-boner show too much (said the guy whose website is called ‘Baseball Canadiana’), but Joey Votto is one of the best baseball players in the world.  That’s just a fact.

He won the MVP last season with some stupid numbers such as a 1.024 OPS, a .439 wOBA, 37 homeruns, and he didn’t hit a single infield fly ball all season.  Because of his ability to make solid contact nearly every time up to the plate, he’s a major exception to the rule that roughly 30% of all batted balls in play will land for a hit.  His career BABIP is .356.

This year, most of Votto’s numbers are comparable to his MVP season’s; he’s hitting with a .340/.446/.542 slash line for a 1.008 OPS and has a .437 wOBA.  But I actually heard someone on the Reds/Indians broadcast tonight say that Votto wasn’t having as good of a season because he has only hit five homeruns.

Now, ignoring the fact that anyone with an OPS over 1.000 who’s getting on base almost 47% of the time is having a fantastic season, let’s consider this statement.

In baseball, luck comes into play quite often.  For instance, we know that with few exceptions, roughly 30% of balls hit in play will land for hits, regardless of who’s pitching or hitting.  We also know, that with few exceptions, pitchers will have a ‘left-on-base percentage’ (LOB%) of roughly 73%.  Numbers that are drastically different from those will probably regress to the mean with a larger sample size.

Another one of those stats is homeruns-per-flyball percentage (HR/FB).  Generally speaking, roughly 10% of all flyballs hit will leave the yard for a homerun.  Anything terribly different from that can be expected to regress to the mean.

Once again, in this instance, Votto is an exception.  Because he literally never hits infield flyballs (he still hasn’t hit one yet this season), his HR/FB rate is significantly higher than most players’.  In his career, Votto’s mark is 19.0%, but so far in 2011, that numbers is at just 12.8%.

Another factor that could help explain Votto’s lack of homeruns so far in 2011 is a higher line drive rate which has come at the expense of his flyball rate.  So far in 2011, Votto’s line drive rate (LD%) is at 27.6%, which is much higher than his 23.0% career mark, while his flyball rate (FB%) has fallen from a 34.9% career mark to just 30.7%.

What does all this mean?

Well let’s pretend that all other things being equal, Votto was hitting his career marks in both HR/FB rate and FB%.  So far this season, Votto has hit 40 flyballs.  If you adjust his FB% to his career mark, he would have hit 45.  Combine that with a career 19% HR/FB rate and Votto would have hit 9 homeruns so far this year which would put him on pace for 34 total over the year.

Therefore, you could make the argument that his lack of homeruns this season is due almost entirely to luck and eventually that luck will even out.

Provided we don’t all die tomorrow…it’s is Rapture’s Eve after all.

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