Fantasy baseball waiver wire: Joey Votto is firmly back in mix

His peak is behind him, but Joey Votto is back in the Cincinnati Reds lineup and a top fantasy baseball waiver wire add this week.

Once upon a time, Joey Votto was as reliable as it got for production from a first baseman. From 2008-2017, outside of a 2014 season where he only played 62 games and a weird down power season in 2012, you could book him for a .300-plus batting average, somewhere around 25 home runs and 75-80 RBI (sometimes more) and an on-base percentage around or above .400.

Then, Votto faded. He hit a total of 27 home runs over the 2018 and 2019 seasons, despite playing over 140 games in both, but then hit 11 home runs over 54 games in the truncated 2020 season. That power surge proved to be predictive over the full 2021 campaign, when the Reds’ first baseman hit 36 home runs and drove in 99.

A left shoulder issue limited Votto to 91 games last season, and offseason surgery delayed his 2023 debut. What he would be capable of doing in his age-40 season, once he took the field, was unclear.

Votto made his season debut on June 19 against the Colorado Rockies, going 2-for-3 with a home run, three RBI and a walk. He followed with two home runs against the Atlanta Braves on June 23. In his first six games (entering Tuesday), he’s hitting .278/.435/.778 (1.213 OPS) with three home runs and seven RBI.

Fantasy baseball waiver wire: Go get Joey Votto

Votto was out of the Reds’ lineup on Monday night against the Baltimore Orioles, who started left-hander Cole Irvin. If Votto is going to be out of the lineup against a left-hander who entered the game with a 7.71 ERA, he’s pretty much going to sit against all left-handed starters. He may occasionally lose at-bats if a left-hander comes out of an opposing bullpen too.

Votto has hit sixth in every game he has played thus far. While that’s not generally a prime spot in the lineup, the Reds’ lineup (including some talented rookies) is plenty good enough to line him up for good run and RBI production. And we know he’ll get on base plenty via walks.

According to Baseball Savant, the Reds’ home field (Great American Ballpark) has increased home runs for left-handed batters by 49 percent over the last three seasons. With that as a starting point, Andy Behrens of Yahoo! predicted a rest of season pace for Votto.

Votto should provide something close to a 35-homer, 100-RBI pace moving forward.

Votto will not necessarily stay helpful for batting average in fantasy baseball, as his sample size grows from here on out. He also won’t, and shouldn’t, be running at all. But his power numbers and runs scored should be nice, and in leagues where on-base percentage is a category (or it’s weighed into OPS, as it is in some leagues) his proficiency there is helpful.

As of Tuesday morning, Votto is available in 84 percent of ESPN leagues and 65 percent of Yahoo! leagues as his ownership rates trend up. He’s a must-add in NL-only leagues, and he should be added in many mixed leagues.