The National League is loaded with power-hitting first basemen, but only a few are defensive forces at the position.
2010 NL MVP Joey Votto is one of Major League Baseball's elite offensive players. Now, after winning the 2011 NL Rawlings Gold Glove Award, announced last week, he's established himself as one of the premier ballplayers in the league.
In 2011, Votto led all first basemen in games played (160) and assists (173), and was second behind St. Louis Cardinals 1B Albert Pujols in double plays (127). Votto also improved on his 2010 defensive performance as measured by range factor and zone rating.
Votto's progress on defense is very much a product of his slight offensive decline in 2011 (we emphasize slight). The power numbers dipped, due in large part to opposing pitchers' propensity to pitch around him. His 110 walks were second only to Toronto Blue Jays slugger Jose Bautista.
Frustration can boil over when run-producing hitters are pitched around. But rather than press at the plate, Votto, who walked once nearly every four-and-a-half at-bats, keyed in defensively for the Cincinnati Reds.
In a National League known for its big [and sometimes] hitting first basemen, Votto's playing weight in 2011 was between 220 and 225, down roughly five pounds from the year before. "I was healthier and lighter throughout the year and more efficient with my body," Votto says. "With the wear and tear of travel and being on the field every day, I felt better throughout the season at that weight."
To become more efficient using his body, Votto incorporates an element of stability into nearly every aspect of his off-season workouts. These exercises help him transfer more energy from his feet throughout the rest of his body, enabling him to generate peak force to turn on a pitch and drive it out of the park, or explode laterally to field a hard-hit ground ball.
Says Corey Stenstrup, Votto's off-season performance coach at IMG Academies: "We make sure all the muscles, bones and joints of his feet will be able to move and shift and connect with the ground. We want that force transfer from the feet, through the hips, to the shoulders and through his hands."
By improving the stability element, "he doesn't have to worry about generating force from the center, he just has to transfer it through his body," Stenstrup says.
Votto's stated goals for 2011 were "to feel really agile and mobile, and play great defense." Ultimately, he achieved both in winning his first Rawlings Gold Glove.
Unlock your potential with the lower-body strength workout shown in the above video and described below.
Lower-Body Strength Circuit
Perform circuit twice, resting briefly between them.
Step-Back Lunge With Elastic Stabilization
- Assume athletic stance holding band resistance from right with right arm overhead
- Keeping arm straight, step back with right leg into lunge position
- Drive up and forward, finishing with right knee up in front
- Repeat for specified reps; perform set on opposite side
Med Ball Bulgarian Squat
- Assume split stance with top of back foot flat on bench; hold med ball at chest
- Keeping chest up and front knee behind toes, lower until front thigh is parallel to ground
- Drive up to start and repeat
Sets/Reps: 2x3 each leg
Hold dumbbells at shoulders if Keiser Squat machine is not available.
- Assume athletic position on Keiser Squat machine
- Lower until tops of thighs are parallel to ground
- Explode up to start position and repeat
Double-Arm Overhead Walk
Perform with light dumbbells or EZ Curl bars before advancing to full barbells
- In athletic stance, hold a barbell in each hand with arms straight overhead
- Maintaining posture, walk forward 10 yards and make 180-degree turn to left
- Walk 10 yards back to start, turn to right
- Continue for specified distance
Sets/Reps: 2x40 yards
Infant Squat With Rotation
- In athletic stance, hold light object with both hands directly overhead
- Squat and bring object to ground between feet
- Keeping one hand on object, rotate opposite arm toward ceiling and hold against partner's resistance
- Return hand to object and rotate opposite arm up
Sets/Duration: 2x30 seconds each side
Photo Credit: Getty Images // Thinkstock