No, not the 1965 movie where Steve McQueen loses that last poker hand to Edward G. Robinson after rolling around with both Ann-Margret and Tuesday Weld. This is the nickname for Reds 1B Joey Votto that should replace “Votto-matic”. The logic is the connection between the current star and the original “Kid”, Ted Williams.
In 1938, Williams honed his batting philosophy under the tutelage of Rogers Hornsby at the Spring camp for the Minneapolis Millers. The 19 year-old phenom soaked up everything “Raj” had to say, especially the idea to “get a good ball to hit”. That became Ted’s personal quest and he decided that a walk could be as a good as a hit and that getting on base helped your team in the long run. His SABRmetric approach at the plate also created the impression with both Pitchers and Umpires that if he didn’t swing at a pitch, it couldn’t be a strike. In his first two seasons in a Red Sox uniform, he would often be put in the position of defending his hitting to the members of the Boston press. There was even a profanity-laced tirade in the locker room toward one of the writers who criticized him taking a base-on-balls when there was a runner in scoring position. By 1941, when Ted hit .406, even the scribes came to realize that he was the best hitter in baseball and they moved on to find other topics of aggravation.
In the evolving debate between stats and scouting, Joey Votto seems to be a lightning rod at the center. A few years ago, Reds broadcaster Marty Brennaman took the old school position when he said, “Votto will take a 3-0 pitch an inch off the outside, when he could do some damage. I believe in expanding the strike zone when you have guys on base”. The fact that Votto had only 73 RBI’s in 581 AB’s for 2013 and 80 RBI’s in 545 AB’s in 2015 drives people like Brennaman crazy. in 2013, Reds 2B Brandon Phillips had 103 RBI’s in 606 AB’s, but many of those were accumulated because Votto was getting on base in front of him. In 2015, Todd Frazier was the recipient with 89 RBI’s in 609 AB’s. So, the scout half of the debate will criticize Phillips (and his .310 OBP) and Frazier (.309 OBP) for not being more like Votto after criticizing Votto for not being more like Phillips & Frazier. The other thing Brennaman has in common with those Boston newspapermen from 70+ years ago is that he’s never stepped into a big league batter’s box and tried to hit a 95-mph fastball.
Fortunately for the Reds organization and their fans, Votto doesn’t care about the negative comments. With a contract that extends until 2023, he isn’t focused on personal stats, only the team’s success. In 2016, the Reds won only 68 games, but Votto took his game to another level. In 556 AB’s, he hit .326 with a league-leading .434 OBP and a .985 OPS. Oh, and he added 97 RBI’s.
From a stat guy’s perspective, Joey Votto might be the most under-rated player in baseball. His performance over the first nine years of his career is on a secure historical path. In terms of old-school stats, it looks really good. A lifetime BA of .313, OBP of .425 and a slugging percentage of .536 with an average of 24 HR’s & 80 RBI’s despite missing parts of two seasons with injuries. When you start to break down the SABRmetrics, it looks even better.
OPS (On-Base & Slugging) is a relatively new stat that is widely accepted in the baseball community as a benchmark for offensive excellence. Votto’s career number is .961, which is 18th best of all-time, ahead of Mel Ott, Ralph Kiner, Willie Mays, Chipper Jones & Hank Aaron. An even newer stat is OPS+, which actually adjusts for the offense produced in the league each year and the ballparks. With the baseline being 100, Votto’s career OPS+ is 157, which also puts him in 18th place all-time, ahead of Frank Thomas, Joe DiMaggio, Mel Ott & Frank Robinson.
WAR (Wins Above Replacement) is a single number that presents the number of wins a player added to the team above a replacement level player. Since joining the Reds in 2007, Votto has accumulated a number of 47.3 at age 32. Four or five additional seasons at this level would put him ahead of Derek Jeter, Reggie Jackson, Johnny Bench and numerous other Hall-of-Famers on the all-time list.
“Win Shares” is another Bill James contribution that relates a player’s individual statistics to the number of wins he contributed to the team. Generally, 30 or more Win Shares indicates an MVP-caliber season. Votto’s average for his last six full seasons is 31.33.
“Runs Created” is an additional category now being examined by analysts and Votto’s number of 139 in 2016 was second only to Mike Trout.
As a Fantasy player, you may intuitively lean toward hitters who are aggressive at the plate. After all, in most leagues, walks don’t really help your stats. In 2016, the major league hitters who saw the most pitches per AB were 1) Jayson Werth…2) Mike Napoli…3) Mike Trout…4) Dexter Fowler and 5) Joey Votto. It seems as if most of those players would have been a fairly good fit on your team.
As for the “Old School” opinion versus the “Stat Guy” analysis, the debate will continue and it is always interesting. One school of thought from baseball writer Paul Daugherty is that if Votto batted second in the line-up, there would be no discussion because both sides would agree that he’s the best two-hole hitter in the game. However, as long as he’s batting third, the old school fan will say, “he’s not paid to walk”. Just for the record, Ted Williams hit third.