The Cincinnati Kid

Votto Debut

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 drove 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 on the team’s success. In 2017, the Reds won only 68 games, but Votto took his game to an even more elite level. In 559 AB’s, he hit .320 and led the league in both OBP (.454) & OPS (1.032). Oh, and he added 100 RBI’s.

 

From a stat guy’s perspective, Joey Votto might be the most under-rated player in baseball. His performance over the first ten 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 .428 and a slugging percentage of .541 with an average of 25+ 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 .969, which is 15th best of all-time, ahead of Jim Thome, Vladimir Guerrero, Chipper Jones, Mel Ott, Ralph Kiner, Willie Mays & 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 158, which puts tied for 16th place all-time, ahead of Frank Thomas, Joe DiMaggio, Frank Robinson, Albert Pujols & Miguel Cabrera.

 

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 54.8 at age 33. 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. He’s already ahead of Reds Hall of Fame 1B Tony Perez.

 

“Win Shares” is a 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 seven full seasons is 31.7.

 

“Runs Created” is an additional category now being examined by analysts and Votto’s number of 155 in 2017 was better than Aaron Judge, Giancarlo Stanton & Jose Altuve.

 

Another fairly recent analytic is “Offensive Win %”. That gauges the percentages of games a team would win with nine of this player batting…assuming average pitching and defense. The two best in 2017 were Mike Trout (.817) and Joey Votto (.797). 129 Wins in a 162 season would probably get your squad into the post-season.

 

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.

 

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