2013 Reds / Editorials / Reds - General

When Great Isn’t Good Enough

Even now, it remains curious and a bit confounding how this man has been received. So much excellence, so many hits, and yet so many conflicted feelings from the local fans. He would strike out. He would make an error. He’d hear about it in the stands. He’d hear it from the media the next day.  Arthur Daley of New York Times called him, “a peculiar case, so tangled in his inner man that even a psychologist or psychiatrist would have trouble unraveling him.”

The media complained, so he responded: “They’re always saying I don’t hit in the clutches. They’ll cite a lot of games when I don’t hit. Well, there are a lot when I do. All they have to do is look at the record.”

He’d strike out and fall into a rage over the sheer impudence of a pitcher who had the temerity send him back to the dugout. Let’s just say he was driven and leave it at that. He took his cues from another great hitter and learned to swing at only those pitches he wanted to swing at—to the chagrin of those in the media:

[he] became notorious for never going after anything less than a perfect pitch with less than two strikes and never ever for one outside the strike zone. Start swinging at bad balls, he figured, and you would be sure to see more of them…

Such is the experience of Joey Votto. Except that everything above was said about Ted Williams, not the Reds’ polarizing first baseman. Just as Votto took his cue from Williams, so did the Splendid Splinter take his from Rogers Hornsby, who, as a minor league batting instructor, told Williams his secret was to wait for the “good” pitch.

Expectation is the hellish partner that rides shotgun with athletes who dare to rise above their peers. Teddy Ballgame was a god. When Williams homered in one final act of holiness in his last game, he refused to leave the dugout, tip his cap and acknowledge the fans, prompting John Updike to famously pen “Gods don’t answer letters.”

Joey Votto is no god. He will, however, be making an ungodly sum of money shortly playing baseball for the Cincinnati Reds. But, there are more than expectations and even money at play here. Unlike Ted Williams, Joey MVP has the added burden of standing at a historical fork in the road where Old School Avenue and Advanced Metrics Boulevard collide.

Are the Reds headed down the road too often traveled? Do you even care? Consider this Molotov cocktail of a question hurled by Dennis Janson of WCPO:

“I asked Walt Jocketty if Price is up to the task of disabusing Joey of the notion that a base on balls is as beneficial as a run scoring sacrifice fly. Walt gave me an emphatic ‘Yes,’ but added,  ‘that is something many more of us in the organization will also try to convey.’

Tampa Bay Rays star Evan Longoria’s said not long ago, “I don’t have a two-strike approach. I mean, I could decide to shorten up [my swing] and roll over and hit a ground ball. But on this level, if you roll over something because you were just trying to put the ball in play, you’re going to be out more than 95 percent of the time. It’s more about, what can I do to help the team? For me, it’s getting three healthy hacks and using them.”

Do you think Joe Maddon and Mark Friedman have been busy DISABUSING Longoria of his very successful hitting approach?

Dennis Janson’s question and the way it was phrased doesn’t surprise me in the least. The evolution of advanced metrics in the sport are mostly GM-driven, with the media being the last outpost to buy in. It’s Jocketty’s response that seems far more disturbing.

It’s hard to believe Votto was really suggesting that he’d trade a sure, run-scoring sac fly for a walk. Joey Votto and Evan Longoria know that hitting is very, very hard, especially today, when the battle between hitters and pitchers has swung decisively in favor of the hurlers, whom all seem to throw mid-90s. Even the long reliever coming out of the bullpen comes hell bent to miss bats—to make the ball drop like a Duncan Imperial on a string. I don’t see many Mike Leakes coming out of the bullpen these days.

Players are never trading a run for an out simply because the run is never a given. If Joey knew the outcome in advance, yeah, he’d score the run and take the out. But, he’s no Kreskin. He knows that swinging at sub-optimal pitches leads to infield pop-ups and rolling over on balls to the pitcher, too. He knows it’s a loaded question—begging for a certain answer. He’s done his homework. Has Walt?

The argument that any player should be willing to expand the strike zone is a frightening one that plays straight into the hands of today’s overpowering pitchers, more and more of whom can throw a pitch that has “ball outside” written all over it as it heads to the plate, only to move the last few feet and find the corner—the backdoor cutter—a pitch increasingly used in the game today. After seeing a couple of those, all but the best hitters with a rock solid plate approach will soon be swinging at pitches half a foot off the plate.

Coming off his MVP season, Votto was frustrated with the lack of home runs he was hitting in 2011 and expressed that frustration to Prince Fielder. Fielder’s reply?

“Don’t worry about it. Homers aren’t hit. Homers are thrown to you.”

Said Votto, “That changed the way I thought about hitting.”

Over the past six years, the number of pitchers averaging a baseline of 93 mph has jumped 88%. Pitchers averaging 95 mph and up have increased 133%. Does Walt have Fangraphs bookmarked on his iPad?

As we wait for the other shoe to drop, for Jocketty to swing the big trade, we’d be wise to concern ourselves with the players that will remain—and the hitting approach they will be held accountable to. There’s that word again.

Accountable.

How can we expect Cozart to become a more productive hitter—increasing his poor walk rate—if he’s being DISABUSED of the notion that hittable pitches outside the strike zone are as frequent as a black swan? The same goes for Todd Frazier, who sometimes seems to swing before he’s even left the on deck circle. Both are still being paid a relative pittance, and their defense and sometimes power makes the situation a tolerable one for the Reds right now. What happens as they reach their arbitration years if their plate approaches do not improve?

And what about the young hitters behind them in the conga line? Can we expect Billy Hamilton to become more than just a one-trick pony if “aggressiveness” remains to haunt the dugout like the Ghost of Dusty Past.  Or, perhaps this will simply become The Joey Rule, applied to him and him only. Great hitters expand the zone, right?

Not so fast.

David Temple’s instructive article over at Fangraphs has something to say on the matter. Paul Goldschmidt’s wonderboy-like ability to excel in 2013 when the count was 3-2 contrasted sharply with Joey Votto’s decidedly mediocre results. The difference? Pitchers simply weren’t afraid of Goldschmidt, as evidenced by the pitch charts. While Goldschmidt was seeing meatballs 3-2, Votto was getting tofu served to him on a stick. Even pitches in the zone were often inside on the hands or away, up or both.

“I don’t mean to sound arrogant, but I see the pitcher’s best.”

True dat, Joey. True dat.

The last week of the season, I saw pitchers challenge Votto over the plate, leading to cries that teams were no longer afraid of the Jedi Master in red. The old Eyeball Test at work again. The old conventional wisdom holding sway.

Bill James was spotted the other night, strolling the Fenway infield with a glass of champagne and another World Series ring. The Rays continue to do their thing on a nothing budget. The Astros hired Baseball Prospectus sabermatrician Colin Wyers. Even the Paleozoic Phillies hired a numbers guy to help out. The Reds? They plan on DISABUSING their best hitter of his hitting approach. I guess looking at how the Pirates used The Shift to improve their team defense this past season is out of the question, yeah?

Get that big trade done, Walt. In fact, make it two.

74 thoughts on “When Great Isn’t Good Enough

    • @reaganspad: Agreed. Move him before you change him. Put him in the two hole if need be to maximize his skill set, but just let him do what he does. Of all the concerns we have on this team, this is a non-starter to me.

  1. The only issue I had with Joey MVP this past season was his defense. Even Joey will tell you that he was pretty disappointed with how he played in the field. Sure he wasn’t quite driving the ball to the gaps like he was the first half of 2012, but how can anyone get upset when a guy is getting on base 43% of the time!

    I understand that Reds fans have high expectations, and that’s why a 90 win season seemed like a waste. And when you pay a guy $200 million, you expect him to be an MVP player. Let’s not lose sight that Joey is probably the best hitter in the NL. And who knows…maybe he’ll win another MVP next year with 35 HR and 120 RBIs. I’m just glad that he is a Red, and we don’t have to pitch to Joey MVP in clutch situations.

  2. Plowing new turf with this? I need to know before I read another 320 comments that discuss whether Votto is to be left alone or fixed.

  3. This season is where the proverbial rubber starts ‘hitting’ the road. The quality of hitters coming out of the Reds minor league system has been questionable at best. The few hitters (Votto & Hanigan) who made themselves into something contrary to the over-aggresive, stikeout prone, free swingers produced by the Reds minor league system have to repeatedly defend themselves against criticism for their lack of over-aggresiveness. Much of the blame for the poor hitting approach at the majoe league level had fallen at the feet of Dusty and Jacoby, neither of whom was hired by WJ.

    Dusty is gone and WJ has hired his manager to run the major league team. A new hitting coach will soon be hired and WJ will have his people in place. This off-season, the Reds roster will be revamped with additions and subtractions manufactured by WJ. Soon enough, we will actually realize if WJ is the mesiah of GM’s as many have annointed him or if WJ is a remnant of the dinosaur GM’s who are fading into extinction as the future passes them by.

  4. One thing I’m not worried about? Votto changing his approach. Want him to change his approach? Trade him. Votto is as stubborn as he is wise. I’m not worried about the young man. Disabuse away. Just wasting their breath on a guy lightyears ahead of them.

  5. Thanks for posting this. You are correct, Joey IS getting the exact same criticism that Ted Williams got. Ted Williams—the greatest hitter of all time.

    That said, I understand it. When Joey walks in a high-leverage situation, he passes the baton to a less capable hitter. Am I glad that Joey’s on base? YES. Would I rather have him hitting than the next guy? YES.

    I recall a few years ago when Albert Pujols was in his prime wishing that the Reds would just walk him every single time at bat so that he couldn’t beat them. I’d rather have Holiday (or whomever) at the plate with Albert at first. In fact, I’d walk him to walk in a run if it the score allowed it. Poor David Weathers pitching to Albert still makes me wince.

    In high leverage situations Joey’s walks just seem to play into the opponent’s hands. I don’t want Brandon Phillips at the plate. I want Joey. Joey is telling us that he’s not good enough to win a battle against a tough pitcher if he expands the strike zone a few inches. Maybe not, but he’s still better than the next guy up.

  6. What is this? Trying to spark another Votto thread of we vs. they? Please. It’s more than obvious, Votto had a down year “for Votto”. If Votto is going to concentrate on getting on base to the point he will take a walk, then he needs to be batting 1 or 2, which would be considered an adjustment. If Votto wants to be considered more of not only a #3 hitter but also more of a slugger, then he needs to be swinging more, making more contact, whatever you want to call it (SLG% was the lowest in his major league career). Whatever it is, whether it’s swinging more, making more contact, etc., or even if it was the knee, it’s going to take an adjustment. One more time, it’s not unusual. It is normal for all major league players to do, very typical, not only from season to season, but also from month to month, even from city to city, from pitcher to pitcher, even from AB to AB. Some people act like it’s a voodoo curse to make an adjustment or something. We aren’t talking about re-tooling a swing here. We aren’t talking about starting the mechanics over from scratch. We are talking about an adjustment. You know, when you go to take your car in for an alignment. They just fix the alignment. They don’t tear down the entire car and build it up back from scratch. They don’t redo the entire driving system of the car. They simply make an adjustment to the alignment.

    Still, even with that, a couple of things to remember. Such as, the other pitchers have to give Votto something to hit. Balls on the corners and outside the zone aren’t necessarily easy balls to hit. Few if anyone hits those well. If Votto is going to get pitches like that, then he would probably be more effective as a #2 hitter. But, then, who do you plug into the #3 spot? Along those lines, even though last year wasn’t a year of “Votto”-like numbers, going by the #3 hitters in the league, Votto was up there with the best. What place? It all goes by what you want. BA, 4th. OBP 1st. SLG slips to 8th, average in the NL. HR, 3rd. RBI’s, 4th. Other metrics?

    As far as I am concerned, Votto needs to make more contact. He talked of, I believe, willing to take a walk to put the bat in the next players hands, in order to drive in the run? I would rather he have the bat to drive in the run. But, like I said, the pitcher does need to give him something to hit. If they don’t, he can’t do anything about that.

  7. In short, in reference to the title, was Votto great last season? I wouldn’t say so at all. Was he still a very feared hitter, possibly the most feared in the league? Sure. But, the other teams have seemingly found a way to make his efforts less effective, aka pitching around him. Was Votto good? Of course. Above average? Sure. But, great? What’s your definition of that? Just getting on base? Then, yes he was. Great for a #3 hitter? I wouldn’t say so at all.

    • @steveschoen: I would easily say Votto was a great hitter last year. Did he separate himself from other great hitters like he has in the past? No. But he was definitely great. And I think you’re comment sums up the headline perfectly. Because Votto WAS great. He led the league in .OBP, he was 5th in wRC+, 8th in OPS, only one of 11 players in all of baseball with an OPS over .900. Votto was great. Without a doubt.

      • @hermanbates: Well, great in your opinion, without a doubt, I will admit that. And, as I stated or implied, as well as given the stats you stated, for a #1-2 hitter, I entirely agree. However, for a #3 hitter, where teams look for them to drive in more runs (lowest RBI total as a pro) and have a higher SLG, where Votto’s was literally 8th out of 17 in the NL (his lowest SLG as a pro yet), Great? For a 3 hole hitter? My opinion is one step under that.

        • @steveschoen: I think that is the point lost on most, he did not perform up to the contract he was signed for. He was signed to be a #3. Choo got on base at a similar pace, no one will be handing out a ten year contract to him.

          Whether your a fan of walks or RBi, the fact is the market rate for OBP guys is far cheaper than RBI guys.

        • @Bubba Ho-Tep: I’d love to see you support your assertion that “the market rate for OBP guys is far cheaper than RBI guys” with actual data. The few contracts given to high slugging, low OBP guys that immediately come to mind were/are dismal failures and generally mocked by the public…

        • @steveschoen: The problem with Bubba Ho-Tep’s assertion is that contracts are far more likely to consider OPS,WAR, and wRC+ than any single stat viewed in isolation (and particularly RBIs…which is just goofy unless your last name is Amaro). Guess what is a component of each of these stats? Guess what isn’t? :D

          I’ll just ignore your characterization that Votto is a low slugging, high OBP guy. Yep, only finished tied for 10th in the NL in slugging %. :lol:

        • @Bubba Ho-Tep: No, he was signed as the best hitter on the team. He was put in the wrong spot in the lineup. If you knew about lineup optimization, you would know that a 3 hole hitter is not particularly important. The best 3 hitters on any team should bat 2nd, 4th and 1st in that order. Votto has historically been put in the wrong spot in the lineup. That does not make him less valuable though. His contract has nothing to do with his past lineup positions.

        • @Bubba Ho-Tep: Votto’s new contract hasn’t even begun yet. When it does, his new contract will actually DROP in 2014 salary by $7M. Be interesting to see how your expectations change. And this characterization of Votto as EITHER an OBP guy OR a power guy is dysfunctional. While Votto’s slugging numbers are down, they are far from insignificant.

          I always find it fascinating that while Bronson Arroyo was being paid a mere $3.5M less than Votto’s $19M salary, there was no where near the talk about “living up to his contract.”

          Wonder why that is.

        • @Richard Fitch: “Far from insignificant” maybe. But, for a $25 million guy and his SLG is literally 8th out of 17 in the NL (with 250 PA), it would show that, for a 3 hole hitter, in many opinions here, we aren’t getting much bang for the buck.

          As for Bronson, I thought his contract wasn’t a good contract, also. But, when you look at some key numbers, comparing his results to other NL pitchers, they are very comparable to the best in the league. I remember seeing several times where, for example (definitely not exact, trying to remember), in some 3-4 year time period like 2008-2012, Bronson was one of the top 3 pitchers in the NL with wins and innings pitched. Your talking at the time along the lines of Holliday, Lee, etc., guys like that, and Bronson was hanging with those guys. No one talked about him because of several reasons, very understandable:

          1) He doesn’t play everyday, thus, he isn’t in the headlights everyday. Votto is.
          2) Bronson isn’t an exciting pitcher. He doesn’t have the knuckleball. He doesn’t strike everyone out. He just goes out there and does his best. So, we don’t expect much more out of him. Frankly, Bronson is a boring pitcher to watch for many fans. But, Votto, having won an MVP already and suppose to be getting better, one would think the numbers would show it.

          As well as, I remember when Bronson had his down year. There were people screaming to get him off the club, that he was too old, that he was done. People were screaming that of Leake, that he should have gone to the minors for at least a couple of years. Look what he did last season, after one bad season. Votto had one bad season, just like Bronson did, just like Leake did. Not as bad as their seasons were, but I believe Votto said himself this season wasn’t up to his standards. So, of course people are going to be crying that something needs to happen.

          So, when you say that “there was no where near the talk about living up to his contract”, there was most definitely that talk. We just haven’t heard it since Bronson had his bad season.

        • @Richard Fitch: Something, by Votto’s own admission, was missing this year. He denies that it’s his approach. Was it purely physical? Was it just bad luck (the numbers don’t bare that out)? Does he just need better protection and support in the lineup?

          He had one of the highest OBP’s of his career (though interestingly not the highest which was 2012) but one of the lowest OPS seasons of his career. I understand the slugging% will be a function of getting something to hit, but that should be balanced out by the OBP. His batting average also dipped.

          I’m not suggesting Votto’s approach is flawed, but I would like some accounting of the difference. I think when he was signed many expected more Cabrera-like output: hitting for average, getting on-base, and hitting for power. Right now, he’s exceptional in one of those categories.

          The SABR crowd (sometimes fairly) takes the Votto line of questioning as an affront to SABR and criticism of Votto’s approach. I don’t think there’s anything fundamentally wrong with his approach (unless he really completely discounts the value of sacrifice flies), but I would like to know why (by Votto’s own admission) he’s dropped in non-OBP categories.

        • but I would like some accounting of the difference

          I think I gave it to you in the form of increased dominance of pitchers. The pendulum has swung dramatically the last few years. The removal of steroids, increased pitching analytics and even more specialization are all part of it. Stan Musial faced 52 pitchers in 1948. Last year, Cabrera faced 225.

          You simply cannot hit what is not being thrown to you. Even a juiced up Bonds knew that. He also had Kent and Williams bookending him. How can you put up Cabrera-like numbers when you don’t have the hitters around Votto that surrounded Cabrera?

          Joey gave it to you when he said he didn’t begin trusting his knee was fully healed until later in the summer; when he intimated he couldn’t prepare for the season over the winter in the same way.

          If you don’t like any of the above, you can read Joe Posnanski’s take on the subject today.

          And the “SABR Crowd” is only interested in getting at the truth. It has nothing to do with taking umbrage. The affront, if that’s even a valid criticism, is about the wrongheadedness of many many opposing arguments. All the sabermatricians I have read have no problem adjusting their conclusions when presented with new data that withstands examination.

        • How can you put up Cabrera-like numbers when you don’t have the hitters around Votto that surrounded Cabrera?

          Actually, I think that THIS is your answer to my question. I haven’t looked at Cabrera’s numbers in detail but if it were the pitching, as you suggest, I’d expect a similar drop. In reality, it’s the batting order, which was one of my honest hypotheses to begin with.

          Don’t get chippy. I happen to understand and acknowledge SABR’s relevance. But he is off trend and it’s not simply him walking more or pitching getting tougher around the league.

        • @walshjp: OK, so now are we saying that ‘protection’ is a valid argument? I know many, myself included, have been told here that it’s been proven not to be a real issue when it comes to numbers. I think the supporting cast is very important. I thought I was in the minority. What say ye, statisticians?

        • @walshjp:

          I haven’t looked at Cabrera’s numbers in detail but if it were the pitching, as you suggest, I’d expect a similar drop.

          Well, there’s a tidy conclusion. I see nothing to back that statement up, though. Mitigating circumstances can take away some of that pitching advantage. Different league. The DH and the different way staffs are managed in the AL all make comparisons difficult. Lot’s of factors make analytics more important and the glib and easy conclusions less valid.

          And if you are going to label things “off trend” you better have a substantial sample size. Otherwise, those conclusions are meaningless.

        • @Richard Fitch: It is a tidy conclusion. Why don’t you stop looking down your nose and take some of your valuable time to prove me wrong. The guy with the master’s in economics doesn’t need your lectures on statistical analysis.

        • @Richard Fitch: Nevermind. I went to Fangraphs and used the compare player feature — Votto, Cabrera, and MLB average.

          Oddly enough, Cabrera and Votto tracked close to each other in almost every category through 2010.

          In almost every major statistical category (AVG, OBP, SLG, OPS), the league trends downward, and Votto trends down with the league, except in OBP.

          However, Cabrera has actually increased and is well above Votto in most statistical categories (and roughly tied in OBP).

          So I guess that tidy conclusion wasn’t half bad. And what’s remarkable is that your poorly targeted condescension was actually at someone who doesn’t necessarily disagree but was asking an honest question. I guess it’s just one more in a whole line of you guys getting way too chippy at (incorrectly) perceived decent in the school of SABR.

        • @Richard Fitch: Actually for walshjp:

          You’re misrepresenting some things here. It is not accurate to say that OPS or AVG have trended down. They have been back and forth.

          Slugging has trended down, but there’s the knee injury. It’s been established that it was bothering Votto. And, if you go pre-injury in 2012, his slugging wasn’t trending down. Indications are that he recovered full strength in late 2013, but ran into some odd BABIP luck. This is supported by batted ball data.

          Also, OBP is far and away the most important of those numbers. I’ve said this in multiple places, but it always bears repeating: Players to lead the league in OBP 4 times in a row: Hornsby, Williams, Boggs, Bonds, Votto.

        • That’s a fair point on average. I didn’t intend to misrepresent. I actually intended to convey that he was well below Cabrera.

          As for slugging, I thought I saw it trend down starting in 2011, but perhaps that’s wrong, or 2010 was just such a ridiculous outlier.

          My real point is that fans perceived him to track more Cabrera (like he had been for a while) than sharply below. Joey’s still a great player. I’m glad we have him. But I think for most there’s at best concern over his health and at worst questions over his approach. People expected Votto to be THE big slugger in the lineup, not needing another to come in and support him.

          That was my point before Richard chose to condescend–broadly there has been some drop in production and where the deviation in expectations has been. Cabrera seems to be one scary superstar able to maintain high OBP and slugging, unless the consensus is comparing the two is unfair?

        • I think the comparison is fair as long as you account for the knee. Sans injury, I think Votto looks a lot like Cabrera. His slugging was over .600 when he got hurt last year.

  8. I don’t like this….

    Twice, now, we have examples of Jocketty saying he expects Joey to change/improve his approach at the plate. Joey is notoriously stubborn, even though he himsef has admitted certain results were not there this year….

    Not to blow this out of proportion, but I hope this doesn’t evolve into Jocketty vs Votto…. It certainly seems to be the stance RLN is taking on it.

    • @CI3J: i think this is the most troubling aspect. regardless of whether Votto should change, why is Jocketty making this a public issue? What is his motivation, siding people against Votto? To what end? Just to get him to change? Does he truly believe he will change? No one seems to think he would (or should) listen to Walt. So why else does Walt seem to want to make him look like a problem?

  9. Part of Votto’s problem will be solved if some of the other 6 guys in the batting order improve just a little. I’d be more interested in seeing if a hitting coach can turn .239 hitters into .280 hitters. Otherwise, another analysis on Joey Votto’s hitting approach seems to be taking us nowhere.

  10. I like 95% of this blog, but I really don’t understand the Votto torch carrying aspect. It seems this is a replay of previous posts. I don’t see any new ground covered. Somehow Joe Maddon even got a big up again, even though he was out of the playoffs before the oldest of old school was this year.

    We the readers get it, you like Maddon despite his lack of winning a ring, but other than that, his unsuccessful treatment of Longoria actually doesn’t prove getting Joey to get a better situation approach is the wrong way to go, if anything it kinda proves you might win the big ring if you have the gravitas to get a better approach out of a good hitter.

      • @Jason Linden: I guess I am sort of on board with the idea that another analysis of the metrics of Joey Votto is fine but hardly insightful. I think we could move on to a new approach — like … how about we take a look at the 40-man Reds roster? Or the 189 free agents who are still unsigned?

      • @Jason Linden: By that measure isn’t Dusty Baker a great manager? He got the Reds to the Reds made it to the playoffs several times under his watch.

        If playoff results do not prove anything, what makes Maddon’s approach better than Baker?

        • @Bubba Ho-Tep: Maddon does more with less… Tampa frequently changes and adjusts its roster with young, inexpensive talent and gets them to perform at a high level… and gets them to accept that on different days, different guys will play, not based on “roles.”

          The general presumption is that Dusty has had his success on the back of elite veteran players and payrolls frequently north of nine digits. Most of Dusty’s playoff teams, with the notable exception of the 2010 Reds, were already built and presumed to be playoff caliber. Maddon’s teams could win 90 games or 75 in what has been a historically uber competitive division.

          In 2013 the Rays had a payroll nearly half that of Cincy. Because of their astute front office and manager, they make that work at a level that Baker likely wouldn’t. That’s not provable, and I recognize that. But based on anecdotal evidence alone, I think we’d hear Dusty saying “well, when you don’t have the horses and the money…” and throwing everybody else under the bus in a Tampa situation.

          So, I’d say the main difference is not in how the teams did in the playoffs that makes the manager nearly as much as how they got there in the first place. I’d love to see a Maddon guy combined with Reds and let’s see what happens. But in a short series, anything goes, and that’s just the way it is.

  11. to me, votto had a great season, not as amazing as his MVP year, but good. Howerver, he did in fact, say to Paul Daugherty at the Cincy enquirer that the would rather take a walk than drive in a run with a sac fly. that is problematic, in my opinion, and worth having Jocketty address. i understand the value of walks, but the object of the game is to best use your 27 outs to score the most runs. sometimes you need that run and its worth trading an out to get it.

  12. I had hoped that a useful discussion could be had around what Walt Jocketty’s edict held for the other players on the team who truly have plate discipline issues. Or even one surrounding the question of whether the Reds need a larger Sabermetric influence in the front office or not. But, it is indeed hard to get past the polarizing nature of the team’s best player.

    IMO, Votto and his hitting philosophy are intertwined with all of the above. You can’t talk about any of those issues without talking about Votto and how the GM views his work product.

    Although, clearly, some wish you could.

    • @Richard Fitch: I think the point was lost on a lot of the Nation as soon as Votto was mentioned. The real issue is not Votto. The real issue is how does WJ actually feel about the approach to hitting throughout the Reds organization. Votto is just the catalyst to that discussion. I have no doubt that WJ was previously very ‘old school’ regarding his philosophy of hitting, but I don’t know if that same philosophy still holds true or if he has been open to new ideas over the past decade.

      • @Shchi Cossack: Agreed. I do believe the historical similarities to Ted Williams are worth considering. I also think people are not cognizant of the power shift that’s taken place in the game between pitchers and hitters, which is why I included those statistics.

        Alas, it all got lost in the Votto scrum.

  13. Love the comparison to Ted Williams. Disturbed by Jocketty apparently having his head in the sand. Again: The problem isn’t Votto. It’s the other 6 guys in the lineup not named Bruce.

    Denny Janson(who I have met) would have been better served by asking Mr. Votto why his fielding was so erratic and why he seemed to have more mental lapses in the field and on the basepaths this year. I’d love to hear how Joey answers that, because it would be a very thoughtful response.

  14. It’s still the same…. get someone on base in front of him AND put somebody in the 4 hole behind him that the pitchers are also afraid of and he’ll hit 30+ HR’s and drive in 100+

  15. For the record, Babe Ruth was the greatest hitter of all time, but I digress. Yes, the issue is the top to bottom approach, or lack of in the organization. Over at redsminorleagues a while back I posited the idea that prospects with extremely high K rates or extremely low walk rates should be barred from moving to the next level until they show some improvement. Yet, we keep bumping guys up whose approach has been proven to fail at the major league level. I just don’t get it.

  16. Richard: Thanks for the excellent and thought-provoking piece. I’ve been frustrated with Joey, while at the same time suspecting that the real problem was his supporting cast. My only continuing concern: should he change his approach in some way (how, I’m not sure) to account for the other guys in the lineup? Could be argued either way, but the best answer would be to improve the rest of the offense.

    • @greenmtred: Thanks. Very much appreciated.

      Your question is an interesting one that has been voiced in other places–the idea that “hey, the lineup is woefully deficient, so Joey should just shoulder more of the load and swing away because an inefficient Votto is better than anybody hitting behind him.”

      Let’s ignore for the moment the fact that this is incredibly insulting to his teammates and is an approach that is not going to foster much love in the clubhouse. I think it’s highly dubious that Votto, who isn’t even getting pitched to when the pitcher’s back is against the wall, is going to have much success going after bad pitches. People, IMO, make the mistake of thinking that pitches just off the plate are decent pitches to swing at, when in fact, there are places INSIDE the strike zone that great hitters wouldn’t want to make a habit of going after very often. That is, after all, why they are great hitters. They know their limitations and focus on the places in the zone where they thrive.

      There’s also the real concern that going after suspect pitches will turn him into a poorer hitter long term. Let’s remember, players are already looking carefully at pitches off the plate simply because more guys throw hard with more movement. Nobody wants to be caught off guard by the breaking pitch away that catches the black. Once a hitter starts looking even further off the plate, the pitcher has now expanded his zone greatly on either side of the plate and it’s game over. Maddux was famous for this. At that point, a hitter’s goose is cooked. Votto is trying to adjust by coaxing pitchers to feed him something he can drive. He’s trying to bring them back to the plate. Some of our friends here want him playing right into the opposition’s hands. That seems crazy to me. If he begins expanding the zone for them, the Joey Votto we all know will cease to exist.

      Will that be worth the occasional hit he gets swinging a bad offerings simply because there’s a man in scoring position? I don’t see it.

      The suggestion to “just bat him second if he won’t swing” misses the point. Many advanced metrics people think your best hitter should bat 2nd to begin with. My problem is not with him batting second, but the faulty reasoning behind the move.

      Joey said this himself in 2011, just after winning the MVP, for what it’s worth:

      “You’re never going to win if you put too much emphasis on your superstars. It’s such a shared responsibility to win. I won the National League MVP, and in 85 percent of the games I wasn’t changing the game. In the NFL, if I’m the MVP quarterback, I’m changing 12 out of the 16 games, maybe higher. Superstars can be overrated in this game.’’

      • @Richard Fitch: After reading that quote again, I’m wondering why Price didn’t hire Joey as bench coach, or why Joey shouldn’t be player/manager. Seriously. JV has smarts, and sees things that others don’t.

      • @Richard Fitch: Does overrated equal overvalued, too? I’m not a Votto critic, but that would be ironic coming from a guy making north of $200 million.

        Honest question (and again, I love Joey and am glad he’ll be a Red for life), but doesn’t the same Moneyball approach Joey takes imply that such large contracts should be avoided. Votto is special. Is he THAT special? His quote reminds us that baseball is a team game, yet the contracts of its superstars (Votto included) vary widely.

      • @Richard Fitch: Richard: More excellent points and a succinct summary of Joey’s (and baseball’s)situation. But…I certainly wouldn’t want to foster unhappiness among other Reds, but it seems pretty clear to me that, whether due to approach or ability, most of them aren’t reliably effective, and that must make it easier for pitchers to pitch around Joey. You are certainly correct–they pitched around him even when they were in a jam, but they were doing so knowing that the lineup had few other legitimate threats.

  17. We may be beating a dead horse with this; it has been discussed ad nauseum.

    I think the general beef last year was that JV seemed to be “working” a walk, rather than just accepting one if the pitcher didn’t give him anything to hit.

    Pedro Martinez made an astute observation on the Fox/TBS pregame show before the Wild Card game. He essentially said that given Votto’s tendencies, the obvious thing for a pitcher to do was to pound strikes early in the count, to put Votto always behind in the count. Sometimes we tend to forget that the other guy is competing as well, and guys like Pedro Martinez and most good pitchers are very hard-nosed competitors. If JV had become predictable, which I think he had, then the pitchers were likely taking advantage of that predictability.

    While Richard is correct that the balance of power between hitter and pitcher has changed, JV loss of OPS last year was not entirely due to that shift in the balance of power. He dipped a bit; it happens. Votto in the long run is the least of the Reds’ offensive worries.

  18. I also think Votto could stand some protection in the batting order. It would’ve been nice to see Bruce there this year (despite the lefty-lefty argument, and of course, that Bruce was the best lefty-on-lefty power-hitter in the majors).

    Votto would see ridiculously better pitches if someone behind him could hit for power and wasn’t a strikeout or double-play machine. Put some high OBP guys (not necessarily named Choo) in front of him and put a

    With our current players:

    1. Hamilton CF
    2. Ludwick LF
    3. Votto 1B
    4. Bruce RF
    5. Phillips 2B
    6. Mesoraco C
    7. Frazier 3B
    8. Cozart SS

    Ideal:

    1. Hamilton 2B/CF
    2. Votto 1B
    3. Bruce RF
    4. TRADE or FA (Power LF)
    5. Mesoraco C
    6. TRADE or FA 2B/CF (Anybody)
    7. Frazier 3B
    8. Cozart SS

    I understand that power left-fielders don’t grow on trees, but I think the Reds have some pieces to move, including some position players and pitching. I just wish Ludwick’s contract wasn’t such an albatross.

    • @walshjp: It may be time we re-evaluated the need for “power” hitters on a team that could get by nicely with 4 or 5 guys who could crank out doubles and base hits to the other side. Give me a horde of runners on 2nd and 3rd and I will win most of the time.

      • @Johnu1: Yeah, I agree. Power should read high slugging percentage. I’d take ~20 homers if you’re driving he ball and leading the league in doubles.

  19. http://joeposnanski.com/joeblogs/votto-matta-you/

    Joe Posnanski summed it up pretty well here.
    “If Walt Jocketty and Bryan Price and the rest of the Reds spend even one minute disabusing Joey Votto of the notion that a base on balls is as beneficial as a sac fly — and trying to change him as a hitter — they should be forced by the Baseball Gods to trade him to my favorite team and pick up Josh Hamilton and his gargantuan contract in his place. Hamilton, you will note, is a sac fly machine.”

  20. Pingback: Joey Votto: don’t change a thing | HardballTalk

  21. Because I was curious I wanted to look something up. Out of the top 40 hitters in MLB in 2013 (based on average) Mr. Votto got on base more than anyone. He was and Mike Trout were the only two to make in on base over 300 times (Joey – 321; Trout – 300). Votto got on base 31 more times than anyone in the NL (Paul Goldschmidt – 283) This is something that probably wouldn’t greatly surprise anyone. But again, out of curiosity…

    I also wanted to look at the % of times on base that Votto scored. Again, out of those same “top 40 hitters” Votto ranked 30 out of 40. He scored 32.4% of the time he reached base. To put this in perspective the top 3 in this category were Shane Victorino, Matt Carpenter and Matt Holliday (49.7%, 46.5% and 45.8%).

    My Conclusion. People need to stop bashing Votto for his “approach” and maybe look a little deeper at the lineup as a whole. Maybe what the Reds need is someone or someones behind Votto to actually get some hits and let one of the best hitters in baseball keep doing his thing.

    FYI, I got my raw numbers from ESPN and did some calculations on my own.

  22. I find it ironic McCutchen won MVP with a lower slugging percentage and only 11 more RBI. AND HE BATS THIRD!

  23. Can’t Joey for $20 million take some criticism. In my opinion the Reds would not have given him the contract based on last years performance

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