Joey Votto is Perfect

wRC+

If it’s important to JoeyMVP shouldn’t it be important to you?

On Monday, Joey Votto appeared on Lance McAlister’s show (listen to the full podcast here). A fan asked Votto if there was an individual statistic that he looked at as the most important. The first baseman’s reply “weighted runs created plus” sent the hearts of sabermetrics fans aflutter.

With not much else is going on right now — Reds pitchers and catchers report on February 14 — here’s a primer on wRC+. Think of it as a bit of statistical spring training for your mind.

As Votto said, wRC+ stands for weighted (w) runs (R) created (C) plus (+).

The starting point in understanding wRC+ is that its focus is on runs, not hits.

Richard from Springboro would quickly point out that we already have ways to measure runs, published every morning in the box score. “Runs” (R) indicates the number of runs a hitter scores and “runs batted in” (RBI) indicates how many runs the hitter knocked in. They are fine counting statistics, but they only go so far.

The problem with R and RBI is they don’t do a great job of isolating the role of every player in contributing to the run. Not all the credit for a run scored should go to the runner who scored it and not every RBI is fully earned by the hitter.

RBI as a counting statistic leaves a lot of contributions out on the field and out of the box score. For example, suppose Player A doubles with Player B at first and Player B gets to third base. Then Player C hits a ground ball to third base, scoring Runner B. In that situation, all three played a vital role in scoring that run.

In the morning box score, Player B gets credit for the R, player C gets credit for the RBI. But Player A’s role is discounted. Without the double, player C’s ground ball could have started an inning-ending double play. Player C gets the RBI but is really fair to say that Player C contributed more to creating that run than Player A?

Enter Bill James. “Runs created” (RC) attempts to more accurately isolate the contribution of every player to a run being scored. Bill James created the statistic RC as a way to quantify how many runs resulted from what a player did with the bat and on the base path, including advancing runners. RC factors in positives like hits, walks, successful stolen bases, getting hit by pitches, sacrifice flies, sacrifice bunts, as well as negatives like grounding into double plays and being caught stealing.

Runs Created (RC) is the foundation of wRC+. The next component of wRC+ comes from Tom Tango who refined the concept of weighting while devising his own statistic “weighted on base average” (wOBA).

Weighting at bats means valuing them based on their actual power at producing runs. It means treating doubles as better than singles, triples better than doubles and singles as better than walks. Sometimes a “walk is as good as a hit” but sometimes it isn’t. Not many runners score from second base on a walk. (That doesn’t mean the walk in that situation has zero value, only that it has less value than a single.)

The weights are calculated based on actual measured outcomes in major league games. For example, how many runs does the average double create? Say 1.24. The average triple created 1.56 and a home run 1.95. The numbers account for runs directly driven in, runners advanced and runners put on base.

When you incorporate Tango’s concept of weighting into James’ formula for isolating contribution to runs, you end up with wRC. The output is a counting stat, like 76 — meaning the hitter created 76 runs.

Counting stats are great, but they aren’t easy to put into context in relation to other players in the league or across time. How do the 24 home runs Joey Votto hit in 2013 compare to the 35 that Todd Helton hit in 1999 or the 20 that Tony Perez hit in 1976? Counting stats are also vulnerable to misunderstanding due to injury. Lower counting stats may be due to a player spending part of the season on the DL, not the result of lesser performance.

That brings us to the plus. The plus means that the statistic has been normalized across an entire league and takes into account ballpark factors. It’s designed to let us see how Joey Votto’s 2013 compares to Tony Perez’s 1976. The plus also means the counting statistic has been converted to a rate-statistic, one based on a 100 point scale. Every point above 100 equates to being a percentage point better than average. A wRC+ of 125 indicates a player is 25 percent better at creating runs than the average player.

The plus isn’t solely used in connection with runs created. OPS+ converts OPS to a 100-point scale. ERA+ converts ERA to a 100-point scale. Here, wRC+ converts the counting statistic of wRC (129 for Votto ’13) to a 100-point scale (156 for Votto ’13).

Bottom line: wRC+ measures the impact that a hitter’s performance had on runs created. It isolates the player’s own contribution including advancing runners. It factors in the benefits of hitting with power, credits walks (but singles are worth more) and base running. It takes into account ballpark factors and allows the comparison of players across time.

When Votto holds up the mirror of wRC+ what does he see?

Votto’s career wRC+ is 156. His last four years (2010 – 172; 2011 – 157; 2012 – 178; 2013 – 156) are revealing and provocative. Votto’s “controversial” 2013 season was career average in terms of wRC+ but also below his previous three years. He was second in the NL, tied with Paul Goldschmidt and behind Jayson Werth.

Interestingly, Votto’s best season for wRC+ was 2012. Does that discredit wRC+ since that was the year Votto was hurt and didn’t hit a home run the last three months of the season? Not at all. Remember how well Votto had hit for three months prior to the injury? He finished second in the NL in doubles despite missing more than two months. Votto also had an OBP of .505 after returning from the DL.

Brandon Phillips’ wRC+ for 2013 was 91.

Despite its attributes, wRC+ is just one statistic. You’d be better off looking at several meaningful measures when evaluating a player. And wRC+ doesn’t incorporate defense, like WAR. But as offensive statistics go, there’s good reason that wRC+ has won Joey Votto’s heart.

50 thoughts on “wRC+

  1. Great explanation of wRC+, its importance and its importance to Votto. Nice to break it down in easy to understand layman’s terms. You keep bringing me around little by little, towards the sabermetrics light and out from the dark side of the moon.

  2. I doubt this article gets many comments, but great job.

    1. Using one stat in isolate to judge a player is dumb.

    2. If you’re going to use one stat to evaluate offense, that stat is wRC+

    3. wRC+ does a great job of comparing apples v. oranges.

    I’m a little tired of doing the Joey v BP comparisons since Joey is objectively so much better. But their career wRC+ does such a great job of contrasting the 2 players: Joey’s career 156 wrC+ shows he is like a PG who is capable of putting up big scoring numbers. Not only can he score lots of points, he makes everyone else around him better. BP’s career 96 wRC+ shows he is like a Shooting Guard who is capable of scoring a bunch, but he takes a ton of shots, doesn’t have any assists, and his FG% hovers around 40%. Joey Votto is Chris Paul, and Brandon Phillips is Jamal Crawford. Teams need both types of players, the difference between the good teams and the bad teams is often a player mix that compliments each other….

    • @CP: While I understand what you’re trying to say, I feel the need to state that there should be no question that, offensively, the Reds would be much better if everyone hit like Votto and no one hit like Phillips. Hitting in baseball isn’t like scoring in basketball.

      • @Jason Linden: The dots connect for me a little when Votto alluded to probably seeing better pitches with Hamilton ahead of him.

        It wouldn’t be fair to ask Votto if he thinks Hamilton will be on first base, but he must at least be optimistic about that.

  3. The way Votto approaches the game from an intellectual and mental standpoint is, quite possibly, more impressive than his performance on the field. Many of the greats from various sports have that extra edge between the ears like Tiger, Gretzky, Brady, Jordan, etc. It makes me enjoy having Votto as a Red that much more.

  4. I listened to Ryan Ludwick on MLBN Radio last night. He said all the right things. But he did say that he was farther along in his training this year than he was last year at this time, before he got hurt on Opening Day. That was very encouraging. Not looking for 26 HR’s from him this year, but if he could hit at a .280 or so clip, and have some good doubles power, it would be an immense help for the offense. He seems to have some of that cerebral approach that Votto has. I haven’t been a big Ludwick supporter, but here’s hoping that he can have a good year. It’s going to be important if Jocketty is putting so many eggs in the Ludwick basket for 2014.

  5. First off, great article. As usual.

    Second, doesn’t wRC+ still take into account factors outside of a player’s control? Namely runners being on base ahead of him and their base running? I’ve always thought OPS+ was a great statistic because it took everything out of play except a hitter’s performance at the plate one on one against the pitcher. If Joey didn’t have Choo last year, would his wRC+ have been the same with all other offensive numbers being identical?

    • @eric nyc: No. wRC+doesn’t take into account runners on base ahead of a batter. It’s not super far off of OPS+, it’s just a bit fancier in that, as Steve points out, it goes through the effort of weighting the typical value of each action. That value is a constant, though. So wRC+ will always count a double as being worth the same amount.

  6. That is so true. And counting on improved years from Frazier, BP, Cozart, and Mes also. Can we ride this Express into October, or will the wheels fall off at some point? The only insurance WJ has in place if the wheels fall off are a weak bench, a slew of minor league contract signings, and (very good) prospects not ready for the prime time of MLB just yet. Great pitching and bullpen. But the offense, which sputtered too often last year for my tastes, had no infusions for improvement except the hope and prayers of the arrival of BHam and the rebounds of 5 of the 8 offensive regulars. A pretty precarious position to be sitting in entering the 2014 season.

    • @WVRedlegs: I guess I’m in the group who will remind you that the Reds bench isn’t substantially weaker than the bench MOST teams have.

      If a guy’s good enough to be a starter, he’s not going to be on anybody’s bench.

    • @WVRedlegs: I’ll say it again…

      The Royals DFA’d Emilio Bonifacio on February 1st, with a resolution to the DFA by February 10th. For $3.5MM, Bonifacio would cure a LOT of the issues and question marks facing the Reds going into spring training. He is capable of backing up every position needed by the current roster, including SS. He’s a switch hitter who hits equally well from both sides of the plate. He gets on base at a league average clip and steals with an 80% success rate. He can back up LF and CF while hitting in the #1 or #2 hole. He could start in CF and allow Hamilton to gain the experience he needs at the plate in AAA rather than the show. He’s on a 1 year contract so there is no long term commitment past 2014.

      • @Shchi Cossack:

        I like it 110%. I have been on board that. But I like Bonifacio in addition to BHam and not instead. It not only strengthens the bench, it strengthens the offense and team. It would allow the Reds to carry two OF/INF bench guys and negate the need for a Santiago/Izturis/Valdez type. Great flexibility to set Price up with. A bench of Heisey/Schumaker/Bonifacio/Hannahan/Pena is much more desirable than one without him.

        • @WVRedlegs: Seems like the problem is timing. Santiago is under wraps and invited to camp o about the 29th of January, so that signing was probably considered a useful one.

          Bonifacio is not available until a few days later.

          We can’t criticize the GM for acting on his best options and then criticize him for not waiting for a better guy to come along.

          Now, if Bonifacio is signed, who do the Reds cut, cuz somebody would have to be.

        • @Johnu1: Heisey would be a top candidate to be moved/ cut.

          I don’t believe they see him as a long term CF fill in any longer. Schumaker if not Bonifacio, likely would be their 1st choice as the short term fill in for CF.

          Thus at $1.76M, Heisey is not cheap for a 5th (or 6th even) OF. Most 1 year contracts signed after a player has filed for arbitration are not guaranteed. However I believe the CBA calls for percentage payout settlements on such contracts if the player is cut in ST; and, the percent increases as they move deeper into ST.

        • @OhioJim: Even without Bonifacio in the picture, I believe the situation with Heisey bears watching.

          If Ludwick looks strong and one of the RH batting OFs in camp on a minor league deal has a big spring, Heisey could be on the bubble as a money saving proposition.

        • @OhioJim: Well, yeah … I can see Schumaker on the back side of 35, as being more useful than a 28-year-old utility outfielder. Even if he can’t play 2B.

          Cutting Heisey to get Bonafacio … did I miss something with the 2-month group rant on these boards about upgrading the team?

          Suddenly we are all on board with the Bonafacio deal … not unlike the Grady Sizemore deal … which is different from the Brett Gardner deal …

          All designed to really show the league that the Reds are in it to win it.

      • @Shchi Cossack:
        I would love for them to trade for Bonifacio.
        If Hamilton isn’t ready then It gives you another CF option, with Schumaker, Heisey and Bernadina. If they really think Hamilton is ready then Bonifacio becomes a super sub for all 3 OF spots and 2B,3B and SS. And that would give the Reds a good bench.. for a change.
        Now I just wonder what it would take to get him.. A young cost controlled reliever?

      • @Johnu1:

        Santiago is under wraps and invited to camp…

        Santiago is on a minor league contract. While he probably represents the best backup SS option currently under contract if Cozart is out for any extended time, he is not even a lock to make the 25 man roster and the Reds have little to nothing invested in Santiago at this point.

        @JoshG:

        I would love for them to trade for Bonifacio.

        The Royals DFA’d him off the major league (40 man) roster. The Reds don’t have to trade for him unless there is a competative market (Dodgers, Yankees, etc.) for him and they have two days left to make that decision. The Royals are willing to simply let Bonafacio walk away as a FA if he doesn’t accept a minor league assignment and isn’t claimed. If a trade is needed, I was thinking that Logan Ondrusek might be available and workable. His contract is affordable and he is under team control for three more seasons.

        • @Shchi Cossack: Ondrusek for Bonafacio … a deal that can be made.

          I recall asking Rollie Hemond, who was GM with the White Sox back in the middle 70s, why he traded Buddy Bradford for B.B. Richard just minutes before the trade deadline.

          “Because we could,” Hemond told me.

          Buddy Bradford for B.B. Richard.

  7. Unfortunately, there isn’t a good place to put these little quips … just noticed that the Astros DFA’d Brett Wallace. I would imagine he will get picked up.

    Also, the White Sox signed Mitchell Boggs, who might be the worst pitcher in MLB.

    And Frankie Rodriguez is back with the Brewskis.

  8. Just saw Bronson has a new home – Arizona – 19M for 2 years and a club option for a 3rd year. Im glad he found a spot and glad its not in the NL Central. He should do well out west.

  9. This is what has been meant by many when they would say Joey would need to adjust, just as all major leaguers make adjustments. After Joey won the MVP, everyone was talking about how the other teams would adjust and pitch around Joey. I believe it especially showed last season, how they looked to minimize his effectiveness. Which culminated in Joey’s lowest wRC+ yet. So, now, Votto either needs to make an adjustment, or the other team will still him the exact same way. “Make Joey something he isn’t” no one ever said. But, it is quite common for players to make adjustments, season to season, series to series, even game to game (like when they get different style of pitchers) and even pitch to pitch.

    As for Hamilton in front of Joey, Joey make get better pitches to hit. But, that may take out Hamilton’s ability to steal bases. For, if he steals bases, Joey will more likely be walked. Which goes to the fact that the Reds need a good batter behind Joey to keep teams from doing that.

    • @steveschoen: I think the stolen base is something like a nice pass in basketball. Everybody loves it but you only get stats for it — not scores.

      If Votto can get doubles with Hamilton on first base, it’s a run. If he gets a single with Hamilton on second base, it’s a run.

      After that, it’s up to Jay Bruce.

      • @Johnu1: Hi, John,

        I agree with the Hamilton on first scenario. But, then, doubles are more rare than singles. But, if Hamilton steals 2nd or gets a double, teams would more likely walk Votto. So, the single would be less likely for Votto.

        However, I do remember seeing Ricky Henderson several times get a single or walk, steal 2nd and 3rd, then come in on some sacrifice. The A’s had a 1 run lead early with no hits (if Henderson walked, of course).

        I believe it will be how we use Hamilton and how other teams will pitch to Votto. Do we use Hamilton’s speed on his own? Or, do we use it with Votto’s hitting?

        • @steveschoen: Either scenario works for me but I think the idea that Hamilton HAS to steal second to be effective is kind of interesting if not particularly poignant.

          One would assume there is a form of strategy in mind when Hamilton is on base and Votto is at the plate. Seems like to do otherwise would be rather like me managing the team.

          In any case, my point was that I don’t see a need for Votto to manufacture reasons for Billy to steal.

          Plus, if they walk Votto with Hamilton on 2nd base, it still comes back to the next guys in the order. (I assume this would suggest Votto hitting 2nd.)

          Looks like a lot of fastballs in the first inning.

          Yeah, baby!

    • @steveschoen: Joey’s lowest wRC+ yet? It was still 5th best in the majors. Pitchers don’t seem to have adjusted to Joey as successfully as you are suggesting. Votto said he didn’t get to prepare adequately for for 2013 because the knee wasn’t ready and that his body wasn’t back to 100% until later in the season. That likely had as much or more to do with him “only” being 5th than anything opposing pitchers did.

      Joey adjusts. He just does it his way. And it’s worked quite nicely for him.

      • @Richard Fitch: Let’s see, an adjustment that causes a change from 172 in 2010 to 156 last season? It looks like an adjustment that simply didn’t work, Rick. Probably the cause for a drop of 16 runs, about 10%, in his wRC+ score. It’s called “teams pitching around him”, Rick, commonly done in baseball against a team’s best hitter. It is quite obvious, teams are trying to determine how to minimize Votto’s effectiveness. One way is by walking rather than letting the player drive the ball. Notice, Rick, I didn’t say “do away with Votto’s effectiveness”. I specified “minimize”. One reason why teams would have walked him more last season than any other batter since 2004, because they don’t want Votto driving the ball. Same reason why teams walked him 20% more from 2010 to 2011, they don’t want Votto driving the ball. Thus, Votto’s drop in wRC+ there, also.

        • @steveschoen: Sorry, but you need to be called out for that picking of rancid cherries. Let’s look at JVs wRC+ since he became a full time player.

          2008 – 124
          2009 – 155
          2010 – 172
          2011 – 157
          2012 – 178
          2013 – 156

          You can only claim he declined from 2010 to 2013 if those are the only two data points you have. Since 2009, he’s been a little back and forth, but fairly consistent overall. Also, you are completely ignoring Richard’s point about Votto saying he wasn’t fully back until late in the season (the numbers support this).

          If you want to make an argument, that’s cool, but don’t use stats in a misleading fashion like that. It makes your argument appear invalid and dishonest.

  10. Also.. I know Hannahan has a guaranteed contract, and I like the guy….but any chance he doesn’t make the team(if they did get Bonifacio, or if Nelson has a big spring)?

  11. Great article, very informative and easy to understand. I really like it when someone explains the advanced stats in an way that is easy to wrap my head around. There are so many out there that it can sometimes be overwhelming to look at a stats page sorting through the important stats and assigning meaning to different ones. I do believe that the advance stats hold merit and deserve to be in the conversation when talking about players. Thanks for posting the article. Glad we have a guy like Votto leading the offense.

    • @hotto4votto: Most advanced stats are meaningful to me when somebody puts them in context.

      As in: Compare Jack Hannahan’s season to Miggy Cabrera’s … and that’s what this particular stat suggests.

      Oh, I GET IT! One of them is a better hitter.

  12. Articles like this is why I keep reading this site… I’m not the most intellectual of baseball fans and this just educates me alot. Only partially related to this, I have to think Phillips will hit more doubles this year if all his parts are working right. This article also made me realize how much the Reds miss Rolen’s gap power. Rolen’s approach at the plate was, if not underappreciated, sorely missed.

  13. Jerry Crasnick/ESPN.com via twitter…

    There’s an enormous gap between the #reds last offer and what Homer Bailey wants in a long-term deal, source says.

    So, extending Bailey doesn’t look at all promising. Even though Bailey only has one season under contract before becoming a FA, he will have a compensation pick attached as a FA. That would be for the Reds if Bailey is not traded or the receiving team if Bailey is traded before the season starts. Burnett wants to play again in 2014. The Bucos couldn’t even afford to extend a qualifying offer of $14.4MM for Burnett for fear he would simply take the qualifying offer. According to reports Burnett wants to play for a NL team (so long hometown O’s). The Phanatics are also apparently out of the picture. Burnett wants to play ‘close’ to home, apparently eliminating any NL teams on the west coastish.

    So maybe the Reds make a play for Burnett and try to seriously market Bailey if they can land Burnett. Shoot, the Old Cossack wouldn’t mind seeing Bailey and Burnett in the same starting rotation for the Reds in 2014, but $$$ would certainly be an inhibiting factor in that senario.

    • @Shchi Cossack: The one contending pretender in sore lack of pitching is Milwaukee.

      In an alternate universe, I could also see Burnett going to the Cubs.

      That all presuming he wants to stay in the NL. That only leaves 13 other teams.

    • @Shchi Cossack: The Reds need to be looking up some old numbers and call the Astros.

      I’m sure the Houston group which is making money hand over fist building for the future would love to get Homer Bailey on board with an eye at giving him the money he wants. That’s an ace to build a staff around and a potential home state hero.

      That’s who I think the trade partner could possibly be. Houston has some talent in the minors, you might be able to get a decent young outfielder, which is what the Reds can use.

    • @rhayex:

      Absolutely fascinating article. I would love to get to know more players like this.

      The basic impression is of a man trying to find meaning to a life that had been all about “making it”. Now, it’s made. What then?

      Unfortunately for Reds fans, the answer is clearly NOT “becoming the best pitcher possible”. I’ve been a proponent of the “make Chapman a starter” argument, but it was all in the abstract, like a fantasy owner. I can see now that that would have likely backfired. He just wouldn’t have put in the work. What motivation would he have? He clearly wouldn’t know what to do with any more money, and it wouldn’t have made his life any happier. And I hate to think what he would be doing with himself on the off days.

      • @groujo: Exactly. I’m actually kind of frightened for Chapman’s future, particularly after baseball or if he gets injured, based on what was written about him. I get the feeling he needs good people to be his friends, but he’s closed himself off in such a way to make that extremely difficult.

        Also, based on the report, it sounds as though he doesn’t have a good offseason regimen at all. It might help if he had someone like Josh Hamilton had during his stay here, but for a different reason.

  14. There are definitely some interesting characters on the Reds. They do have a few stars on the club of all baseball.

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