This week, I want to draw attention to a few things that have been written about the Reds offense. Specifically, Joey Votto and Brandon Phillips. Further, both bits of writing had to do with aging, so I thought it might be good to look at these two Reds-stalwarts and see what we can expect of them.
Votto raised the ire of some this week by admitting in an interview that he doesn’t expect his power to ever be as good as it once was and he intends to focus on his on-base percentage more. Many, many people want Votto trying to hit for power, but here’s the thing… he’s probably right. Recent studies have shown that power tends to peak around ages 24-25. And that, by the time a player reaches Votto’s current age, his ISO should be 0.20 to 0.40 points lower than his peak.
Indeed, that’s about where Votto seems to be. His 2010 season is such outlier in terms of power, that I’m most comfortable placing his true-talent peak power at about .240 or .250 ISO. Right now, Votto is at .184. This early in the season, that’s as close enough. Over the course of the season, I’d expect him to stabilize within 10 points of .200.
What is good for the Reds is that Votto knows this and intends to focus on his OBP. One of the reasons OPS is a good but not great stat is that it doesn’t account for the fact the, in general, OBP is significantly more important than SLG in terms of scoring runs. I always like to illustrate this with the extreme example that a team filled with players who homer every four PAs and make outs the rest of the time scores infinitely fewer runs than a team filled with players who walk ever time up. This despite the fact that the first team has a high OPS.
Of course, there are select situations (if your team is very low scoring, for instance) when SLG is more valuable than OBP in a practical sense, but they are rare. The crux here is, once again, Votto is smart and he knows about baseball and he knows what he’s doing.
On the other side of the coin, we have Brandon Phillips. BP didn’t look good last year and we mostly chalked it up to injury, but he hasn’t looked good this year either. Steve wrote rather eloquently about BP a few days ago, and I don’t feel the need to re-hash his article. Indeed, you should go read it. I will add to Steve’s comments about aging curves, though. Second basemen are notorious for aging very quickly and suddenly right around, well, BP’s age. Steve, by the way, isn’t the only one who’s noticed. The writing on the wall has been there for a while, and though we can’t say for sure, we may soon be forced to conclude that we’ve seen BP’s last days as a good major league player.
Given that, lots are going to argue for moving Phillips down in the order. They are correct to argue for that. However, happened to be lucky enough to serve as the editor for a little piece that illustrated just how little batting order matters. Matt Hunter has a piece now up at The Hardball Times. It’s all about building a simulator. It’s worth reading for all manner of tidbits, but most interesting (to Reds fans) is that he uses Zack Cozart’s lineup position as evidence for the tiny impact of lineup. Using the 2013 numbers, and simulating every game with Cozart 2nd and Votto 3rd (as was normal), the team averages 4.23 runs per game. Moving Votto to 2nd and Cozart to 8th gives you… 4.26 runs per game. Or, about five runs over the course of the season. So, yeah, it matters, but it doesn’t matter a ton.