2012 Reds / Believe

RN 2012 Preview: First Base

If I were going to pick one player, from all of baseball, to have on my team in 2012, it would be Joey Votto. Votto was not the best player in 2010. He was 10th among position players in Fangraphs ‘ version of WAR. But if you look at the last two years, he’s suddenly second behind only Jose Bautista (and Roy Halladay if we throw pitchers into the equation) and just ahead of Miguel Cabrera and Evan Longoria.

So why Joey and none of the others? First, I’d never take a pitcher to start my team. Pitchers get hurt. A lot. Bautista is a miracle, but he’s also three years older than Votto and exiting what should be his peak years. Cabrera has his off-field issues. I think Votto is a better bet to repeat his performance than any of those guys.

Longoria? Yeah, he looks good to me, too. He’s younger than Joey and has been around just as long. He does have more of an injury history, though. So perhaps we can call that a wash and give Votto the tie-breaker since he’s on our favorite team and all.

This lengthy intro has been a round-about way of showing that Votto is in the conversation for best player in baseball. He’s still on the right side of the aging curve and he’s coming off two fantastic seasons. It doesn’t get much better than that. Depending on what happens over the next two years, we may be watching the next player to go into Cooperstown with a Reds cap.

Consider this, Votto has already had two years with a better WAR than Larkin’s best year and despite Barry’s head start, Votto is just one win behind where Larkin was at the same age. The next three years are pivotal. If Votto continues to check in at roughly seven wins per season, only injury or Dale Murphy Syndrome will keep him from compiling Hall of Fame numbers. We don’t know that Votto will be a hall of famer, and we don’t know that he’ll wear a Reds cap if he is, but he is a truly special player and that needs to be recognized.

And so, in doing the first base preview, we are doing a Joey Votto preview. If anyone else gets significant time at first, it’s going to be a problem. Fortunately, Votto has been very durable thus far, and there’s no reason to expect he won’t play 150+ games. So let’s dispense with all others, and talk about what we can expect from Votto.

Last year, his offense was down, but offense has been going down league-wide for a couple of years now, so that decline isn’t as significant as it looks at first glance. Beyond that, I’m sure most of us remember the odd power-outage Votto had last May. He hit only one homer and had his lowest ISO (that’s isolated power) since July of 2008. Add to that a September slump that was mostly generated by a BABIP way out of line with his career, and you have accounted for the vast majority of the decline.

That’s right, I’m saying there’s a good chance Votto improves this year. The currently available projection systems seem to agree. Only ZiPS sees Votto taking a step back, and I’ve got to believe that’s regression to the mean talking. Bill James, Rotochamp, and Fangraphs Fans projections all see an uptick, where as Oliver sees him treading water.

Barring injury, I don’t see how it can be argued that 27-year-old Joey Votto is likely to get worse this year. I expect a bit more power and roughly the same OBP. He’s proven to be an above-average fielder, and we shouldn’t expect a decline there yet. Altogether, I expect him to be right around a 7.0 WAR player, which is where he was the last two years, but I would not be surprised to see him go a little higher if league offense continues to decline. In essence, the Reds should hold steady at first this year. That is not a bad thing, friends.

Before I get to my official projections, here are a few notes. First, these are best guesses, and I’m not going to try and be too fine. Expect lots of fives and zeroes. Second, the floor projections will assume good health among the primary starter unless we have a past injury history that raises concern (see Rolen, Scott). Third, the ceiling and floor projections are just that. What would we expect in an off year from this player and what would we expect if he really puts it all together. Feel free to disagree loudly in the comments. Okay, on to the projections:

First, let’s do a good-old-fashioned slash line: .310/.415/.550

2011 First Base WAR: 6.9

2012 Best Guess WAR: 7.0-7.5

Projected Difference: +0.1 to 0.6

2012 Floor WAR: 5.5

2012 Ceiling WAR: 9.0

A personal plug/aside: As you may have noticed from the above mention, I have access to the Oliver projections from The Hardball Times Forecasts. I edit at THT and wrote the Reds comments for their projection system this year. The projections are behind a pay wall (worth it, if you ask me), but THT is a great site without the projections. If you don’t check it out regularly, you should.

Redleg Nation Position-by-Position Season Preview:

First Base
Second Base
Right Field
Center Field
Catcher
Starting Pitching – Front End of the Rotation
Bullpen
Starting Pitching – Back End of the Rotation
Third Base
Shortstop
Left Field
Season Preview Wrap-Up

26 thoughts on “RN 2012 Preview: First Base

  1. Where are all of these Bautista for Votto rumors coming from? Jocketty has made it clear that Votto is a Red thru the 2013 season. The trade made sense before we traded Yonder Alonso but a year later and Bautista a year older, it doesn’t anymore. Plus, Heisey will be an everyday player this season.

  2. This is good stuff. There are only two things that worry me about Votto. First off, I am concerned about the number of runners on board when he comes up. Second, I would give just about anything for a healthy RH high OPS stick to plug into the cleanup spot.

  3. Bruce hitting thirty+ homeruns again improves Votto. Jay Bruce has the potential to hit 8 home runs and bat well over .400 for a two to three week span and then disappear for a month. but he also has the potential to come out any time and send one flying. That knowledge helps Votto more than doing anything else for our four hole.

    I like votto’s chances of having a year more similar to 2010 than 2011.

    Hail to the Canadian Slugger.

  4. And don’t forget, JV is a good first baseman. I think some initially scoffed when he won the gold glove last year, but statistically, it was justified. All Hail, indeed.

  5. Joey will have a big year due to the confidence in the pitching staff. I believe they will begin to blow teams out ala Tampa in many ways. How many athletes are on the team who can do many things? Dusty has to do a better job mixing and matching skill sets. BTW love the idea of the 3Ms

    Madson
    Marshall
    Massett
    They might just shorten games for the Reds

  6. Jason, just an FYI, you are off a year when referencing years, 2011 instead of 2012 in your projections.

  7. The Reds are in a lose-lose situation here. If they sign him long term, it really hampers their ability to compete. If they trade him next offseason (I can’t think of a single reason why they shouldn’t—oh wait, to defend our title), it hampers their ability to compete.
    Not to put a damper on a player’s right to make top dollar, but there’s gotta be a way for teams to hold onto their ‘franchise’ guys without upsetting the free market nature of the game.

    • The Reds are in a lose-lose situation here. If they sign him long term, it really hampers their ability to compete. If they trade him next offseason (I can’t think of a single reason why they shouldn’t—oh wait, to defend our title), it hampers their ability to compete.Not to put a damper on a player’s right to make top dollar, but there’s gotta be a way for teams to hold onto their ‘franchise’ guys without upsetting the free market nature of the game.

      I was of the mindset that the Reds should have traded Votto this summer. The driving force behind that opinion is exactly the catch 22 that you describe.

      Votto will be 30 when he hits FA. The amount of money it will take to lock him up is likely in the $200 million range. There’s no way that deal makes sense to the Reds. Why would you devote 25-33% of your team’s payroll to one player? It makes me scratch my head.

  8. @Sultan of Swaff: Baseball could take a page out of the new NBA free agent signing rules. The maximum contract that a free agent can get is 4 years in the NBA. However, if the player signs a contract with its current team, then he can get a 5th year. Nothing wrong with helping out the smaller markets and keeping competitive balance.

  9. If this year goes bad (hope not) trade him to Seattle for King Felix, Ivan Nova, Matt Garza, or someone like that (assuming he is ours for two years or more) the idea is to get a pitcher for him that can make our rotation deeper and then have the Arroyo replacement. Then snatch a 1st baseman in free agency that is a righty (no more heavy hitting lefties please).

    If we know for sure that we can’t lock Votto up we have to trade him for something. Letting him walk in free agency would be stupid, stupid, stupid.

    • If this year goes bad (hope not) trade him to Seattle for King Felix, Ivan Nova, Matt Garza, or someone like that (assuming he is ours for two years or more) the idea is to get a pitcher for him that can make our rotation deeper and then have the Arroyo replacement. Then snatch a 1st baseman in free agency that is a righty (no more heavy hitting lefties please).If we know for sure that we can’t lock Votto up we have to trade him for something. Letting him walk in free agency would be stupid, stupid, stupid.

      One pitcher does nothing for me. That said, you can address multiple need areas with Votto, adding a young pitcher, 1B and LF.

  10. He’s a Red until at least July, so I plan to enjoy that. Seattle will likely be sellers themselves, so I’ve not sure they would be a trade partner if the front office wants to get some value back. Anyway. Right now Votto is a Red. Just the way I like him.

  11. Oh, how I long for the days of RBIs, HRs and runs…

    Is it too pie in the sky to imagine that the Reds have a very successful season this year, are set up for a very successful season next year, and their attendance in the two years increases dramatically, thereby making signing Votto much more possible?

    And remember also, it’s not just attendance. Isn’t it possible that if we hear the words “World Champion Reds” they might be able to command more I. Their next TV and/ or radio contract?

    Just win, Baby!

  12. First, why do people want more RH hitting? It’s just a damned mystery to me. We only have 3 LH on the whole roster, and most of the pitchers in the league are RH. We need more LH hitters, and losing Votto would make the extra-double true.

    I think with Votto it’s all going to come down to a) whether he likes it here, and b) whether he’ll take a fair contract or will want to go for max bucks.

    On point a) his general aversion to bigcity media has been well documented and I think plays in our favor.

    On point b) I think the Reds will make him a good offer. Something that extends him for 5 or 6 years past his current deal for an annual value of more than $20mil.

    I think that would be a good deal for both sides and I would hope he would take it, and maybe even finish his whole career with the Reds, like a certain HOFer I know.

    But, he now knows that it’s pretty likely he’ll be able to get a contract from some team that is really bad for the team but pays him a ton. If that’s the way he wants to go, then I so be it. I don’t want the Reds to shell out a deal like the Tigers did, and I don’t think they would.

    I think they need to start the talks now though, is basically what I’m saying. If it becomes clear that he’s going to look to kill a team financially, then they should start shopping him, because the haul would be enormous.

    • I think with Votto it’s all going to come down to a) whether he likes it here, and b) whether he’ll take a fair contract or will want to go for max bucks. On point a) his general aversion to bigcity media has been well documented and I think plays in our favor. On point b) I think the Reds will make him a good offer. Something that extends him for 5 or 6 years past his current deal for an annual value of more than $20mil. I think that would be a good deal for both sides and I would hope he would take it, and maybe even finish his whole career with the Reds, like a certain HOFer I know. .

      If the Reds extend Votto after the season, a “fair contract” will probably look like Adrian Gonzalez’s i.e. 7 year/$154 million. Votto would be looking for years because he wouldn’t be able to get another 20 million/year contract at 35. Adding inflation for $/WAR, a 7 year/$165 million extension seems about right. That’d keep him until he’d be 37.

      It’s tough to do that deal if you are Cincinnati, as much as you may want to make that deal.

  13. @PRoseFutureHOFer: Even if the Reds attendance hit 3,000,000, the Reds’ payroll is still probably less than $100 million. You want a 30 year old Votto to account for 25% or more of the payroll? Maybe that’s a hard question. How about a 36 year old Votto?

  14. @David: I have some thoughts about the potential Votto extension and what the recent mega-deals mean for it. If I have time between writing these previews, I’ll try to get something up about it, but I need to do some research first.

  15. @David: Right on. And an increase in attendance for a year or two doesn’t pay for for all the years of Votto’s contract… now a better tv contract helps there. I like your 7yr figure. It’s still a lot, but maybe it’s just mentally comforting not to see something north of $200mil.

  16. First basemen don’t age like most players. 37 is not necessarily the end of one’s career at first base. Hitting doesn’t decline as sharply as fielding, and first base is the least athletic fielding position (not to say it isn’t athletic). What I’m saying is that I’m not worried about a 37 year old first baseman’s skills in sharp decline.

    I also read recently that someone was worried a 34 year old pitcher (I won’t say which pitcher) being about to bounce back. Wha-what? 34 in somewhere in the midlife of a pitcher, especially in as good as shap as Arro… er, um, the one they were talking about.

    Now, if you want to talk about a SS or 3rd base or OF being in decline in the mid-30s… I feel ya.

  17. My point (sorry) I’d still want a 36 year old Votto on my team at +$20 Million. That is if I wasn’t from the Cincinnati market. He can still perform at 36 and 37 provided he doesn’t have too many injuries along the way. Injuries get worse for any player after 30 I get that, but I’d take a bet on a 36 year old Votto, sure.

  18. Here are some other benefits of paying for a Votto:
    1.) So long as Votto (and to a slightly lesser extent, Phillips) are in Reds uniforms, the national media will talk about the Reds.
    2.) Tickets took a nose-dive when the traded Griffey. Even though he was a shell of his former self, people showed up because they wanted to see a Hall of Famer play. I remember the flash bulbs EVERY time he came to bat.
    3.) A 36 year old Votto is still going to be MUCH better than almost every other 1st basemen in the NL.
    4.) I enjoy going to sold out games MUCH more than games where you can pretty much sit anyway you want.

  19. @rfay00: @rfay00: Unfortunately, it doesn’t seem realistic that we could get a front of the rotation type for Votto. Put the shoe on the other foot. Would you want the Reds to trade Latos straight up for even a fantastic position player if that player would be a free agent in 2 yrs? Teams who have a stud pitcher under control for several years aren’t going to throw that away for 1-2 yrs of even a great player like Votto. And if that pitcher is not under team control for a long time, then to trade Votto for him leaves you in the same, or likely a worse position.

Comments are closed.