Joey Votto is Perfect

Thinkin’ bout Votto

This morning, on Twitter, I ended up in a little discussion about Joey Votto’s eventual Hall of Fame chances. As a result, I ended up staring at the glorious thing that is his stats page on FanGraphs. And then something struck me.

Joey Votto’s best season was in 2012. We all remember the knee. But he was out of his mind and would have put up something like 8.5 WAR if he’d played the full year healthy. He was also 28-years-old. Which is, frankly, exactly when ballplayers are supposed to peak.

Last year, he put up 7.4 WAR and we all felt lucky to have it. But the more I stared at it, the more I thought maybe it wasn’t luck at all. And it all goes back to his walk numbers in 2012. Before that peak year, Votto walked about 14 percent of the time and struck out about 18 percent of the time. Those are great numbers. Since then, however, he’s walked about 19 percent of the time while striking out about 18.5 percent of the time. Those are phenomenal numbers, especially in this era of inflated strikeout totals. And they speak to a change in his approach and/or ability.

So, follow me with what I’m about to say next… In 2013 and 2014, Votto was not nearly as good as he had been in 2012. But the decline can be almost entirely attributed to his leg and knee issues. Especially the power absence. However, these were not a problem last year. And we saw Votto rebound… to exactly where we’d have expected him to be at this point in the aging curve if we only looked at 2012. Because, between ages 28 and 31, the typical major league player loses about 1 WAR in true-talent.

Again, Votto was on pace for about 8.5 WAR when he got hurt in 2012. In 2015, when he was fully healthy again, he posted 7.4 WAR. Which is EXACTLY what he should have done.

Now, am I looking at this all through rose colored glasses? Of course I am. It’s February and this is not going to be a good team. I’ll take what I can get. But if I’m right, we can expect Votto to age normally such that he could be expected to produce win totals of 7.0, 6.5, 6.0, and 5.5 over the next four seasons with a steeper drop off after that.

I have no idea if that will happen. It’s pure fantasy with some cherry-picked stats because I had a flight-of-fancy. But it’s fun to think about and if it happens, he’s going to go to the Hall of Fame.

33 thoughts on “Thinkin’ bout Votto

  1. The only serious issue there is health, with a secondary concern about protection in the lineup. Frankly if he stays healthy I’ll be shocked if he doesn’t put up at least 20 WAR over the next four years, and 25 seems very plausible. Should be fun to watch. Now if the last couple years of those four also involve pennant races, I’ll be a very happy Reds fan.

    • The lineup protection concern is legitimate. Will this only increase his walk rate as he sees more IBBs?

    • Lack of lineup protection, to the extent that it exists, would likely do nothing but serve to lower his RBI totals and increase his OBP.

      In that scenario, I don’t think his Cooperstown chances are harmed at all. He’s at a .423 career OBP right now… if he keeps getting walked like this and gets it up to .430 for retirement, he’ll be 10th in baseball history in OBP.

      Currently, every eligible player in the Top 15 is in the HOF, except Barry Bonds.

  2. I think it is likely Votto could have a kinder aging curve than your average 1Bman based on his particular set of skills.

    A few more elite years, followed by some low (but still positive) WAR seasons as he gets to 40 yrs old and he’ll be headed to Cooperstown.

    The thing I can think of that might keep him out in this scenario is the lack of any playoff success at all. Some voters like that stuff. Usually, however, those may be the same voters that won’t put in a guy who only has 2300 hits, 300 HR and maybe 975 RBI (arbitrary numbers). Those guys probably wouldn’t have been voting for Votto anyways.

    However, if there is a large shift in the electorate in the next 15 years or so, towards a more sabermetric voting approach, Votto’s wRC+ or OPS+, along with times-on-base, would likely get him in.

    Another thing in Votto’s favor is the fact that he’s already won an MVP award. I can’t remember where I read it (Maybe THT? You’d probably know, Jason) but there was some sort of positive correlation between having at least a single MVP award and getting the necessary votes if all your other stats lined up decently.

    I’m just rambling now. Thanks for the distraction, Jason!

  3. That 2012 season. What might have been. I would have loved to seen where Votto would have ended up on the season record for doubles. He was on pace to crush it. That year would have been his 2nd MVP award, no doubt. What that slide in Detroit took from Votto, the Reds, and Reds fans. Another reason to dislike Detroit.

  4. Wow. Reports say the Cubs have signed FA OF Dexter Fowler after there were reports earlier this week he had signed with Baltimore.
    The Cubs are going to be a juggernaut this year. But that has to leave Jorge Soler or Kyle Schwarber without a starting job now. Can the Reds match up with Chicago? Cubs need some younger arms.

    • This development just might re-open Baltimore’s interest in Jay Bruce. Stay tuned.

        • We need to put some of our pitching excess into a package with JB and get Trey Mancini. Guy can rake and I just read an article where said he’d love to play OF to get to the Show (in a bizarre twist – no one from Orioles has approached him to do this). Sounds like the type of guy we need around here.

  5. 2012 was his best year by rate stats. Last year was his best by WAR. But I think you have to look at context for these things, and on that basis I still think 2010 was his best year. That was a deep team with lots of solid players having good years. But there was only one star on that team, and Votto carried them on his back. So many big hits for the Canadian God of OBP that year. It got to the point where it was shocking if Votto didn’t come through late in the game.

    • Interesting that you say that. Votto himself would disagree that 2010 was his best, as he’s mentioned several times before. For one thing, he struck out more and walked less. He definitely honed his approach at the plate in later years. The other thing you simply can’t ignore was that he was actually pitched to a lot more in 2010. Some of that was due to protection but it’s also true that Votto had not yet established his reputation as a guy who could beat you.

  6. As reported by Mark Sheldon during the break between 2 games on 07/22/15, Votto responded to questions regarding his offensive resurgence from a good 1st half to a dominating 2nd half. During those 2 games Votto went 5-6 with 1 HR & 4 BB.

    “I’ve been working with [hitting coach] Don Long to make some adjustments to what was a flawed swing,” Votto said. “I’m still kind of working through it. I feel like I’m headed in the right direction. There are some subtle adjustments to make.”

    “The ball speaks for you,” Votto said. “The way the ball comes off the bat, timing with the pitchers, the way you feel at the plate. That does plenty for you. Then after that, you go to the video or have discussions with the right people and work from there.”

    The 2 debilitating injuries (knee and quad) to Votto’s weight-bearing leg, robbed the elite offensive force of 2 of his most productive seasons plus the 2nd half of his most productive season in 2012. The 1st half of the 2015 season was good, but it wasn’t Vottoesque. When Votto speaks about hitting and hitting adjustments, anyone who doesn’t sit up and take notice is simply a fool. Votto is the most dedicated, intellectual hitter since Ted Williams. The Old Cossack believes Votto was feeling his way back during the 1st half of 2015. He was successful during the 1st half of 2015. For anyone else, such success would have been euphoric, but Votto realized the success he achieved during the 1st half of 2015 was missing the results he sought. He went about making the necessary adjustments in his pursuit of perfection.

    The point being, I don’t believe we are seeing a regression from 2012 to 2015. We are finally seeing the specter of Votto’s leg injuries being vanquished from his performance.

    1st half of 2012=> .350/.471/.632 in 331 PA
    33-2B; 14-HR; 1.103 OPS; .409 BAbip; 18.2%-BB%; 18.5%-SO%

    2nd half of 2015=> .344/.514/.585 in 368 PA
    20-2B; 15-HR; 1.099 OPS; .429 BAbip; 25.0%-BB%; 20.4%-SO%

    The 3 months from 2012 and the 3 months from 2015 represent significant timelines for realistic performance trends. The differences between the 1st half of 2012 and the 2nd half of 2015:

    -Votto was 3 years older in 2015
    -Votto had absolutely no protection behind him to force pitchers to pitch to him in 2015

    The lack of any offensive threat hitting behind Votto in 2015, forced Votto to deal with pitch arounds. Of course Votto chose to accept the increased walks rather than chase piches out of his hitting zone. That’s not regression. That’s pitchers doing their job by not allowing the lone hitter in the lineup who can beat you, to beat you. I contend that without the knee injury, Votto would have pocketed the MVP in 2012 and also been a serious MVP contender, if not winner, in 2013, 2014 and 2015. The 2016 season should be very interesting in that respect. I believe Votto proved he has not regressed at all from his 2012 season and will not have to work through the same adjustments against live-game, competitive pitching during 2016 that he needed to make in 2015. The only question will be the end result of Votto’s offensive performance. If the Reds provide the offensive protection behind Votto (Do you feel those cross-hairs looking at you Mesoraco?), Votto should manage a performance similar to the 1st half of the 2012 season. If not, Votto should manage a performance similar to the 2nd half of 2015. Either way, we should see another MVP-caliber performance from Votto in 2016…regression be darned!

    Just like every other elite hitter, father time will eventually catch up to Votto. Eventually the power will regress and Votto will prove to be human, but I believe we may have 4, possibly 5, more seasons before we actually see a regression in Votto’s power and he trends toward an .800 OPS hitter. What we saw during 2014 was Votto sans his power and I believe that’s what we will see at the end of Votto’s contract. The question that will face the Reds will come the year AFTER they excercise their club option in 2024. If Votto wants to play past his age 40 season, will the Reds pay him to finish his career wearing the wishbone C?

  7. A question. Is there any sort of comparative analysis between players that keep themselves extremely fit, like Joey, and those that may not take it as seriously, say, a Jumbo Diaz, and their WAR regression with age? Steroid bums excluded, of course. And a thought. Why not make Votto a player/hitting coach? He has Pete’s mentality when it comes to plate approach. Maybe Hamilton could get on a bit more.

  8. SHCHI COSSACK, my sentiments exactly. If you take the 10,000 foot view, you begin to see what a ride we’re in for…we are witnessing an impending collision of at least two massive key traffic patterns where Votto is concerned: (1) Votto’s enormously intense desire and progress toward perfection has waned not a bit, despite his being over 30, and (2) Votto is beginning to reap the less tangible but very real benefits of wisdom. Now, a third ingredient…as JB WV alludes to, Votto is such an intense fitness buff that it convinces me that we’ll not likely see physical deterioration of any significance before he (Votto) and we all benefit hugely from the collision of the two patterns mentioned above. This is a collision us Reds fans are going to enjoy for many more years…the rest of the league, not so much!

    • I just hope fitness buff Joey Votto does not overtrain like a certain golfer named Eldrick.

      • I hear you on that one. I think one comforting thought is that age probably doesn’t have much to do with over-training issues until later (i.e., late 30s)…heck, there are some youngsters who have more injury-issues-from-overtraining than the older players. Tells me that training right is more important than training hard…believe Votto has this right.

    • Trade Votto to Jays, Red Sox or Yanks for some elite talent within the next year. I don’t really care if he gets in the HOF or not, I’d much rather have a World Series trophy brought to Cincy. Why wait 3 yrs (since it will likely be that long until the Reds compete again) and risk other serious injuries and a steep aging curve? If we are not happy with the trade returns thus far, we are stuck with draft picks that will take even longer to develop.

      • If we were to move Votto, we’d mostly be moving the contract. We’d get a return but not much. Votto also has a full no-trade clause so he’d have to agree to be moved. The Reds could move some money with Votto to get a better return back (if Votto agreed to the trade) but why would they want to do that? Yes, there is certainly a risk of injury or non-performance but Votto’s skill set ages well and he plays 1B. The only reason I could see moving him is if you hate the contract. My thoughts on that are you have to pay someone so you may as well pay someone who stands a pretty good chance of being worth the money. Votto is that guy.

  9. I dare say about 50% of Votto’s walks come because the Reds can’t field a team behind him. Stop making him sound like the second coming of Barry Bonds. He is a great player, potentially a hall of fame player but he isn’t the greatest player in the league…. not even close.
    Now… I would love to see Votto’s numbers on steroids. I bet he would hit 40 homers a year.

    • Maybe he isn’t the greatest player in the league but for 2015 ESPN ranked him 5th and Elias ranked him 3rd in the NL among position players. That’s close enough for me.

    • Dan Reds fans do not have much to hang their hat on other than Votto. Take it for what it is worth.

    • I’ll also add that while many here are firm believers in advanced statistics (including me), there is a beauty to the way Votto generates his greatness. His approach and discipline are not as obviously wonderful as Griffey’s swing, or Bonds’ hands, or the Big Hurt’s strength, but more subtle. Appreciating his art is more complex, like jazz, not Mozart or the Rolling Stones.

  10. I said something like this in a previous article about Joey Votto and his HOF chances, but I really don’t see him making it in, simply because he began too late and his peak was too short/injury riddled.

    Think about it. You have guys like Mike Trout who are just turned 24 whose LOWEST WAR season to date is 7.9. A guy like Griffey generated so much WAR in his 20’s that he could have retired by age 30 and still made the HOF (which, actually, is sort of what happened, but not voluntarily). Even someone like Jim Thome had generated more WAR than Votto by this point in his career (47.5 for Thome vs 43.4 for Votto), and Thome’s whole HOF case revolves around his hitting 600+ HR, something Votto has no chance at all of doing.

    Now, granted, WAR is not the end-all/be-all of HOF induction, with someone like Mike Piazza getting in with with 59.4 WAR. But Piazza had that extra pizzazz, a few “iconic” moments (such as the post 9/11 game) and, oh yeah, he played in New York. There are a handful of players who finished with WAR above Piazza who did not make it into the HOF because, for whatever reason, they just didn’t “capture” the voters the way someone like Piazza did. Votto is guilty of this as well, in that he is quietly great, plays in a small market that hasn’t had much success during his tenure, and just simply has had too little national exposure. Sure, Cincinnati (and this board especially) love him and can’t stop talking about how great he is, but he’s largely overlooked on the national stage apart from the occassional “Hey, Remember Joey Votto? He’s Still Playing Well” type articles.

    I fully expect him to finish his career with a WAR in the mid-60s in all likelyhood, he’s going to miss more time with injuries. This isn’t being pessimistic, just realistic. As we age, our bodies just aren’t as durable and don’t bounce back the way they did when we were in our 20’s. There are a few very notable exceptions to this rule, but it’s safer to bet that Votto will experience the normal amount of missed time due to injuries/aging.

    I fully admit that Votto is a special player and could surprise me by averaging 4+ WAR for each year over the remainder of his contract (which would mean he’d finish with a career WAR of 75+), but that would be exceptional rather than expected because, like Jason said, even if he manages to avoid injury and produce win totals of 7.0, 6.5, 6.0, and 5.5 over the next four seasons (which, as nice as it sounds, is highly unlikely), he’s still looking at a steep dropoff for the seasons following.

    In the end, I think Votto’s later start, his short/aborted peak due to injuries, and his lack of exposure all will really hurt his HOF chances.

    But we still have 8 years to go before we cross that bridge, so expect articles like this to be an annual fixture on RLN. It’s going to be fascinating to watch it unfold.

  11. All-day Jim Day had this tweet.
    “I’m always asked who is standing out in early drills…there are many but my first answer is Cody Reed #filthystuff.”
    Hope we see alot of that this spring. He’s going to make it hard on Price and the front office not to include him in the rotation at spring’s end. I know, don’t start the service clock time until late April.

    • Whoever doesn’t make the rotation will be part of a strong one at AAA. Should be a fun competition all year, seeing who comes and goes. Can’t wait to see Reed pitch.

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