2016 Reds

Joey Votto is a Hitting Savant. And Still Underrated.

I spent some time admiring Joey Votto in my latest piece over at Cincinnati Magazine:

Joey Votto is the most underrated hitter in all of baseball.

How’s that for a hot take? Whether it’s actually true or not is a matter of perspective, but since there’s no way to measure “underratedness,” I’m not going to attempt to prove that it’s true. I’m sure you won’t mind just taking my word for it, right?

I do believe that what Votto has been able to accomplish at the plate over the last two seasons has been criminally underappreciated, especially by Reds fans. And that’s a shame, because Votto has been on a roll unlike almost anything this city has ever seen.

Let me be as clear as I possibly can: you need to pay attention to Votto every single day and cherish the things he’s accomplishing as a hitter. Because there’s a very good chance that you’ll never again—for the rest of your life—see another Reds hitter do the things that Votto has been doing over the last couple years.

Please go read the entire thing and let me know what you think. I really don’t believe that most fans properly appreciate that we have the opportunity, every single day, to watch one of the best hitters in Reds history. Maybe the best.

65 thoughts on “Joey Votto is a Hitting Savant. And Still Underrated.

  1. Agreed! I still don’t understand how Votto is viewed as “Overpaid” considering what other elite players are getting paid. The contact is actually a pretty good one for the team. Votto is underrated and is unfairly criticized by WLW700, which is why I’ve stopped listening to them.

    • Had the Dodgers broadcast on tonight because that’s what was streaming. Let’s just say, Vin Scully they are not.

    • Agree, I read a Rosecrans article last month that asked who was next HOF from the Reds. He said Votto was not likely! I totally disagree. Votto could even lose his power and he will still get 2-3 WAR a year for 8 years given his bat control and walks. That would put him around 70 WAR at minimum. That is HOF territory for sure.

      • Definitely seems like Votto is the only current Red with even a chance of being a Hall of Famer.

      • If Votto’s defense has taken a complete nose dive permanently, it’s very unlikely he’ll put up 2-3 WAR in his late-30s and early-40s. I mean… he’s at 3.1 fWAR right now, and we should probably expect him to end the season right around 4.0 fWAR.

        70 WAR is certainly possible, but I think 60-65 WAR is more likely.

        And 70 WAR is still fairly low for HOF 1st basemen, who have historically had big HR/RBI numbers, which Votto will not have.

        Ultimately, my best guess is that Votto will get in if the voters at the time realize what Joey was… a guy who avoided making outs better than all but about 20 guys (by the time her retires… he’s 13th right now) in history, and a guy who was one of the best strikers of the ball in history (currently 4th in BABIP in MLB history, min 5000 PA).

        • I highly doubt people look much at defensive WAR at 1B (or really any position unless its an outlier like Ozzie Smith). Jeter was like 10-14 negative WAR on defense!

          Plus I think Joey can make some easy adjustments to get up to -0.5 dWAR or less.

        • People probably don’t look at it alone, but they’ll certainly look at his overall WAR, in which defensive value is rolled in.

          Yeah, I don’t think he’s as bad as he’s looked at times this year. We know he works hard, so I expect him to go back to being average-ish for a 1st baseman rather than terrible.

        • Good points. Votto can return to being a better fielder but it will take more focus from him while on the field. Not sure he can do it given the slippage over the past few years. He can be a HOF player but it will take the Reds getting good and Votto winning one more MVP.

  2. Votto produced $60 million in value last year. Was paid $14 million.

    How can the Reds possibly afford him?

    • While I totally agree in principle, the contract was partly backloaded. It probably is better to say that we are paying him the equivalent of 20-22 million because some of the money in the last few years. Either way he will probably out produce his deal in 8-9 of his 10 years, conservatively.

      • Fair point, $22.5m AAV. On the other hand, $$$ in 2023 won’t be worth what they are today. Baseball salaries (and spending on WAR) increasing by 10%/year. By 2023, $25 million will probably be a 2 WAR player.

    • This has nothing to do with Votto, but it is a pet peeve of minor when people use the 8 million $ = 1WAR idea. Its just not true and it kinda drives me crazy for some reason.

      WAR is calculated so that there are 1000 wins each season. MLB teams spent almost 4 billion on payroll last year. That equals 4 million per win.

      Another way to look at it is you need about 35-40 WAR to be a playoff contender. That would be about an 87-92 win team with neutral luck. If 1 WAR was worth 8 million then it would take somewhere around a 300 million dollar payroll just to compete. There are only 1 or 2 teams that could even afford that.

      The whole idea of one win being worth 8 million is based on the free agent market. But those are the most overpaid players in the game because of rules that deflate young players salary and increase veterans. Why would you use the most overpaid players to determine the value of a win.

      • I have the same issues w/ the dollar amounts for WAR. You basically just stated them a lot better than I can. For a free-agent contract, the $8-millian/WAR figure is probably about right. For overall value around baseball though, the lower paid players who produce drive the real value lower… Even at the lower figure though, Votto has been worth every penny so far.

      • I believe the idea is that free agents are getting that much money, not what everyone is getting paid. Obviously guys playing at league minimum producing a few WAR would skew the data.

        • In Votto case, he got his contract as if he was a free agent (he would have been if he did not sign) so it’s valid. What you are saying is it is smart to trade for young guys, of course!

      • Simple. Because it shows what teams are willing to spend per WAR in the open market. Not sure what your assertion of “overpaid” is based on. Free agent players are paid what they’re worth to the owners. Some end up overpaid based on performance. Some, like Votto, are underpaid. We’re not talking about social worth here. If your point is players are overpaid compared to elementary school teachers, we can co-author an article and try to get it posted at a philosophy website.

        This is a segmented labor market where in one part, salaries are suppressed by the collective bargaining agreement and employer power. In the other half, salaries are determined based on what employees can get in a free market. We’re talking about freely determined salary. If anything the free agent market is tilted against labor because employers have alternatives where they control the salary (pre-arb) or salaries are suppressed (arb).

        It sounds like your entire point would vanish if everyone was careful to say one WAR is worth $8 in the free agent market.

        • The free agent market is not a true open market though, because of the service time rules, arbitration, etc.. that artificially deflate younger players salary and artificially inflate the veterans salary.

          Im talking about what a win is actually worth. Yes, I have no problem saying that teams on average are spending 8 million per projected win on the free agent market. But that doesn’t mean that is what its worth because the free agent market is artificially inflated. Furthermore, that is not what you said. You stated that Votto produced 60 million in value. I’m not picking on you because you hear people use the 8 million figure all the time. But its just not true. Nobody is getting paid 60 million per year.

          • Didn’t say Votto was being paid $60 million. I said Votto produced $60 million in value. Point being if you tried to find that value in the open market, that’s how much you’d have to pay for it.

            Your first paragraph doesn’t make any sense. If part of the labor market has depressed wages, why does that mean the rest of the salaries are “artificially” inflated? If anything, cheap substitutes depress negotiating positions of free agents. Please explain how rules that restrict salaries in some of the labor market “artificially” inflate veteran salary.

            Veterans make more, to be sure. And they make a lot more than non-free agents because the latter group has their salaries suppressed. But that doesn’t make the higher salaries necessarily inflated or artificial.

          • And no one gets paid $60 million because they sign long-term contracts that include years when everyone involved knows the player won’t produce much. If Votto or any other player was on the free agent market for a one-year contract in a year he was expected to produce 7 WAR, I think you’d see it. Google Bryce Harper and future contract.

        • The baseball job market is not like a normal job market. It is a highly skilled, highly specialized profession where relatively small differences in production can have huge implications for the employer.

          Example: a team expecting to contend has a hole in left field. The only cheap internal option is a replacement level player. But there are a couple 2-3 projected win players on the market. The team may decide to pay one of these free agents more than they are actually worth because outside of a trade that is the only way they can upgrade the lf position. And that 2-3 win upgrade could be the difference between making or missing the playoffs.

          That is how the free agent market is artificially inflated.

          • Still don’t understand how that is artificial. It sounds like a regularly operating labor market where employers pay what’s necessary to secure labor. What those players end up getting paid is what a WAR is worth at the margin to at least one of the teams. If it wasn’t worth it, employers wouldn’t pay it.

            The only part of the market that is artificial is the pre-free agency part where salaries are intentionally held down by labor rules. That segment of the labor market provides a *drag* on the salaries for free agents. Not all internal options are replacement level.

            Imagine how much the Reds would have had to pay Billy Hamilton or Anthony DeSclafani this year without that artificial limit. Because they had Hamilton’s cheap labor, they didn’t have to go out on the free market and pay full rate for WAR from a center fielder or starting pitcher.

        • The service time rules keep the supply of available labor artificially low. Free agents only have to compete with a small percentage of the labor force each year for jobs.

          Thought experiment: if every player in baseball were a free agent at the end of the year, what effect would that have on the total MLB payroll. If one win is truly worth 8 million, then we would expect salaries to double from 4 billion to 8 billion in one off-season. Do you really think that would happen? I don’t.

          Or put another way: if every player in baseball were a free agent at the end of last year would guys like Heyward or Mike Leake have got the big contracts they got? I don’t think so because the employers would have had a lot more options.

          • I just don’t understand what your point has been all along. You don’t disagree with the statement that a WAR is worth $8 million in the free agent market.

      • My point is simple: the value of a win is not 8 million. Closer to 4 million.

        What you are doing is the equivalent of taking the 20 highest paying doctors in the country, finding the average of their salary, and saying that is what a doctor is worth.

        • And what you are doing is at variance with every other person who analyzes this stuff and at variance with what every major league organization does.

          Joey Votto provided $60 million in value to the Reds based on how much it would cost to acquire that much value in the open market.

  3. Most fans are dumb. They have very little understanding of what actually produces runs and how baseball games are won.

    Votto is often criticized for his lack of RBI’s and walking while runners are on base. Many Reds fans want him to be Tony Perez who was such a “great clutch hitter”

    For his career…Joey Votto has “driven in” 17% of the runners that were on base. Tony Perez drove in 18% of the runners that were on base.

    The key difference is Perez averaged .685 runners per plate appearance ( possibly the most of anyone-ever) and Votto has averaged
    .569. Over the course of a season, Perez had roughly 70 more runners to “drive in” than Votto.

    Joey is one of the greatest Reds ever and one of the best players of his generation. We are lucky to have him.

    • Perez only had two individual seasons with higher wRC+ than Votto’s career average.

      Most interesting thing I learned in the last 30 seconds… Tony Perez was actually a league-average base runner for his career. That’s a pretty good accomplishment, actually, given that he was not a burner.

      • Speaking of the old guys….just for fun the other day I looked up some stats on the BRM guys and found out my fav George Foster actually has a higher lifetime ops then Bench or Perez! Now I love Joey but George Foster was much more underrated then Votto imo! He was overshadowed by 3-4 guys on his own team…let alone louder guys on other teams like Reggie Jackson or whoever. Did anyone else hit 50+ HRs in a season in the 60s, 70s, or 80s? I don’t think so but I could be wrong.

        • Agree, to be fair Foster was of no defensive value and he did stay around as long as Perez. Either Foster or Perez was going to get the HOF backing but not both so I think it worked out OK.

        • I’m not saying Foster was anywhere near the player of a Bench or Votto….or maybe even Tony but he was underrated and one of the top sluggers in the game for 5 years probably.

        • Well duh…yeah I forgot about Maris/Mantle somehow but 52 in 1977 stood til the roid boys took it down

        • Willie Mays hit 52 in 1965.

          I’m not much of a PED-user critic, but it is sad how the home run records were diminished in value by the Selig Era.

      • In 1975, Perez had .85 base runners per plate appearance. I’ve randomly sampled other great players and that is tied for most RBI opportunity ever in a year per PA. The person that he shares the lead with is ……Johnny Bench…also in 1975.

        In 2015, Votto had .509 base runners per plate appearance.

        If plate appearances had been equal at say 600… then Perez’s Would’ve had over 200 more runners to potentially drive in vs Votto.

        In reality, Perez had 121 fewer plate appearances and yet had 135 more possible runners to drive in.

        Amazing.

        • Those numbers are breathtaking. I bet Votto’s lack of chances go back several years (other than 2013 with Choo). It was always highly ironic (and infuriating) to hear Walt Jocketty talk about needing to acquire an “RBI guy” while at the same time loading the top of the order with low-OBP players. He never saw the importance of that connection.

    • Interesting too in light of the conversation the other day that batters traditionally hit about 10% higher. Too much work to do right now to figure out that hypothetical, but I’m sure that thought will run through my mind the next few days.

    • Winner winner, chicken dinner!! This sums it up entirely. It certainly doesn’t help when the team’s announcers also are constantly saying that all he does is walk or imply that he isn’t a run-producer.

      • Even further, Brandon Phillips had 100 RBI in 2013, by driving in CHoo and Votto. Does anyone here think they would rather have BP batting with a man on base than Votto?

        • I bet a few here would (I’m not one of them)… I bet the Brennemans would.

        • The Brennemans definitely would prefer Phillips to Votto in just about every situation, I’d say.

  4. Votto has what every hitter wishes they had and that’s the talent and the mental toughness to produce at a very high level.He maybe the greatest hitter the Reds have ever had.Mattingly showed him the respect he deserves the last two night by walking him intentionally.One time it worked and one time it didn’t but there are guys on every team that never should be given a chance to beat you.He’s that guy for us and I am glad we have him.

  5. I’ve always thought the one question that would most blow Marty Brennaman’s mind to learn the answer:

    Q: Which hitter, Tony Perez or Joey Votto, has a higher batting average with runners in scoring position?

    A: Votto (.328), Perez (.284).

    A couple extra stats:

    Isolated power (ISO) with RISP: Votto (.248), Perez (.186).

    OPS with RISP adjusted for time period: Votto (121), Perez (108).

    Caveat: Perez numbers affected by playing through the end of his career, which Votto hasn’t done yet. But still, pretty interesting. Perez always known as a clutch hitter. Votto’s numbers (so far) far surpass.

    • I think his answer would be what is ISO, or What is OPS? How many RBI does each have?

        • As long as he is not an RBI Machine I don’t believe Marty will ever give him his due. And all the statistics in the world including those above about opportunity will be looked at by Marty (And really both Brennamans) as excuse making by the “stat lovers.”

        • @JeffC – They don’t give Votto his due but they actually hate the stat lovers.

        • Stat guys run Wall Street, the insurance industry, retail sales industry, defense industry, and pretty much every other profit making enterprise. . . . Nuf said.

    • I heard Marty yesterday talking about how great Votto has been the last couple months. After the last 2 years, I really don’t think there are many Votto critics. I am proud to say I bought his signed rookie card for my son when he was in AA. He didn’t make it as a catcher or 3b though!

    • Steve, Marty Brennaman lost his baseball mind many years ago. Facts will not change any opinion he has. The man continually opens his mouth before engaging his brain. He is mistake prone and clearly does little preparation for his broadcasts resulting in bloviating rather than insight. I just wish Bob Castellini would move him off the radio and put him into a master of ceremonies role.

    • I believe Joey Votto is a great hitter who is undervalued by some of his own broadcasters. One of the best Reds ever. However, let’s not diminish run producers like Tony Perez to elevate a Joey Votto. Batting average with runners in scoring position is a good stat but like most stats does not yield a complete picture. With a guy on third, one or no outs, tight ball game (within a run either way), fairly late in the game, I would much rather have Tony Perez at the plate than JVotto. With Votto I expect men at first and third one out and it is up to the next man up. No hit to his batting average. With Tony Perez I expect that run to be driven in. Sac fly doesn’t hurt his average either, but the groundout does, as would an error induced by a hard hit ball that the fielder muffs while drawn in. Thereby I tie the game, get the lead, or get a run cushion in a tight situation.

      TCT makes great points with respect to the artificially driven supply demand at work thanks to the veterans shafting the young’uns via the agreements between the players union and baseball owners.

      Joey Votto is a great player, but perhaps the better way of looking at the current system is not how much Joey is worth under an inflated valuation of WAR, but how efficient and what objective function should management strive to optimize? Is it better to pay a top notch on base percentage guy $22.5MM a year with average and declining fielding and base running skills or a Eugenio Suarez 500k a year with his current production and the possibility of enhanced production over the next few years as his salary increases to a rate that will top out at a fifth or sixth of Votto’s salary before he moves on to greener pastures. And thus, should the Reds EVER pay up to hold onto a veteran about to enter their free agency eligibility…be they Votto, Phillips, or Bailey? My answer obviously is no.

  6. I will admit I’m sort of old-school and I have criticized Joey at times even though I enjoy his play because he’s such an unusual player. In my defense its been a long time since I’ve criticized his offense because I finally figured out what he is and what he does! He gets the best he possibly can out of his offensive skillset!

    Lets face it….the guy is not really a slugger and not really a table-setter either but some kind of deadly hybrid! Looking back I’m not sure how he only had 73 RBIs in 2013 with Choo on-base in front of him all year. Wasn’t Choo the leadoff man all year? Joey is more Pete Rose as a player then Ted Williams or someone…..and that’s ok its just different then anyone else. Literally the only guy I can think of that looked to drive the ball the other way and walked a ton was Frank Thomas and their career ops are pretty close! I wouldn’t think the Big Hurt needed roids but they were getting handed out in the 90s like glasses at a 3D movie!

    • Actually, that is still underselling Votto. Compare his OPS to the greats like Mantle and many other non Ruth players. His isolated power (new stat) and slugging percentage (old stat) are also on par with many of the greats, so power is not the issue. More importantly, HR are not the only thing that creates runs. While it sounds odd that Votto only drove in 73 in 2013, Phillips drove in 100 that year which would have made no sense if he wasn’t driving in Votto. For example, if Choo is on first with 1 out and Votto comes up and singles he gets no RBI, which happened a lot in my memory.

      • I agree with your point. But a point of information for everyone: ISO (isolated power) is a new concept. But it’s based on two old stats – slugging percentage and batting average. To get ISO you just subtract AVG from SLG. That’s it. It isolates the extra-base hit part of SLG. Otherwise, slugging can be a little misleading because it includes singles.

        A batter who hits .300 but entirely singles has a SLG of .300 (ISO = .000)
        A batter who hits .300 mostly singles and a few extra base hits could have a SLG of .400. (ISO = .100)
        A batter who hits .200 but with many extra base hits could also have a SLG of .400. (ISO = .200)

        That’s not to say which batter is more valuable, only that SLG masks power partially. ISO isolates the power (that’s why it stands for isolated power).

      • You touch on an important point here, Gaffer. RBI only gives credit to 1 person, even if that person didn’t have the most to do with scoring the run.

        The stat called RE24 gives exact credit (as close as can be calculated) to each person involved. So if someone singles, then the next guy singles advancing the runner to 3rd, then the next batter hits a sac fly, each of these 3 players receives some amount of RE24 credit for having a part in scoring that run. It makes so much sense and it’s so simple I wish it had a sexier name so it could become more mainstream.

        Since Votto’s first full season in 2008, here are the RE24 leaders…

        M. Cabrera – 428
        J. Votto – 415
        A. Pujols – 333
        A. Gonzalez – 332
        M. Holliday – 314
        R. Braun – 314
        M. Trout – 307



        124th – B. Phillips – 56

        Recall that Trout took a goose egg for 2008 and 2009. What a player. Also, Cabrera has about 600 more PA during this time frame due to Votto’s injuries. So really, Votto is the best. Well, actually, using that logic Trout is the best by far, but Votto is the 2nd best.

        So there we see that when you look at a stat that measures getting on base, advancing runners, AND driving in runners, Votto is as good as it gets.

        • Not to be a hater but Miggy Cabrera played in Florida and old Comerica which were both notorious pitchers parks. 35 HRs in those places = 45+ minimum in GABP but other then Miggy or maybe prime Pujols but I think many of Albert’s best years were before Joey. Other then that Joey is better then any of them but GABP is perfect for someone with oppo power either way! I wonder how many oppo HRs they get in the current Miami stadium? I bet there are 3-4x as many GABP oppo HRs atleast but just a guess?

          Irregardless….love Joey but want to see with healthy knees/legs because his baserunning seems more troublesome this year for some reason! Getting older sort of sucks:)

      • I remember Cozart batted second a lot that year. Choo would get on base and Baker would have Cozart bunt him over, even in the 1st inning. Then Votto would bat with an empty base and get nothing to hit.

      • Here’s what I remember happening in 2013…Choo got on…Cozart bunted him over, and pitchers pitched around Votto and walked him…BP and Bruce batted them in. If either or both BP and Bruce were better, both would have had 120 RBIs or more, not barely 100.

  7. Joey needs more days off. He should only play 140 games next year…let him rest, work in the cage, lift and refine his craft. He can hit till he is 40 if planned well. I don’t care about his defense.

  8. Here’s my projection of Joey’s slash for the full season, assuming 674 plate appearances: .319/.442/.528.
    (That’s .213/.330/.404 for April-May and .370/.494/.588 for June-Oct.)
    Would you take the over or the under on each of the three numbers?

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