Joey Votto is Perfect

How much value is Votto leaving on the base paths?

After watching Joey Votto get thrown out at home plate last Thursday, it raised the question of Votto’s potential value if he were a better base runner. It’s greedy to want all things from Joey Votto, because he’s a great player as is, but a closer look at his base running value proved interesting.

The overall impact of base running on a player’s value is not completely defined. Different sources will use different factors and weight certain aspects more or less than others. FanGraphs, incorporates three specific values to create a Base Running Runs (BsR) value for each player. The first variable used is Ultimate Base Running (UBR) which deals with non-stolen bases running, so essentially taking extra bases. The second is Weighted Stolen Bases (wSB) which assigns a run value to a player’s ability to steal bases. And the third is Weighted Ground Into Double Play Runs (wGDP) based on how often a player hits into or avoids the double play. These all make sense in terms of ways that base runners can make a difference after they have swung the lumber. And while we may not know exactly how much, there is absolutely value to be gained or lost on the base paths.

Going back to Votto specifically, we know that he has provided the Reds tremendous value with his bat. But how much has his poor base running detracted from that? According to FanGraphs, Votto’s total BsR for his career is -17.3. Applying the rule of thumb of 10 runs equally one win, we could quickly estimate it has cost the Reds (and Votto, in terms of WAR) 1.7 wins.

Over the course of a career, 1.7 wins is not going to turn a pretender into a contender. It is, however, not nothing, and the numbers do grow when we start comparing players. The highest BsR total since Votto joined the Reds is 66.9 for Michael Bourn, indicating a variance of about 8.3 wins between the two. With Billy Butler accounting for an astounding -85.2 BsR, the gap from best to worst is roughly 152 runs, or 15.2 wins. How much Votto could have improved his value based on better base running?

Votto’s WAR (Hypothetical) Based on BsR Percentile

BsR Percentile

11th (Actual) 25th 50th 75th 90th
Total WAR 50.4 51.4 52.1 53.0

54.3

Using the BsR data from 2007 – 2017, it’s possible to recalculate Votto’s total WAR. Using the most extreme example, if Votto had base running skills in the 90th percentile (though he was actually in the 11th percentile), his total WAR would increase by 3.9. That would cut the gap to Joe Morgan (57.2) in about half on the Reds all-time leaderboard, and would move him from 10th to 7th among all active players, jumping ahead of Robinson Cano, Mike Trout and David Wright.

Could Votto actually be in the 90th percentile for base running? At first thought, Votto is not the type of player who would be expected to provide stellar value through his base running. That is what Billy Hamilton is for, right? On second thought, the best player on the planet is widely known to be, among other things, an amazing hitter and an amazing base runner. Paul Goldschmidt, another perennial MVP candidate with similar production to Votto, also has a reputation for running well. So is Votto’s subpar BsR normal or not?

Below are the top 10 players from 2007 – 2017 ranked by wRC+ with each of their BsR values. Percentiles are adjusted to account for games played since BsR accumulates as time goes on.

Top 10 – wRC+ (2007 – 2017)

Name wRC+ BsR BsR Per Game Percentile

Mike Trout

170 44.4 99%
Joey Votto 157 -17.3

26%

Miguel Cabrera

155 -52.9 6%
Paul Goldschmidt 146 22.5

89%

David Ortiz

144 -60.1 14%
Manny Ramirez 144 -10.6

2%

Bryce Harper

143 9.3 75%
Giancarlo Stanton 142 -5.0

40%

Kris Bryant

141 13.9 94%
Ryan Braun 141 22.4

79%

When looking at BsR on a per game basis, Votto moves from the 11th to the 26th percentile, indicating that he has simply played longer than many players on this list and thus has built more negative value. The other names on the list, however, show that Votto is actually in the minority in terms of elite hitters and base running. Five of the ten are within the 75% mark, with Goldschmidt just missing the 90% company of Trout and Bryant. Simply put, these are more complete offensive players than Joey. But does that making them more valuable overall?

Top 10 – WAR Per Game (2007 – 2017)

Name

WAR BsR BsR Per Game Percentile

Mike Trout

51.6 44.4 99%

Corey Seager

12.8

3.5

76%

Kris Bryant

18.1 13.9 94%

Josh Donaldson

33.3 4.8 64%

Mookie Betts

18.7 27 99%

Francisco Lindor

13.5 3.0

70%

Bryce Harper 28.0 9.3

75%

Buster Posey 36.5 -19.2

16%

Joey Votto 50.4 -17.3

26%

Carlos Correa 12.3 4.1

75%

That question is impossible to answer without looking at more data points, including defense. What this last table does show is that Votto drops slightly when looking at WAR vs wRC+ (to be expected), but he is still 9th. Along with Buster Posey, Votto has been one of the most valuable players in baseball despite a significant disadvantage on the base paths. Continuing further down the list, we see few players like this near the top of the WAR/game rankings. Of the top 68 players, only six are worse than Votto on the base paths.

The bottom line is that being a good base runner, while not the most important aspect of the game, does matter and can make a player more valuable to their team. The most valuable players in the game are good, if not great base runners, which helps drive their value as high as it is. The interesting and amazing thing is that Votto ranks right among those players despite this one relative flaw in his game. It is just another reminder of the greatness that we are witnessing.

31 thoughts on “How much value is Votto leaving on the base paths?

  1. Votto is great! His weak baserunning shouldn’t and apparently does not detract from his overall value. I will say though that I wish this article hadn’t been written if only bcuz it’ll give Votto’s haters/detractors another log to throw on their fires. It won’t matter to them that you ended the article with a positive word about Votto which I appreciate. I just wish this hadn’t been brought to their attention. But, oh well.

    • If people want to dislike Votto, they will do so regardless of this article. This was just an attempt to quanitfy how much more valuable he could be with better base running. It is also a roundabout way to show that he has been one of the two or three best hitters in baseball since 2007

      • Matthew, yeah I guess you’re right about the Votto haters. And I got what you were saying about Votto being up among the best hitters in the game as well.

  2. It is possible to both (1) love Votto’s OFF THE CHARTS ability to get on base and (2) acknowledge within the past few years he has been an absolute SPACE CADET on the basepaths and (3) his defense had been AWFUL the past three years, although he has improved somewhat this year

    Don’t have to be a total fanboy or an indiscriminate hater. Be a scientist and acknowledge the good and the bad with Votto.

    • +1. I suppose some of Votto’s base-running problem over the past few years is correlated to lapses in concentration, arising out of the Reds being out of contention. Plus, I don’t think he mentally got over the quad injury from a few years back, as he seems to be timid about testing it (and sliding).

      Barry Larkin, on the other hand, was a fabulous base-runner, who had a great feel for when to take the extra base. And so was Pokey Reese, although he needed a better mechanism for getting on base to start with.

      • I don’t buy that his lapses in concentration are connected to the Reds not being in contention. Why would he even be thinking of that while on the bases? … He about cost the Reds a run on Wednesday night when he didn’t tag from second on a ball Duvall hit to the wall in centerfield. He’s a fabulous hitter and occasionally shows some nice defense, but I cringe when he’s on the bases.

    • Votto had a positive UZR and DRS every season besides last year and 2009. He’s rated average to very, very good defensively in every other season. He was only awful last year.

      But yes, not a good base runner at all.

      • I think that the perception that Votto is a bad fielder may come from his occasional space cadet lapses–throws, mostly, it seems to me–but I’ve always thought that he he was a decent first-baseman.

        • He’s great at digging throws out of the dirt. He could go to his left, but was very weak going to his right. (many times venturing too far right when it’s an easy play for the 2nd baseman.) He prefers the ole’ stab (while going to the ground) over the traditional fielding on sharp hit balls.
          I think his defense has improved this year though.

  3. Joey Votto has walked 940 times in his career. At 90 feet per walk, that is 84,600 feet. There are 5280 feet in a mile.
    Joey Votto has walked 16.02 miles so far in his career. That’s a lot.
    Jose Peraza has walked 630 feet this year. Oh my.

  4. Votto is not exactly fast. This is not anything new. Your gonna bag on our best player because he doesn’t”t have God given speed? Get outta here with this crap!!!! He works extremely hard on the things he can get better at with hard work.

    • Easy now. He’s not bagging him, he’s just looking at how high Votto’s WAR would be if he was an average to strong baserunner.

      While I won’t spend any of my time worrying about Votto’s run game, I still think it’s an interesting read. It shows how special he is at the plate.

      • It is an interesting read and also something I considered while watching a recent game. Joey was on second with a full count and two outs. He was off on the pitch and couldn’t score on a single to left. While he isn’t fast, you don’t have to be fast to get a better lead off the bag. There are things he can do to improve this part of his game too.

    • Scott Rolen was slow, but a smart baserunner. There is a difference between being slow, and not being a smart baserunner

  5. Um, so the two guys who didn’t have >50% BsR/G were a 1B and a C…hmmm, and the other guy (Donaldson at 64%) is the only other one under 70%. Astounding! That’s yet another example of advanced stats merely highlighting what we’ve known for 100+ years –
    OFs and SSs are faster. I bet a defensive ranking of the above mirrors this, as well (all of these guys are good fielders), with the possible highlight of Posey earning even more value by being a catcher. Bryant, the converted SS and young buck, is the only one (4/10) on the list who isn’t at either position. 4 spots are faster than the other 4, go figure, and no deep dive into the numbers was needed.

    More importantly, Votto has battled knee/quad injuries the past few years. We all heard the noise about how he should walk more to hit more (bad) pitches and have more power (despite knowing that bad pitches are tougher to drive, no FanGraphs data necessary). The better debate is, do you want your rehabbed leg 1B busting it to beat out a close DP or take an extra bag a couple times a year and risking his health (see his sliding issues), or do you want him raking to a tune of roughly a 1.000 OPS? I’ll take the bat and the (relatively, in the past and again this year) glove over the legs. Billy Hamilton can fly…when he’s healthy…and if/when he’s on base. I’ll take Votto and say that 3 of 3.5 needed tools ain’t bad (1Bs don’t need arms much, either).

    We just keep looking for imperfections; I mean, closing the gap on Joe-freaking Morgan by being faster?! C’MON, MAN! If his issues w/depression after his dad passed away and his occasional intensity (tugging a fan’s shirt) weren’t enough to know he’s human, he’s also not very fast…I’ll take Joey on my team and love it anyway.

      • Grr, also, walk less, chase more, hit for more power (which isn’t how it usually works, the occasional Vlad Guerrero aside). Ted Williams first rule of hitting (from Cap Anson, no less) – get a good pitch to hit. I’d add, “then hit it hard and don’t get hurt going for extra bases – we need you to hit later.”

  6. This is a case against the number crunchers! The fact that there is a formula that makes him out to be even average om the bases nevermind better than average is a joke!!!! I am a Votto fan but he has to be one worst ever on base running! The fact that he is such an excellent student of the game in all other aspects of the game!!! This is all on the “eye test” but anyone who watches him can see he is a horrible base runner. I am trying to better understand the advanced metrics and have become a believer but not on this one.

    • The numbers do show Votto as well below average for base running. Total BsR since 2007 he is in the 11th percentil, and BsR per game he is in the 26th percentile. Neither are good.

  7. I think Votto is really cautious on the bases due to his past injuries. I still want him on my team. Look at the list again I believe Votto is the oldest player on it minus Miggy, Man Ram. Every player has their own faults just how it is. Kuddos for the informative article even if I do not like the truth I guess.

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