I am on special assignment this week making sure the ocean is still there, so no Championship Track. Instead, please enjoy this piece about how Joey Votto is good.

I spend a lot of time clicking around and playing with numbers and trying to look at the different ways we can define a player as good/better than/best at. A little while ago, Joe Posnanski had a post about Albert Pujols the crux of which was that his numbers are much better relative to average if you eliminate all his time with the Angels, but because of counting stats people perceive him to have a better Hall of Fame case now.

We talk about Wins Above Replacement (WAR) a lot, but we hardly ever talk about Wins Above Average (WAA), but it’s WAA that really makes for a Hall of Fame career. Or it feels like it should.

Anyway, there’s a list of Reds who are at least discussed when you talk about the best players in franchise history. You can name them as easily as I can. Morgan, Bench, Rose, Robinson. Some of us would throw Larkin in there with Votto also having an inside track.

So what I did was look at those six guys in terms of WAR, WAA, and the percentage of their WAR that was derived from WAA, which you can think of as one of those stats where 150 means you were 50% better than average. If, say, 40% of your WAR is from WAA, then you were 40% better than the average player when you were on the field.

I thought I’d find Morgan at the top with Robinson and Bench not too far behind and then everyone else. Here is what I actually found (Reds numbers only, all numbers via BBRef):


  1. Morgan – 58.0, 42.5, 73.2%
  2. Votto – 57.5, 38.2, 66.4%*
  3. Bench – 75.2, 46.7, 62.1%
  4. Robinson – 63.9, 39.5, 61.8%
  5. Larkin – 70.4, 42.5, 60.4%
  6. Rose – 78.5, 39.1, 49.8%

*These numbers might be very slightly different when this goes up because I’m writing a couple of days ahead of time.

These numbers are very interesting. Remember, what we’re doing here is looking only at when a player was playing. There’s something to be said for endurance and I’m not denying that, but an average player is an average player no matter what they did five or ten years ago.

Anyway, Morgan is clearly and obviously at the top as we knew he would be. He basically showed up in Cincinnati, had an incredible run and declined as soon as he left. It’s not quite that cut and dried, but it’s not far off. He’s also a good example to use whenever someone claims that players can’t have odd aging curves without drugs. Anyway, Morgan is the best 2B for sure in Reds history (don’t embarrass yourself by making comparisons, please) and has a very solid case for best player in Reds history.

And then we have a surprise. As much as I love Votto, I did not think he would rate this highly, but here we are. When on the field, he’s been better (by WAR) than every Red in history except Morgan. It’s important to remember that the knee injury essentially cost him a full season. And yes, there’s no decline phase yet (except he’s old enough, he just hasn’t declined), but Morgan didn’t really get the decline phase either with the Reds. And neither did Robinson. So, yeah. Even I did not realize how good Votto has been.

Their are two other surprises here for me. One is how highly Bench rates (slightly better than Robinson) having played his entire career with the Reds. The other is that Barry Larkin – when on the field – is basically the equal of Bench and Robinson. Again, injuries are legit and can’t be ignored, but boy he was great when he was able to play.

Rose isn’t surprising to me. He’s the ultimate compiler and it’s hard to believe he would have been allowed to hang on as long as he did for any other team. Even if you just take him through his age-33 season (Votto is 34 this year), he “only” rates at 54.6% above average. This is great, but the only case he has for best Red ever is based on his ability to play every day forever. In terms of sheer performance, he’s a clear notch below the other guys in this conversation.

But I really can’t get over how highly Votto rates. He’s also playing well enough that his percentage has gone up since I first noticed this. Looking at his numbers, I think it’s just that he’s so dang steady. Except for the year he missed a ton of time, you can pretty much book him for 4-5 WAR as a floor and everything above that is gravy. He’s on pace for about 5.3 WAR this year and except for a couple of weeks, it feels like he’s hardly gotten going. As miserable as the Reds have been for most of his career, we’re going to tell our grandchildren about watching Joey Votto hit.

Is Joey Votto great? Oh, yeah.

20 Responses

  1. Bill

    None of that WAR happened when it counted. Worst Red ever

  2. Hotto4Votto

    Good stuff, thanks for sharing. It’s a nice reminder to step back and remember we get the opportunity to watch one of the all time great Reds play. Watching Votto at the plate has certainly helped give me something to tune into during these rough years.

  3. Old-school

    The recent rumors the NL is adopting the DH in 2021 is huge for the Reds and Votto. He could be productive late in his NL Reds career if he can DH at 38/39 and most certainly be the greatest Reds hitter of All time.

    • Bill

      Typically I say the DH is evil, but I will make an exception if it extends Votto’s productivity

      • Old-school

        I have no idea what JV can do in 2021 defensively…but flexibility is good. The reds seem to be drafting some good hitters so corner outifeld and first base flexibility at GABP is a great thing.

        Votto will also be closing in on some counting number landmarks late 2019 and 2020. A DH role in some capacity could allow him some longevity to become the Reds next HOF’ ER.

    • Steve Mancuso

      I support the NL adopting the DH (hate watching pitchers bat and want the two leagues to use the same rules) and it might extend Votto’s career by not forcing him to play every day or at all. On the other hand, Votto’s a good enough 1B that he won’t be come too much of a liability in the field even as he ages. That said, I’d love to see the DH in the NL and the Reds take advantage of it by using it to get another good bat in the lineup, whether that’s Votto or not.

      • CP

        The thing that bothers me most about not having the DH is that it puts the NL teams at such a disadvantage developing their players. How many times have we had to watch promising players sit on the bench or in Louisville because there were established players ahead of them? Yonder Alonso, Devin Mesoraco, Jesse Winker, now Nick Senzel. Heck, you can all the way back to the EE days.

        The AL teams can simply move pieces around and get their young prospects into the lineup. NL teams either have to bench veteran players or plan ahead to open spots for their guys, which is like hitting a moving object thanks to player development issues and injuries.

  4. Optimist

    He turns into a mix of Ichiro and Edgar Martinez as a DH, doesn’t he? He can last until he’s 45 if he wants. He won’t lose any speed, and chance of injury reduces noticeably.

  5. Shchi Cossack

    Appreciate the discussion of WAA, especially as it relates to HOF performance.

    The top Reds players defined by WAR/150 games played for the Reds:

    7.44 Joe Morgan (age 28-35)
    5.95 Frank Robinson (age 20-29)
    5.43 Joey Votto (age 23-34…)
    5.20 Johnny Bench (age 19-35)
    5.03 George Foster (22-32)
    4.61 Barry Larkin (age 22-40)
    4.46 Eric Davis (age 22-30)
    4.20 Pete Rose (age 22-37, 43-45)
    4.10 Vada Pinson (age 19-29)

    • Michael Smith

      Amazing how good Morgan was. Almost a mlb regular in war better than robinson

  6. cfd3000

    Even when the Reds are struggling, as they have been for several years, Joey Votto’s plate appearances are must see TV. He is, literally, one of the fifteen best hitters EVER at not getting out. Add some power, the way he studies the game and his opponents, and the fact that he never gives up an at bat, and I am sure we won’t see his equal again. Now tell me again why there’s no Captain’s C on his uniform?

  7. Mason Red

    Votto,if he stays a Red,will be considered along the lines of Ernie Banks and others who spent most of their careers playing for really bad teams. Without question he also will be considered as one of the best hitters in baseball history.

    • Bill

      and “Reds fans” will still complain he made $25 million a year and didn’t have 100 RBIs

  8. Thomas Jefferson

    Wow. Very interesting. Another reason to love RLN. Thanks, Jason!
    Note: Counting on the ocean being there is almost as reliable as counting on JV to hit. Feel free to report back.

  9. Streamer88

    What a talent. Was asked to be different by our organization for so long. A player who should’ve ideally batted 2nd in a great lineup (think about those Yankee or Red Sox teams from 10 years ago, e.g.). Votto will be in the HOF but the stodgy old school BBWA types will make him wait 3-4 years before bringing him in because he won’t be a 3000 hits and/or 500 HRs guy.

  10. Still a Red

    No please don’t bring the DH to the National League. Also, while Votto might still be able to hit into his 40s, I’m afraid his power may already be waning. That said it would still be a joy to watch him take an inside pitch and punch it down the left field line for a double.

  11. Steve Schoenbaechler

    You didn’t think Votto would rank that high? Dude, he’s one of the best hitters in the team’s history. Of course he would be that high. Now, exactly where in the top 5? Alright, numbers-wise, he might be second. But, one also has to consider the time and quality of the competition at the time, the amount of knowledge we know about training now compared to how little we knew then. Where they batted in the order. And, so on. So, this 2nd place finish by Votto could go up or down. Would I look for Votto to lead off? Not by a long shot. That’s Rose for me. I like Votto 3rd.

    Lots of variables.