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):
- Morgan – 58.0, 42.5, 73.2%
- Votto – 57.5, 38.2, 66.4%*
- Bench – 75.2, 46.7, 62.1%
- Robinson – 63.9, 39.5, 61.8%
- Larkin – 70.4, 42.5, 60.4%
- 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.
Jason has been a fan of the Reds since he was born. He really had no choice in the matter. He has been writing at Redleg Nation for a few years, and also writes and edits at The Hardball Times. His debut novel, When the Sparrow Sings, is available now and concerns baseball, among other things. You can find more information at jasonlinden.com.