Death, taxes, and Joey Votto’s being a hotly debated topic in Cincinnati. I suppose that I am part of the problem by writing this, but I wanted to touch on an idea that I have seen on Twitter recently. Being on Twitter in the first place is probably where I went wrong, but what can you do.

The question is this: does Votto only perform well in games when the team is losing and therefore not contributing to winning baseball? It is hard to believe anyone would feel that way about a former MVP, but here we are.

One initial argument combats this to near perfection. Joey Votto won the team’s first NL MVP Award since Barry Larkin in 1995. That happened to coincide with the Reds first division championship since 1995. Votto literally led the charge of bringing winning baseball back to Cincinnati.

Going further for the sake of argument, I took a deeper dive into Votto’s splits in wins vs losses. My first ever post here at Redleg Nation was a look at how Billy Hamilton performed significantly better in wins relative to the rest of his teammates. It is now Votto’s turn through the gauntlet to see if he has been padding his stats with too many garbage time walks. The data used is from Baseball Reference and includes all active players with at least 500 games played since 2007.

While this theory held little water to begin with, Votto’s performance in Reds victories is all we need to know to close the door on this completely. Only five players have performed better than Votto in games where their team was the winner. All five are very good baseball players. From top to bottom, they are Paul Goldschmidt, Mike Trout, Miguel Cabrera, Giancarlo Stanton and Bryce Harper. Votto’s OPS of 1.071 is tied for sixth with Kris Bryant. Switching from OPS to OBP, Votto’s .464 leads all players. It is not possible to argue that Votto has not helped his team win games.

Moving on to his numbers in Reds losses, it becomes a bit clearer why this is even a discussion. Votto’s OPS is highest in baseball (0.850), with Mike Trout right on his heels (.846) and then a big-time gap to Miguel Cabrera (.784). Votto’s gap over Trout is even larger for OBP, leading .392 to .371. Cabrera is again third at .345.

Is it possible that Joey Votto is too good when the Reds lose? Is it skewing Reds fans’ perception of his performance in wins? It seems that may be one factor. Among the six elite players mentioned above, Votto’s OPS gap between wins and losses is the smallest (21%). Harper, Goldschmidt and Stanton have performed 37%, 35% and 32% worse in losses compared to wins, respectively. So while Votto may be “padding” his stats in losses more so than other stars, he is padding stats that are already among the best of his generation. And it is not his fault that his teams have been below average for his career.

To that point, one possibility I considered was if the team’s winning percentage played any part in this. Votto has a lower career winning percentage than most stars, so I thought it was worth looking into. Turns out that is not the case, however, one player in particular stood out as a good comparison to Votto.

Among players with a very low team winning percentage and a small variance of performance in wins and losses, the Reds own Derek Dietrich is the most extreme. Dietrich’s teams have only won 42% of the time (47% for Votto) and yet he has only performed 19% worse in losses. One huge difference between the two (among a lot of other things) is win probability added. Dietrich’s career WPA of 3.3 is dwarfed by Joey Votto’s 50.2. Dietrich is an example of a player with decent numbers who has played on losing teams, while Votto is a potential Hall of Famer who has played on a lot of losing teams. Nothing against Derek, a fine player and a new fan favorite in Cincinnati. But comparing the two shows how valuable Votto has been to the Reds, regardless of wins or losses.

Win probability brings in another counter argument. Joey Votto has accumulated more WPA since 2007 than any active player. More than Trout, Cabrera, even more than Bryce Harper and Anthony Rizzo combined. And for anyone wanting to argue that Votto has been in the league longer than most, his rate of games played per WPA is second-best behind Trout. So the idea that Votto cannot contribute when it matters to help the team win is, well, completely untrue.

At this point, I can hardly remember why I even started writing this. I think we should probably stop talking about this now.

43 Responses

  1. Kurt Frost

    That is the dumbest thing I’ve heard on a while. I can’t believe you even had to write this.

    • Matt WI

      We can probably thank Marty B and Paul Daugherty for driving that bus. I feel like the same used to be said about Bruce: “He only hits solo home runs when we’re already winning or losing.”

      But Matt, thanks for doing the research on that. It was fascinating to see how playing well all of the time somehow sets Votto up for lazy criticism. Sadly, it’ll never prevent the old “Say what you will with your fancy numbers, but I like my $25mil player to be out there hitting, not taking walks, etc.”

      • MK

        They used to say same thing about Bench.

    • RojoBenjy

      Like he said, his mistake was paying attention to the Twitter machine.

      But unfortunately it’s also a favorite gripe of the Everyman Cincinnatian that wants to be mad at the highest paid players. It’s tradition. Earliest I can remember this was with Eric Davis. “All his home runs come as solos in the bottom of the ninth when the Reds are losing by 5 runs.” Heard that all my childhood.

      But for those that want facts for their arguments, this article is a drop the mike comeback. Nice work.

      • Matt WI

        A pox on all the houses of those who dare smear the name of Eric Davis.

      • RojoBenjy

        @ Matt WI

        They all shut up forever after he took Dave Stewart deep in Game 1 of the 1990 World Sweep.

  2. Michael Smith

    @kurt

    Agreed and it is a head shaker.

  3. burneraccount123

    first time – long time. I usually avoid comment sections like the plague, but I was compelled after reading this post.

    I implore you, if you have made it this far down the page, to go back up and read that list of players Joseph Daniel Votto is lumped in with…I’ll wait…

    Losing takes a toll on any fan base, and Lord knows we’ve seen plenty in recent years. Even so, Votto has so acutely NOT been the reason that the Cincinnati Reds baseball club has been on the wrong side of the ledger that some on the interwebs are hoisting the blame on the HoF shoulders of our first baseman because the 2019 season has not played out as expected (as of yet…).

    Slow down, people, and take a deep breath. Enjoy Votto while he is here. Everyone wants to see the Reds win more and there has been no other player in the last 10+ years that has helped them win as much as they have than Joey Votto.

    Personal opinion – I think some lash out at Votto because he is the best player on their favorite team. A natural reaction when things don’t go the way you think they should. When larger scope problems are taking place people tend to assign blame to the prominent figure – a boss or manager, mayor/town council, highest paid ball player. My dad always told me that people throw rocks at the top of the mountain not at the bottom. It comes with the territory…

    Go Reds!

  4. Matt WI

    The paragraph noting how Votto and Dietrich have outperformed losing teams also nicely illustrates just how little one player can really influence a game in which a roster of 24 other players need to show up. Baseball isn’t like the NBA where one guy can propel a great deal of the winning… but some fans still want to hang losing on the best player, however irrational.

    • docmike

      Yep. Mike Trout is the best player in the game, and it hasn’t exactly translated into a string of titles for the Angels. Baseball is a team sport, and one player’s contributions cannot single-handedly result in “winning baseball”.

      Reminds me of the argument I’ve had with people about football, where they bring up Super Bowl rings as a reason why someone would be considered an elite QB. I then remind them that Trent Dilfer owns a Super Bowl ring as a starting QB, and that ends that argument pretty quick.

  5. Jim Walker

    Votto is right there at the top among greatest hitters of his generation. He is also among the elite hitters of all time. Those are facts.

    However being in the right place at the right time also figures into a player’s legacy among the masses.

    Through no fault of his own, Votto’s legacy is almost certainly going to be negatively tinted by being a wrong place at the wrong time over the last half of his career unless the Reds make some big positive noise in the next couple of years.

    • Steve Mancuso

      If Joey Votto’s legacy is even slightly tainted with Reds fans it will be because of the relentless bashing by Marty and Thom Brennaman over the span of Votto’s career. And that’s a shame. The old-school broadcasters couldn’t bring themselves to appreciate a player who was so dominant, simply because Votto pursued run contribution in a different way than players did 30+ years ago.

      • Jim Walker

        That’s only part of the issue though maybe a big part.

        Tony Perez, as beloved as he has been is in the HOF because of the ensemble he was part of. If Votto does not make it, a portion of the reason will be due to the ensemble he has been part of over then last half of his career.

        It won’t be by the numbers or logical or fair but often neither is fame in other areas of life either.

      • Steve Mancuso

        That’s a good point. One of the big-picture goals of sabermetrics is to emphasize statistics that don’t depend on teammate performance. Less on stats like RBI, runs scored and pitcher wins. More on stats like OBP and FIP/xFIP that work toward independence from the ensemble. Votto has always done what he’s thought best for scoring more runs. That doesn’t always jive with the older stats, like RBI.

        That’s why it’s terrible that Reds broadcasters repeat every night about how few RBI Votto has and scoff at the walks he draws. That’s the spine of the campaign they’ve had against him. They are stuck on the older stats that depend more on teammates.

      • Steve Mancuso

        I’ve said here for years that if the Reds front office is going to use modern metrics (on base percentage, etc) to choose their team, they need broadcasters who are the voice of the organization to inform and educate the fan base on those things. The Brennamen have done exactly the opposite. It’s hard to imagine two guys pulling in the opposite direction than they have. You can excuse Marty partly because many people his age just get set in their ways (although many don’t). And he still chooses to grind that axe constantly. There’s no excuse for Thom not being more prepared and up-to-date with his thinking about baseball. It’s mental laziness. Compare TB to Chris Welsh, who in recent years has pushed himself to become familiar with modern concepts. Chris has become a breath of fresh air.

      • RojoBenjy

        I firmly believe that Franchester M. Brennaman has let his personal distaste for Joey Votto as an individual color his professional characterization of him as a player. And it’s kind of hypocritical since FMB himself was known as a “poofy-haired fancy boy” in his hey-day.

        And Jim is right–Perez gets all the credit for coming through with the RBI–but if there weren’t all those guys getting on base for him, he would never have made it as far.

      • redsfan06

        Marty’s and Thom’s comments fall under the category of fake news.

    • TR

      The chance that the Reds will contend in the next 2 to3 years, in my view, is slight in the tough NLC. Too many questions in the outfield, infield and catching and by that time Votto will be wrapping it up. He’ll make the HOF but I doubt it’ll be on the first go around.

  6. matt hendley

    Just another example of how there are 9 people on a team at one time. On the field. And one man can’t superhero wins by himself.

    GOod Article

  7. Steve Mancuso

    Matt – this was terrific and well written. Made my day.

  8. Steve Mancuso

    I wrote this (in 2015) about the need for Reds broadcasters to be up-to-date:

    “But to help bring the fans along, you [Mr. Castellini] also need to change the voice of the organization. The radio and television broadcasters — who work for you — must also understand and accept the changes in the game. They can help explain it to the fans. How can fans understand the critical role that on-base percentage plays when the voice of your organization never discusses that concept? Communication plays a vital role in a successful paradigm shift.

    Other organizations include modern player statistics in their graphics. Their announcers introduce new concepts of how to think about baseball to their fans. In contrast, your announcers resist modernization with all their might. (Chris Welsh and Jeff Brantley are notable exceptions.)”

    https://redlegnation.com/2015/05/24/an-open-letter-to-mr-castellini/

    • redsfan06

      Marty’s and Thom’s comments fall under the category of fake news. I think you are on to something with the Reds organization not supporting its best player and increasing the knowledge of the fan base.

  9. Pete

    Sadly I once bought garbage like this. The good people at RLN taught me how to properly analyze baseball and I’m forever grateful. In my lifetime, JV is the best all-around hitter. If not all of baseball, no question at least the Reds.

  10. David

    I saw a lot of Tony Perez when he played, to compare 1st basement with 1st basemen (Although Tony played 3rd base for a couple of his best years, 1969-1970).
    Tony got a lot of RBI’s, big homers, etc. He also struck out a lot and hit into a lot of Double plays.
    Tony played on some really good teams, and a couple of great teams.

    Joey Votto has played on a couple of good teams (2010 and 2012) a decent team (2013), an up and coming team (2009) and a bunch of lousy teams.
    In 2010, he won the MVP instead of Albert Pujols again.

    Pete Rose thinks and has said that Joey is an elite hitter. At 35, he may now be in decline (or it may be a bad lower back).
    I don’t know what more people expect of Joey. He’s been a great player, period. I hope he still has some more really good years in him, but time is cruel to professional athletes. One season, the toast of the town, and the fans adore him. Get a year or two older, and fans want to see “that lazy bum” sit on the bench.

  11. docmike

    This is one of the best articles I’ve ever read on here. Kudos.

  12. VaRedsFan

    Curious as to where he ranks in this type of study, over the last 2 years? (2018-19). Nobody is questioning his batting numbers thru 2017. My question is why he changed his approach after his uber-great 2017. He started his inside out approach (even on inside pitches) as well as the numerous (almost daily) bent arm check-swings, in 2018….and continues to do so in 2019.

  13. Cyrus

    Many great comments. IMO, the most salient is how the construct of baseball completely limits the impact one player can make versus all other major sports.

    Just for fun, it would be interesting to see how many actual RISP have been LOB after a Votto’s AB this year and how that compares to the MLB average and then to the top RBI men thus far.

    Currently, there are 10 guys hitting over .315 with Bellinger and Yelich separating themselves from the pack. Their teams are in first place and the run differentials for their teams would certainly be vastly different without the 50+ RBIs they’ve produced this year. But those two have had MANY more opportunities. Look at the team OBP and BA for LAD and MIL versus us. This is not a Joey Votto problem.

    If anyone wants to go there, then, to be consistent, we must have a future HOF pitching staff and defense because, along with the Rays, we are about as stingy in giving up runs as anyone…and it’s not even close. So why aren’t we gushing about our pitchers who must be bound for Cooperstown?

    You really cannot hide your flaws on a baseball team like you can in other sports. If all our guys get it together offensively and the pitching just remains somewhat consistent, this team will go on one of those runs similar to what the Rockies did a few years back.

    And Votto will be a key part of it if it happens.

  14. jreis

    I hate nit picking because I think Joey has been great for the city of Cincinnati. I think there are baseball moves and then there are BASEBALL moves and the long term contract was a BASEBALL move that was good for the sport and the City of Cincinnati. he has been such a class act.

    As an old guy the 2 things that frustrate me about Joey are,

    1. his refusal to swing at pitches out of the zone in rbi situations. Sometimes you just have to pull a Kelly Leak from bad news bears and lift a fly ball on a bad pitch to get a run in.

    2. his poor base running . I know he dealt with injuries which really slowed him down but not only is he slow he is really bad at running the bases. I don’t understand the advance stats enough but I do know he only scores about 25% of the time he is on base. I just am not sure how valuable all his walks are if he is not generating runs with them? again maybe the advanced metrics can demonstrate an overall benefit to the walks, I am not sure?

    Finally Matthew I am glad you brought up Billy Hamilton. I believe this offense has not been the same this year due to the loss of both him and Duvall. even though they didn’t hit for high averages they were excellent at generating run scoring plays which we really miss at this point!

    • Doug Gray

      It’s been shown time and again that swinging at pitches outside of the zone results in outs. It’s not how you produce runs. Your frustration that someone isn’t purposefully trying to make bad contact is misguided at best.

      • jreis

        and I PROBABLY AM misguided Doug but with a guy on 3rd and one out I am wanting Joey to try to make contact, even bad contact, to try to get the run home rather than draw a walk. again the advanced metrics may say it is better to draw a walk in that situation, I don’t know.

      • DX

        Joey Votto May be the best hitter in Reds history.

        I don’t think Marty and Thom cause fans to turn on Votto. I think being in last place again tends to lead to finger-pointing and unfortunately the guy who makes $25m gets some hate. It’s stupid.

        I would be interested to know how detailed the numbers are regarding swinging out of the strike zone.

        For example if a team is down by 2 or more runs then a walk might be better, however if it is a 1 run game or a tied game then it might be looked at differently.

        If it is a one run game with a runner on 3rd and less than 2 outs, a ground ball hit on a pitch outside of the strike zone that gets the run home is a good result. It counts as an 0-1 and nothing more than a ground out that ties the game.

        Do the numbers break down the situations?

        A summer baseball coach that coached in the Southwest Ohio area who played with Gary Sheffield said he would practice hitting a ground ball in these situations on a pitch that might be a few inches out of the strike zone.

        So again, do sabermetrics tell you on a pitch hit outside of the strike zoneground that a ground out is a ground out or that a ground ball tied up a baseball game.

      • Doug Gray

        Stats can tell you anything you want if you look for it.

        Here’s what we do know: Swinging at pitches outside of the zone highly increases the chances that you don’t make contact, and it highly increases that if you do make contact it’s going to be very bad contact.

        You are thinking of the successful situation, which is not likely to happen. Sure, in a “I can guarantee” world, give me the ground out that scores the run in the 8th inning of a tie game. But we don’t live in that world. We live in one where swinging at that pitch out of the strikezone is leading to a high chance of failure.

      • VaRedsFan

        I think you are a little off base her Jreis. That was a media thing about swinging outside the zone….and it was misguided. It was the TAKING of pitches IN THE ZONE in those RBI situations, that drew the ire…and it should have. I’m not talking about black painting corner strikes either.

  15. WVRedlegs

    Reds will have different uniforms tonight, not connected to the 150th anniversary uniforms. They look a bit different and take a little to get used to. They are in honor of the U.S. Army’s 244th birthday. The hats are OD green with a camo bill. The Reds logo, numbers and names on the back are black and white on the usual white uniform. Mr. Red on one sleeve is white, OD green and black. The other sleeve has the regular 150 patch, but also has an OD green strip with 5 black stars. Nice little detail there. I don’t know if that signifies a 5-star general, or better yet the Reds 5 world series championships.
    Hooah!
    Lets beat the Walker Texas Rangers. Times 3.

  16. Old-school

    IMO, Joey Votto is the best NL hitter of decade 2010-19. He’s the greatest reds hitter of All time. He’s also falling back on his power numbers. His HOF counting numbers need a boost. There’s still some old timers who like RBI’s that vote.

    Doubles 383
    HR 275
    Runs 962
    RBI 912.

    Getting 400 doubles 300 home runs 1000 runs and 1000 RBI would really help his HOF candidacy. I might bat him 4 th with Senzel/ Winker/Suarez ahead to get those RBI numbers over 1000.

    • MK

      Really don’t think padding his Hall of Fame stats is a team priority for anyone but you and his mother.

      • Old-school

        You think batting Votto 2nd and Winker 4 th or Votto 4th and Winker 2nd makes a difference?

  17. MK

    I would like to see the same comparisons when looking at defense as he has had some major defensive flubs that have played significant roles in losses. Whether it be a poor toss to a pitcher when covering first, a poor throw to second on a potential double play, or taking himself out of position to cover first on a play to be easily made by second baseman. His defense has been poor.

    • Big Ed

      Votto has pretty good hands on grounders and throws. Not that he scoops it out every single time, but I really can’t remember a throw that he should have gotten and didn’t. You are correct that he has an incorrigible habit of ranging to his right on grounders that the second baseman could field more easily. He doesn’t throw particularly accurately, either, as Zack Cozart’s elbow will attest.

      And he isn’t going to be confused with Barry Larkin on the bases.

      But getting on base 42.4% of the time for 13 years sure outweighs a few flaws.

  18. Roger Garret

    Problem is that for so long guys that knocked in runs were viewed as the most valuable on the team along with the guys that hit the home runs.I can remember when Rose said he wanted to become the first singles hitter to make a million and he was.Now with all the data we must realize getting on base is paramount in helping your team win.Stiil at times Joey will be criticized for walking instead of expanding the zone in order to try to drive in a run in a key moment in the game but he never deviated from just trying to get on base.Even now I will take 8 guys that get on base at a 400 clip and beat other teams to death each and every day.He is truly a first ballot HOF in my book

  19. greenmtred

    I will happily stipulate that Joey is a great hitter, and that the Brennamans’ railing about what he isn’t doing (though, in fairness, Thom seems to have toned it down a bit, maybe because Chris always corrects him) is the opposite of educational. I will further agree that, were the Reds successful, the criticism of Joey would be muted. But I wonder if another factor might not be in play? Joey is the personification of savvy, analytical hitting, and it may be that a significant number of fans find the game increasingly boring as it trends more to this approach.