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.