To Swing or Not To Swing: The Joey Votto Story
Baseball does not have a clock. At least, it doesn't yet, although that pitch count clock they're testing out in the minors this year could change all that. (Please, oh, please someone kill that clock idea.)
Instead, a baseball game is determined by outs made. Each team gets 27 outs -- three per inning -- before they are told they are all done for the day. For that reason, each one of those outs is precious. Every time you make an out, you come one step closer to your team's running out of opportunities to score runs.
That brings us to the case of Cincinnati Reds first baseman Joey Votto. Earlier in the week, the 2010 MVP was criticized by his team's own play-by-play man Marty Brennaman, who said the Votto is too passive at the plate.
"if this guy comes back and is content to lead the lead in OBP again, then this team is in deep trouble,"-Marty on Votto #Reds @700wlâ€” Lance McAlister (@LanceMcAlister) February 13, 2015
Before we rip Brennaman to shreds, let's take a step back for a moment.
Votto is due at least $213 million dollars through the year 2023, at which time he will be 39 years old, placing him among the highest-paid players in the game. He's going to be a Cincinnati Red for life, and that contract certainly increases the fans' expectations on Votto.
Votto was also placed in a spot in the batting order that is usually reserved for people who drive in runs. Over the last three seasons, Votto ranks 242nd in RBI percentage, according to Baseball Musings. Since the start of the 2012 season, Votto has come to the plate with 834 runners on base and knocked in 152 of them, with 44 home runs. RBI Percentage excludes any RBI in which Votto knocked himself in, which leaves him with an RBI percentage of 12.95%.
Here's a look at the players around him on that list (minimum 300 runners on base).
|Rank||Player||Runners On||RBIs||HR||RBI Pct.|
So, for people who are desperate for Votto to be the team's "RBI Man," it's understandable why they underestimate his value to the team. He's in the middle of a pretty lackluster list of names there. And Votto himself has admitted in the past that he could be more aggressive in crucial RBI situations.
But this all loses the main point about the value that he does bring to the team. Joey Votto doesn't make outs.
Last season, he dealt with injuries that limited him to just 272 plate appearances, in which he hit .255/.390/.409, with 6 home runs and 16 doubles. The year before he played all 162 and hit .305/.435/.491 with 24 homers, 73 RBI, and 101 runs scored. He led the league in walks in 2011, 2012, and 2013 and has also lead in on-base percentage four times (2010-2013).
Excluding last year's injury shortened season, Votto has been one of the most valuable players in baseball since 2008.
And from 2011-2013, he was still in the top five, according to Fangraphs.
Any way you slice it, with the exception of last year's injury-shortened season, Votto has been one of the best players in baseball.
As a fan of the Phillies throughout Bobby Abreu's tenure with the team, I am well-versed in the demands fans and the media place on so-called "run producers." Abreu, like Votto, was an on-base machine during his time with the Phils, with his .416 clip's being the seventh-best in all of baseball from 1998-2006.
Critics argued that Abreu took too many pitches with runners on base, that he wasn't aggressive enough in RBI situations, and was too happy to take a walk too much of the time. And, in a select few circumstances, that may have been the case.
But clearly, having a player with a .416 on-base percentage on your team for nine straight seasons was pretty dadgum useful.
Listen, Joey Votto's contract is a bad one, but the Reds shouldn't be trying to force Votto into being something he isn't because of how much money they're paying him. Cincinnati needs to recognize Votto for what he is: one of the best hitters in baseball and a guy who specializes in getting on base.
Perhaps there will be times this year when he gets a bit more aggressive and goes outside of the strike zone in certain run-producing situations. But be careful what you wish for because the consequence of a hitter chasing balls out of the strike zone is more strikeouts, the most unproductive out in baseball.
I know I'd rather have a guy who isn't afraid to take a walk if the pitcher doesn't want to pitch to him rather than a guy who's always chasing.
If the Reds are "concerned" about Votto's penchant for walking, then perhaps he should be moved up in the order and bat second, where he can set things up, rather than clean them up. But regardless of where you hit him, Votto is still going to be a productive human, going about his business not making outs.
So, Mr. Brennaman, I understand what you're trying to say, but it's misguided. You want your first baseman to have the highest on-base percentage in baseball. You want him to draw walks, avoid strikeouts, and keep the line moving. And, if he gets a 3-1 fastball right down the pike, you hope he'll be able to smoke it out of The Great American Ballpark.
Believe me, if the Reds struggle this year, Votto leading the league in on-base percentage again won't be one of the reasons why.
And remember, Votto does have two 100-plus RBI seasons in his ledger. If the lineup around him is productive and if he recovers from a quad injury that clearly seemed to affect his ability to hit for extra bases last year, then he could end up being both a high on-base guy and a good run producer.
In the meantime, perhaps Votto's critics should focus their criticism and nagging on a player who isn't, you know, one of the best hitters in the game.