Sunday, March 16, 2014

Joey Votto + walks = problem?

Twitter is a great place to gauge how fans really feel about baseball, their teams and their players. Sure, much of it is irrational. But being a fan is never really about rationality, right? Many of the strong feelings of fans on Twitter surprise me. One of those is the total hate many Reds fans feel about Joey Votto walking. Here are a couple of examples:
Perhaps the fans are egged on by the broadcasters:
I have a really hard time getting what the problem is here. The thinking behind it is that Votto does not drive in enough runs because he walks too much. The thinking must also mean that if Votto would swing more often, he would hit more for power and thus provide more offense.
Are those valid thought processes? First, let's talk about what we know. Votto's walks are part of an evolutionary process during his career. He has swung at less and less pitches out of the strike zone as his career has progressed: 2010 - 30.3%, 2011 - 25.6%, 2012 - 21.1% and 2013 - 21.0%.
2013 was the first time in Votto's career that he played all 162 games of the season. That dispelled some of the nonsense about his durability from the games he missed the season before that. Despite the extra games, his slugging percentage fell under .500 for the first time in his career.
But he also walked an incredible 135 times to push his on-base percentage to .435 and left him with the same wRC+ as his career average. In other words, he had what was an average offensive year (for him). His 6.4 rWAR / 6.2 fWAR stacked up very well with what he did in 2011, the last time he played a full season and the season before that.
In other words, he was just as valuable a player as 2010 and 2011, but many of his fan base, and (apparently) his team's announcers thought he was more of a hindrance to the Reds winning. I am not sure I follow.
The clutch thing might be part of the problem. I am not yet convinced the whole clutch thing is more than a coincidence. But there was a problem for Votto here in 2013. According to, Votto's clutch score (-2.38) was the first time in the last four years was in negative territory. And his WPA or win probability added was 3.77 which is much lower than the figures over six where he was for the previous three seasons.
He did have less success in high leverage situations in 2013 where he was murder in 2011 and 2012. In 2011, Votto's OPS in high leverage situations was an incredible 1.221. In 2012, it was even more incredible at 1.299. But he became just above mere mortal in 2013 with an OPS of .856 in high leverage situations.
So, there is evidence that Votto did not do as well in the clutch and in high leverage situations as he has done in the past. His critics point to the walks. His critics say that he would rather walk than drive in the run.
But what if luck was also involved? Back in 2011 and 2012 when those high leverage situations went incredibly well, his BABIP during those situations were .360 and .457. His BABIP in those situations in 2013 was .299. That could be due to bad luck, less quality of contact or better positioning from defenses (or a combination of all three).
There is another statistic created by Bill James and others called Runs Created. The statistic measures a player's total contribution to a team's run total. Votto's total of 133 was fourth in the Majors and was higher than Goldschmidt, Cano, Choo, Carpenter and McCutchen. So you cannot convince me that he had a bad year.
Oh, by the way, that Runs Created total of 133 was one more than he had in 2011 and only eleven less than he put together for 2010 when he led the Majors.
Joey Votto was on base an incredible 316 times in 2013. Trout was his closest competitor in that category at 309. The 316 times on base was the highest total since 2004 (Bonds).
If that is a disappointing season, then I am sure that there are a whole lot of other fan bases that would love to take him off of the Cincinnati fans' hands. If a guy gets on base 316 times and only has 73 runs batted in and only 101 runs scored, then I would look more at his teammates for blame than him.
Joey Votto is one of the truly elite offensive players in the game. Perhaps his contract makes people expect more. His play was worth $30.8 million in 2013 as a first baseman (which garners no positional love) versus his $17.5 million salary. And people are complaining? I don't get it. I don't get it at all.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Votto was still suffering from the knee injury and two operations he went through. This was born out by his major fall off defensively.
The positive thing in the long run is that he was able to produce a high offensive value in spite of a physical problem. This bodes well for his production later in his career when the physical decline from aging takes its toll.