Earlier this month, Cincinnati magazine published an audacious looking article proclaiming Joey Votto the greatest Red of all time. The hype of that headline alone was probably enough to bring Votto’s critics to a boil, and that was before such social media cracks as:
In your Dreams!!
Frank Robinson Pete Rose Johnny Bench Joe Morgan Concepcion just to name a few not even mention the pitcher.
They were All Much Better ballplayers and Definitely More Valuable to Their team! I might take Tony Perez at first before Votto!
Way too many crack smokers out there.
Against my better judgment, I responded to that next-to-last one first, reminding the entrant it wasn’t Votto’s fault that he didn’t (and doesn’t) have the caliber of teammates Perez had. That was after mentioning that Votto’s 63.7 wins above replacement-level (WAR) as a Red are 18.1 higher than Perez’s.
The article’s author, Chad Dotson, mentioned that since Votto’s Show premiere in 2007 only two players have more WAR than Votto: Mike Trout, and Robinson Canó. (Canó may or may not be compromised by two suspensions for actual or alleged performance-enhancing substances, of course.) When you’re third in the WAR race since 2007 you’ve got a powerful case as one of your time’s genuine greats.
Votto has been an on-base machine for the most part; his seven league OBP titles are matched only by Hall of Famers Babe Ruth, Rogers Hornsby, and Ted Williams, plus should-be Hall of Famer Barry Bonds. Votto’s also done something only Hornsby, Williams, and Hall of Famer Wade Boggs have done: win four straight OBP titles.
Which doesn’t impress the Votto critics—including his former general manager Walt Jocketty—who think he walks too much and passes by too many chances to put a ball in play, including (as Dotson observed) taking pokes at pitches out of the strike zone. Oh. The hor-ror. Taking pitches out of the strike zone. Didn’t they used to call that a great batting eye?
“[J]ust on the surface, it’s clear that there is more to Votto than standing in the batter’s box, bat on shoulder, waiting for ball four,” Dotson wrote. “After all, the guy has led the league in slugging percentage, doubles, and OPS and has pounded 24 or more homers in nine different seasons . . . He’s a well-rounded player who has been one of the game’s best for a long, long time.
There’s more to Votto than just those league leaderships and his career average 28 home runs per 162 games, too. Wait until you see Votto measured by way of my Real Batting Average metric. The Votto critics will discover that, among the top six WARriors as Reds, Votto looks a lot better. Not that they’ll pay attention.
One more time: Real Batting Average (RBA) does what the traditional batting average fails to do to the point of it being a fraudulent statistic. The oldest fart among baseball’s statistic traditionalists should be made to answer why we should continue living by a stat that a) treats all your hits equally and b) determines its champion by a minimum number of plate appearances even though it goes no further than dividing all hits regardless of value by official at-bats alone.
RBA accounts for just about everything a man does at the plate and uses the sum of the following parts:
Total bases (TB), which treats your hits with the unequality they deserve. (If you still think a single’s equal to a double’s equal to a triple’s equal to a home run, get thee back to sixth grade math and that may be giving you too much credit.)
Walks (BB). The only thing insulting about a walk should be that you read the strike zone better than anyone else in the park. If that’s a crime, Votto should be only too happy to plead guilty and serve sentence—namely, a trip to first base. The last I looked, one of your most valuable assets in a batting inning is baserunners.
Intentional walks (IBB). You deserve to be credited separately for the other guys preferring—for whatever reason, whether it’s your formidable swinging or the lesser man behind you they’d prefer as the easier out—that you take your base instead of their pitchers’ heads off.
Sacrifice flies (SF). Unlike the sacrifice bunt—in which you’re giving up a precious out to work with on purpose, on behalf of an advance that gives you team a better scoring chance after your bunt than before it in only one of six known “sacrifice bunt” situations—you’re not trying deliberately to make an out here. You didn’t check in at the plate thinking boy, I’m gonna hit that slop all the way for . . . an out, but your fly out brought him home. And you should damn well get some credit for it.
Hit by pitches (HBP). Their pitcher puts you on first the hard way? Let it be to your credit and on his head. You didn’t ask to get drilled, but—assuming you didn’t start a bench-clearing brawl over it and get thrown out of the game—there you are on first base. You just gave your team that much more shot at, you know, scoring.
We take the sum of all the foregoing and divide that sum by total plate appearances to get your RBA. And this is Votto as a Red according to RBA, and compared to the five other franchise WAR leaders (none of whom happens to be Tony Perez):
|Player (as a Red)||PA||TB||BB||IBB||SF||HBP||RBA|
Think about that. RBA places Votto as the number two Red in the history of the franchise and shows him as one of only two players among the franchise WAR leaders with a .600+ RBA in in Cincinnati uniform. The only thing missing on his resume is beyond his control. It isn’t Votto’s fault the Reds have never reached, never mind won a World Series with him.
The only alarm that ought to be raised over Votto now is whether age (he’s 38) is overtaking him for keeps at long enough last. (His .407 RBA for 2022 as of this morning is 211 points below his career mark.)
The Reds didn’t exactly look like the Dreads hosting the Cubs at Great American Ballpark Thursday afternoon. Not when they beat the Cubs 20-5 with a twenty-hit battering after the Cubs held a 3-0 lead following an inning and a half. Not with a two-run second, an eight-run third, a single-run fifth, a two-run sixth and seventh, and a five-run eighth.
Votto had only a small hand in the Reds’ destruction, scoring on a two-run single in that third. He walked twice, struck out once otherwise. But if he’s always been the kind of player who cares about improving his craft, he’s also been one of those men who couldn’t care less about his own numbers so long as his team wins.
The wins these days are about as easy to come by for the Reds as summoning up his longtime brio has been for Votto this year. About the only thing remaining intact from his younger years is Votto’s continuing passion for the game.
Remember: This is the guy who got thrown out of a 2021 game early, arguing a check swing call against him, then learned a young fan in San Diego at her first live major league game was disappointed at not being able to see him, her favourite player—and sent her a ball he signed that also said, “I am sorry I didn’t play the entire game.”
The spirit remains willing even if the reflexes are no longer fresh and the swing is no longer swift. Even if he admits to being embarrassed by the Dreads’ 14-30 season’s record thus far. Father Time may be starting to tell him that his major league days might be numbered at long enough last. Grandfather All-Time says Votto may not be the greatest ever to wear a Reds uniform but he’s at least the number two man at the plate in their long, long, storied, long history.
You tell me who needs to retire the crack pipe now.