Understanding the real value of Joey Votto

During the St. Louis Cardinals-Cincinnati Reds game last Thursday evening, the Cardinals broadcast team revisited an idiotic argument I’d like never to hear again. Al Hrabosky and Dan McLaughlin mentioned how the Reds’ front office would like Joey Votto to look to, essentially, be more of a power hitter. So, if I’m able to translate properly, Reds ownership wants to shine a portion of the blame for a crappy season on Votto. That’s utter rubbish.

It seems to me, that maybe Reds’ owner Bob Castellini and GM Walt Jocketty don’t fully understand what they have in Votto. How on earth can they be so confused as to his value and role?


Maybe they’re not clear on what his primary job is, when it comes to stepping in the batter’s box? Let’s take a quick look at his plate appearances by position in the order.

Since debuting for the Reds in 2007, Votto has amassed 4692 PAs. His primary positions have been second and third in the order. He has 443 PAs hitting second – roughly two-thirds of a full season – good for 9.44% of his career trips to the dish. Hitting third, however, Votto has logged 78.04% of his PAs (3662). How has he performed at these two primary spots in the order?

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I’m gonna go out on a pretty sturdy limb here and say that makes him their three-hole hitter. Can we all agree on that? Good. In case you were wondering, as primarily the Reds’ three-hole guy, he puts up 28 HRs and 93 RBIs on a 162-game basis. Sounds like a pretty fantastic offensive output from the guy hitting third. Maybe Castellini and Jocketty aren’t familiar with the job that a number-three batter is tasked with?


The widely accepted definition of the three-hole guy is as follows.

The third batter, in the three-hole, is generally the best all-around hitter on the team, often hitting for a high batting average, but not necessarily very fast. Part of his job is to reach base for the cleanup hitter, and part of it is to help drive in baserunners himself. Third-place hitters are best known for ‘keeping the inning alive’.

Best all-around hitter for the Reds? Uh, is that a rhetorical question or are you trying to irk me? The answer is, unquestionably, YES. Brandon Phillips is still a quality hitter, but not even in the same class as Votto right now. Todd Frazier has developed into a big power guy, but isn’t thought of as the same disciplined hitter that Votto is.

Yet, more importantly, is the notion of reaching base for the cleanup hitter to get to the plate. Votto has a career .423 OBP. If you read FanGraphs’ statistical glossary, you’ll notice that they rate a .390 OBP as “excellent”, so that makes Votto ‘off-the-charts’. And since this narrative has lingered in 2015, pining for him to turn into Barry Bonds, let’s see how he’s doing at his job this year. Not bad! Votto’s 2015 slash line is .313/.460/.551. That is 143 points above league average for the season (.317 OBP MLB average) and 144 points higher than the National League average. Also of note, his 1.011 OPS is his third best for his career and with 27 homers and 73 RBIs, maybe he’s already the hitter they’re looking for!! Castellini and Jocketty appear to be as easily duped as Imperial Storm Troopers.


Going back to percentage of plate appearances by position in the batting order, 299 of his 443 career plate appearances batting second have come this season. That’s 67.5% of his career total. Batting second in ’15, Votto is slashing .309/.452/.572 with 15 HRs and 37 RBIs. On the other hand, he’s at .312/.466/.528 with 12 HRs and 36 RBIs hitting third in 324 PAs this year. So, the average and the on-base percentage pretty much stay the same, but the slugging takes a jump. Is Bryan Price a genius? I doubt it, but if they want bigger power numbers from Votto it would appear, per SLG%, that he is delivering that in the two-hole.

One of the primary jobs of a two-spot hitter is to avoid hitting into the double play (really that should be every hitter’s job, but roll with it, Gabe….breathe). Well, Votto has grounded into 11 double plays so far this season. There are 88 names on the leaderboard with more GIDPs than Votto in 2015. When you consider that he’s done that while already coming to the plate 630 times, I’d say he’s doing his job there, too.

I’m curious, if they truthfully already have the hitter they’re asking him to ‘become’, then what is the disconnect here?

Let’s remember, that in the game of baseball the point is to score more runs than your opponent. Joey Votto seems to be quite keen on this concept, whether it be by getting on base, driving in runners, avoiding the double play, or hitting it over the fence. I think his 174 wRC+ reflects that nicely.

Oh look, here’s a nice example of Votto being on base for following batters to drive him, thus scoring runs.

So, can we all shut up about this now?!?

*Let it be noted I was not inferring The Mad Hungarian and McLaughlin were the idiots I am talking about.

**Thanks to baseball-refence.com, espn.com, and fangraphs.com for the statistical information.

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