If you read an article on Sports Illustrated this week, you would have seen a local laughingstock trying to start a debate where there isn't one. Now, I have no idea what SI wants with Paul Daughtery, but I'm embarrassed for this city that he's representing us. Allow me to retort.
The old school scout is tanned and paunchy. His face is leathery from decades of sitting in sunburned high school bleachers; his eyes are wrinkled from all the squinting. Cut him open, he bleeds rosin. He has a radar gun, a notebook and some binoculars. He knows what he knows.
Well, I wouldn't expect him to know what he doesn't know, would I? This is meant to romanticize the old weathered scout. This is Clint Eastwood in that Amy Adams movie nobody saw.
"Joey Votto is supposed to drive in runs,'' he says. "The guys in front of him are paid to score them. When you're batting third in any lineup, if you're taking close pitches with runners on base, you're not doing your job.''
This is utterly ridiculous. If you're making the "the guys in front of him are paid to score them" argument, why isn't this article about Zack Cozart? If this is lineup construction, why isn't this about Dusty Baker making questionable choices? Nope. Joey Votto's fault. The best player on the team and one of the best hitters in the league is what's plaguing this 30-18 Reds squad with the 3rd best record in baseball. Got it.
The new age executive is young and lean. He wears a tie. He has a laptop, which he opens to reveal the secrets of baseball. His secrets, anyway. He looks at the old scout and says, "Tell me again where you got your Economics degree?''
The young exec uses terms the scout finds exotic. He seems to talk in code: WAR. OPS. BABIP.
"Youth" is used as a bad word here. Sounds like Old Man Daughtery is letting his personal biases through here. He's one of the remnants of a bygone age of journalism, but instead of adapting like many of his contemporaries, he chooses to feel threatened and attack a younger generation. Hal McCoy has been covering the team for twice as long as Doc has, but has embraced the new medium with open arms, now with Fox Sports Ohio.
Then again, this is about advanced stats, right? It's callous to insinuate that any scout needs an economics degree to be a good scout. In fact, I think Doc's knowledge of the "stathead" side of this argument is what he learned from watching the trailer to "Moneyball".
If there's a scout out there that isn't familiar with WAR, OPS and BABIP, they probably aren't employed. Seriously, it takes 5 minutes to read about these concepts and familiarize yourself with them, even if you don't choose to put much stock into them to evaluate talent.
Yes, BABIP. Batting Average on Balls In Play. Something you can learn about in 5 minutes if you did your research before writing this article. I guess they didn't do research before fancy laptops came along, so Doc's not going to do it either.
The exec loves Joey Votto. He thinks Votto earns every penny of the $9.5 million he's making this year, and the $225 million he will make through 2023, if he plays out his current contract. The young exec knows what he knows.
And why wouldn't he? Someone like Daugherty should know this better than anyone, given the fact that he lives here. Joey Votto may be overlooked at times on a national scale because of the market he plays in, but he's larger than life in Cincinnati. Joey Votto passes the eye test a million times over. To suggest that he's not earning his $9.5M salary is ludicrous.
"Look how much better he makes the hitters around him,'' he says. "Look at the opportunities he's creating to score runs, not just for himself, but for others.''
The debate rages. Scout says, "He has 22 RBIs in 47 games. That's a 75-RBI pace. Unacceptable.''
The exec sounds like a pretty smart dude, doesn't he? Seriously, how can you completely isolate one part of his game for an argument and ignore everything else? This is like claiming that murder should be legal because the jails are overcrowded. Anyway, a stat that the traditionalists like to use is how he performs with RISP, in which Joey's hitting .385. Even using batting average, he's been stellar.
Young exec says, "He's in the top five in nearly every offensive category directly related to run production. RBIs are a dated way to measure a player's offensive ability.'
He is indeed. This is a good thing, Doc. This is not a bad thing. Stop trying to make this a bad thing.
Scout pauses, arms his mouth with a bit of Skoal Wintergreen to pouch his lower lip. Momentarily, he will line a fine stream of brown at the executive's Cole Haans. "My number three hitter isn't walking with runners in scoring position. Not on a pitch that's a quarter-inch off the plate,'' he says.
Then don't make him your "number three hitter". Joey Votto gets on base any way he can, and contributes to winning baseball. If he doesn't profile as the guy you want in that spot, put him in the second spot. Joey Votto doesn't get to dictate where he bats in the lineup.
Also, this scout has questionable hygiene habits and probably has mouth cancer. Why are we making a positive argument about his decision-making skills?
Either way, it's crazy to make to say that Joey Votto should change his approach at all, considering he's one of the best hitters in baseball. What's next, telling Shin-Soo Choo he's not being paid to hit home runs? He's not getting on base for the "number three hitter" to drive him in when he's driving himself in!
And so it goes. The Cincinnati Reds first baseman, a former NL MVP and a current cornerstone of one of the best teams in the game, is at the center of a fascinating discussion between old and new, Skoal and Skype, traditional and innovative. The narrative is ongoing, and won't change until Votto starts crashing balls into the seats and the gaps. Until he has more RBIs than, oh, Yuniesky Betancourt.
Here's where I have a problem. There's no "debate" here. Are there any scouts that think that Joey Votto's overrated? At this point, I'm convinced that Lance McAlister is paying Doc to provide him with talk-radio topics.
Still, no mention of Joey Votto's power-zapping knee injury? As much as he may not admit it, anyone who watches Reds baseball can tell you that he wasn't fully confident on it to start the year. His slugging percentage reflected that, at .456 through April. Once he got going, however, it's really hard to make that argument anymore. In May, he's slugging .701. That's not what you want from your 3rd hitter?
Votto has seven homers and 22 RBIs. He needed three homers and 5 RBIs in the past week, just to reach those modest totals. Nine National League first basemen have driven in more runs. Three of Votto's own teammates have more RBI. Miguel Cabrera alone had 55 driven in after Thursday's games.
Brandon Phillips gets to bat behind Joey Votto, who gets on base. Joey Votto gets to bat behind Zack Cozart. Advantage, Dat Dude.
This has caused some consternation in Cincinnati, where worrying about the Reds -- regardless of their success -- is something of a birthright. "I definitely fall on the old school side. He's not paid to walk,'' says Reds Hall of Fame announcer Marty Brennaman. "Walking is a byproduct of being a good hitter. He's paid to drive in runs.'
No, it hasn't. You asked the only guy with an audience that agrees with you on this point.
Let's look at how he probably phrased the question here, too. Marty's answer suggest that the question had something to do with "taking sides" in this "debate", and if it's old vs. new school, Marty's going old school every day of the week (and I don't blame him for that). Marty's answer to a leading question is your evidence of a "debate". If that's "journalism", I'm happy to be on this side of things.
What do you want from a No. 3 hitter?
I want Joey Votto. Or Brandon Phillips, with Votto batting second. You still haven't given an alternative as to what the Reds should do with that spot since Votto is so awful there.
If Votto batted second, there would be no discussion. Best two-hole hitter in the game. If he led off, ditto. In fact, if Votto batted anywhere but 3rd or 4th, the old scout would sooner mix the Skoal in with his corn flakes than say a discouraging word.
Fine. Once again, Joey Votto doesn't get to go up to Dusty in the morning and say "I think I'm gonna hit 2nd today, skip". If the problem is truly where he's hitting, why is this an article about Joey Votto?
Even so, no one thinking clearly would suggest Votto isn't one of the four or five best hitters in baseball. The exec opens his laptop. Numbers appear:
Average: .358, second-best in the game.
On-base percentage: .484, best in the game.
On-base plus slugging: 1.030, third.
Runs: 38, second.
Hits: 63, fourth.
Next case, counselor.
Right. If you have one of the best hitters in baseball on your team, why is it such a travesty to hit him 3rd? Also, I like how "OPS" is a foreign concept above, but "On-base plus slugging" is totally cool. Using the same statistic in a positive and negative manner to support your argument? Why does SI print this trash?
Votto also leads this world and possibly several others in bases on balls with 41. He's like the kid who scrapes the lima beans out of the succotash. Votto is discriminating. Some would say overly so.
Marty Brennaman: "Votto will take a 3-0 pitch an inch off the outside corner, when he could do with it what he did (Wednesday),'' when he drilled said pitch into the lower deck at Citi Field, for his seventh homer. "I believe in expanding your strike zone when you have guys on base.''
Votto only swings at good pitches. Some may call this "plate discipline". Apparently, this is a bad way to go about playing baseball.
"He's frustrating if you're solely attached to traditional stats,'' says Jay Jaffe, an SI.com baseball writer and stats guru. "Look at the entirety of his production. I'll gladly pay a guy (Votto's salary) who has an OPS of 1.000. He's keeping the line moving.'
Jay Jaffe gets it. Keeping the line moving is what I want out of my 3rd hitter, and every hitter in my lineup. Contrary to Doc's belief, runs get scored by more than just the top two hitters in the lineup. If your top 4 hitters are the only ones producing for your team, your team is in last place. Paul Daugherty watches replays of Marlins games when he gets home from GABP.
Personally, Votto doesn't care what others think, unless the other is Ted Williams. When he was in the minor leagues, Votto carried a dog-eared copy of Williams' classic book, The Science of Hitting. Now, he not only has it memorized, he lives it. When you ask Votto what homers and RBIs mean to him, he'll say, paraphrasing, "Not much. The process matters. Hitting your pitch matters. If I do that, those numbers will be there.'
Joey Votto is smarter than you, Paul Daugherty.
It's hard to dispute. There's no SABER-stat for Best Eye in the Game. Votto would certainly be in the center of that photo. Because he's so keen, umpires give him the benefit of the doubt on close pitches. That only encourages his keenness.
It is hard to dispute. Why dispute it?
And yet. . .
Why is there a "yet"? There should be no yet.
Votto has 22 RBIs, even as he has baseball's current best leadoff hitter, Shin-Soo Choo, setting his table. The biggest beneficiary of Votto's pickiness has been Brandon Phillips. The Cincinnati second baseman and cleanup hitter leads the NL in runs batted in. He's doing the work some think Votto ought to be doing. But as Jaffe says, "You can nitpick. They're winning. They're scoring runs. It's a team game. As long as he's not the only guy hitting. . .'
He's also had more opportunities to do that hitting. Joey Votto comes up more often without runners on base than Phillips does. That hasn't been mentioned at all in this article, and this factors directly into the RBI stat that is being scrutinized here. It's easy to look at that and make a conclusion, but why is it wrong to investigate and figure out why the number is lower than you want to be? Not only has BP has more chances with RISP, he's hitting .458 there, which is incredible. He's been amazing so far this season. Why is that being used as an argument for why Joey Votto isn't doing well enough?
For the moment, Votto is what Jaffe calls "a flashpoint in the culture war between" old and new ways of thinking. He has Ted Williams' eye. He's not hitting Ted Williams' home runs, though, or producing the Splinter's RBIs. Until he does, new age executive is flashing his laptop, and the old school scout is loading up with Skoal.
Obviously, Votto looks up to Teddy Ballgame, and he's the type of player where no matter how you look at his stats, he was one of the best to ever play. Both "sides" of that argument are supported.
It's May. Joey hit a homer last night. He will continue to hit homers for the rest of this year. He could very well end the season with 30-40 homers, which along with his OBP, would give him a very Williams-esque line for the year. Especially since he got through the rough April he had.
It sounds to me like Paul Daugherty had this article queued up to go in April, and couldn't post it then because it was April and April is too early to make any conclusions about how a player's season will go. Then Votto started to tear it up in May, and this might be the only part of the year where the numbers even come remotely close to backing up his argument.
If this is what Daugherty sees when he watches Joey Votto play, then I feel sorry for him. He's missing one of the best in the game who's playing right under his turned-up nose.