Joey Votto: The Sabermetrician's "Aeroplane Over the Sea"

Andy Lyons

The embodiment of advanced statistical analysis plays first-base for the Cincinnati Reds.

The lyrical translation of sabermetricians' feelings towards Joey Votto can be found in the title track of Neutral Milk Hotel's critically acclaimed album "In the Aeroplane Over the Sea."

What a beautiful face I have found in this place... What a beautiful dream that could flash on the screen...

Joey Votto's baseball skills are universally admired. While some in the media might have you believe that there are scouts out there criticizing Votto's approach at the plate, you'd be hard-pressed to find one. Even the most uninitiated, casual baseball fan recognizes Votto's talent for hitting baseballs. But for the basement dwelling, spreadsheet wielding statistical wizards often referred to as "sabermetricians," Joey Votto has become the reluctant poster-child of their teachings.

Talking the Talk

It is clear that Votto is at least familiar with advanced metrics like WAR. In this interview on MLB Network, Votto discusses being named the "Face of MLB." Showing a sense of humor (after talking about his nipples) he credits his fans for voting him the Face of MLB, citing his high ranking in "tweets above replacement... TAR."

To the dismay of some (a certain writer for the Cincinnati Enquirer comes to mind) Joey Votto has made it clear that he doesn't pay attention, nor care about some of the old measures of offensive production such as RBI. Votto focuses only those things which are within his control. Votto even gives the occasional shout out to the number-crunching crowd. In an interview with Anthony Castrovince, Votto offered up this tribute to those who understand his real value:

I'm trying to get the most out of myself, and I have decided that this is the way I get the most out of myself. And if people don't like it, that's their decision. But the people that think I'm doing well are the same people that make sure an automobile drives straight and an airplane knows how to land. These are scientists and mathematicians that can figure out some things.

His life away from the field is far from your typical athlete and more closely resembles that of a college professor. You won't find him at the local bars in Cincinnati, but you very well might see him at a coffee shop reading something by Nate Silver. He not only reads books by Nate Silver, he also reads the books Nate Silver references in his books. He's thoughtful and intelligent enough to learn Spanish in one off-season in order to better communicate with his Spanish speaking teammates.

Walking the Walk

Joey Votto doesn't just talk like a contributor at FanGraphs, his approach to the game of baseball and the production that results are in lockstep with with the teachings of the "scientists and mathematicians." The most common, albeit somewhat inaccurate, understanding of sabermetrics focuses on the importance of on-base percentage. Surely, OBP is a central pillar in the popularization of advanced statistical analysis. The book, and subsequent movie, Moneyball was used by some to narrowly define sabermetrics as "OBP over everything else," and there are still many people who believe that. Certainly most well-read baseball fans are aware that the study of advanced stats goes far beyond the importance of OBP. With that said, there's no doubt that sabermetricians place great value on a hitter's ability to get on base, making outs as infrequently as possible. It's a simple concept really: don't make outs, score more runs... as best illustrated here:


(H/T Sports Illustrated, Cliff Corcoran)

Votto has been baseball's best with regards to limiting outs. Early in his career, he decided "not to make outs anymore." He led the National League in OBP in 2010, 2011 and 2012, and was tops in MLB in 2010 and 2012. This year has been no different as he once again has reached base more frequently than any other player in baseball. At his current pace, Joey Votto would reach base 357 time by the end of the season, which would rank 5th all time in a single season.

But Votto doesn't just get on base. His high walk totals might be the byproduct of his commitment to only swing at pitches he can hit with authority. In an interview with FanGraphs back in March of this year, Votto described it in the simplest of terms, "I hit the ball hard." While he hasn't matched his power numbers from 2010 when he led the National League in slugging, he has still managed to rank in the top 10 (including this season) in NL SLG% every year since winning the MVP.


A thoughtful, well-read, humble yet fiercely competitive power-hitting on-base machine. A sabermetrician's wet dream.

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