If it indeed holds true that athletes are humans, then it would be safe to assume that they too are subject to the same evolutionary tendencies the rest of humanity has experienced throughout history. In fact, this natural, totally normal change happens more than we probably think.
Asides aside, what I'm trying to say is, over the course of a baseball player's career, said player must evolve to stay relevant. Once he can no longer throw 98 falling out of bed, a pitcher must change his approach from fireballer to Arroyo-baller in order to maintain his previous success.
Never, however, has a man been so lambasted in his attempt to make a change than one Joey Votto. I realize that Votto has always been one of the more saber friendly hitters in the major leagues from the dawn of his bright career and that Votto has quite frequently been at the forefront of the stats vs. scouts debate. For whatever reason, the division between the two arguments has grown increasingly wider this season with every Votto walk.
The change I am referring to is not a physical approach, but a decidedly mental one. Since last season's knee injury, Votto is batting .316/.444/.492 with a .936 OPS. He has 18 HRs, 64 RBI, 125 Ks, and 121 BBs in 148 games. In the 148 games immediately preceding the injury, Votto hit .319/.432/.600 with a 1.031 OPS, 30 HR, 93 RBI, 116 Ks, and 107 BBs.
Obviously, those endpoints are arbitrary, but it is quite obvious that in the same amount of time pre-injury and post-injury, Votto has managed to sustain his batting average and walk rate, and he continues to strike out a roughly the same pace. The major discrepancy in those numbers comes in the power department. Votto himself has made no bones about it, often making statements such as (I'm paraphrasing here), "Other guys can do that stuff (hit for power), but I can't."
The change in Votto's approach at the plate has been so noticeable, in fact, that the public outcry deeming that Votto is not "earning" $225 million contract extension has reached a fever pitch this summer. Assuming that his knee's health has once again reached 100%, there have been many who have decided that Votto's bat should once again be partying like its 2010.
In many respects, it has. But a 50 plus point drop ins SLG%, coupled with a precipitous decline in RBI has engendered the notion that Votto is not "earning" his contract. That Bob Castellini is not paying him to walk. There are many statistics out there able to debunk this myth. For example, his batting average with runners in scoring position is still over .300, meaning he is taking advantage of RISP at an above average rate. His ball in play percentage, the number of times he puts the ball in play divided by total number of strikes, is right around his career average, as is his pitches per plate appearance, meaning he is not taking more pitches as many think. Even his SO% and BB% are only slightly above his career average.
So essentially, Votto has had season in line with the numbers he has put up in the past, minus the power. It is true, whether you look at HRs and RBI, or XBH% and ISO, his numbers are noticeably down in each category.
What is not true is that Votto is less of a hitter because of his diminished power post-injury. The conception that RBI are the greatest measuring stick for hitter value is simply untrue. Just as none of the statistics I listed here tells the whole story of Votto's season in and of themselves, the number of RBI he has does not define his total value either.
Joey Votto is simply not the same hitter he once was, and he may very well never be again. But what he is is still one of the best and most enjoyable hitters to watch in the game today. He's changed, his game has evolved and unfortunately, there is quite a sizable crowd still yet to realize this.
I am by no means saying it is wrong to question Votto's approach and the results that he has produced. Do that at your own discretion. I am saying that it is probably an error in judgement to assume that his lack of RBI in comparison with other highly paid hitters makes Joey less deserving of his not insubstantial paycheck.
So, to all those insufferable and soulless Reds fans out there, please do some more research and read the many articles by people much better than me at writing them. And to all you bright-eyed and bushy-tailed fans who have more to do than spew annoying untruths, Go Reds!