A quick perusal of the current largest position player contracts in Major League Baseball provides quite the "Who's Who" list of the most successful and highly touted players in the game's recent history. You'll see stalwarts of the previous decade like Albert Pujols and Alex Rodriguez, Vernon Wells and Alfonso Soriano. You'll see top of the lineup speedsters like Jose Reyes and Carl Crawford, and great glove/bat combo stars like Ryan Zimmerman and Evan Longoria. You'll see mountains of men in Ryan Howard and Prince Fielder right next to the diminutive Dustin Pedroia, and the fresh faced Buster Posey side by side with Jayson Werth's grizzly beard. The lovely lefty swings of Joe Mauer, Josh Hamilton, and Adrian Gonzalez can be found in this group, too, right next to shortstops Troy Tulowitzki and Elvis Andrus and third basemen David Wright and the inimitable Miguel Cabrera.
You'll also find Joey Votto, the first baseman for the Cincinnati Reds, and there are probably a few folks who would be surprised to see exactly where his .311/.431/.501, 20 HR, 61 RBI season sits relative to his peers in the big money club.
Among his fellow high-dollar stars that spend time at 1B, Votto's .311 batting average is better than all but Joe Mauer, whose .324 mark sits right about his career norm. Joey's well clear of Prince Fielder (.264), Albert Pujols (.258), Adrian Gonzalez (.291), Ryan Howard (.266), and the oft-injured Mark Teixeira (.151), and he's just ahead of Buster Posey (.307), too. Votto's 20 HR ties him atop this list with Fielder, and his .507 Slugging % is far and away the highest of this group, too, with the .479 from Posey coming in a distant second place. Votto, of course, also has more walks than all of them, but before you accuse him of not swinging the bat enough, it should also be noted that Votto leads that group in hits, too, with his 150 this season being 6 more than Mauer and 7 more than Gonzalez.
Votto's numbers stack up quite well against his well funded left handed hitting peers, too. We've looked at Mauer, Gonzalez, and Howard already, but you can also toss Carl Crawford and Josh Hamilton into the mix, as both of their nine figure contracts rank among the largest of all time along with Votto's. Crawford, hitting .288/.340/.409 with 5 HR this season, fails to stack up next to Votto in any category, and Hamilton, hitting .236/.295/.423 with 19 HR, also sees his 2013 production pale in comparison.
In the 2000 MLB regular season, there were 17 batters across both leagues that finished the season with a slugging percentage greater than .594, and a ridiculous 54 batters who finished slugging at .500 or greater. In 2013, there are just two batters, Miguel Cabrera and Chris Davis, who are slugging greater than .594, and there are but 21 players in all of baseball slugging over .500. In 2000, there were 52 players that finished the season with 100 or more RBI, but in 2012 there were but 18. In 2000, 16 players hit 40 or more HR, yet barring phenomenal late season surges from a few players, it appears there will only be 2 such players in 2013.
The point of this was not to suggest that Joey Votto is having his best season, a great season, or even a season that he would be satisfied with; you have to look no farther than at Votto's own reactions and frustrations of late to know that he's not completely happy with how he's played this season. Rather, the purpose of looking at these roughly assembled stats was an excercise in observing the new, different offensive landscape in baseball, and seeing how well Joey Votto is "earning his paycheck," so to speak.
The fact is, aside from the otherworldly excellence on display from Miguel Cabrera, Votto sits atop the pack of big-money players both at the things we know he's good at and the things at which he's criticized for not being good enough. It's been said he doesn't swing the bat enough, yet he's near the top of the league in hits. It's been said he doesn't hit enough homers or drive in enough runs, yet he's been better than his high-priced peers at both while fewer and fewer people in baseball do either anymore, anyway.
Offensive production league wide is down significantly, while league revenues and player salaries have skyrocketed. It's not a problem that he's one of the best offensive players in an devolving offensive era the coincides with a rise in dominant pitching, and it's not his fault that the ability to demand top dollar for what he does is as prevalent in baseball as it's ever been.
Be glad it's Joey Votto getting the hundreds of millions from the Reds to be their Team MVP. You can certainly wish he was playing better, but you can't really wish he was somebody else.