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Cincinnati Reds links, 3/24/15: Joey Votto vs. Brandon Phillips, ad infinitum

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This is the story that never ends, it just goes on and on my friends. Someone started writing it not knowing what it was...

Phillips' hand swung at this high-five, while Votto's hand walked into it.
Phillips' hand swung at this high-five, while Votto's hand walked into it.
Benny Sieu-USA TODAY Sports

The debate that seems both impossibly fabricated and unnecessarily unending continued on Monday, as USA Today's Bob Nightengale got a few quotes from Cincinnati Reds stalwarts Joey Votto and Brandon Phillips about their respective approaches, their types of play, and about how silly the game of baseball must look in the eyes of everyone reading said article.

There are an infinite number of misguided and misleading things in this article.  The assertion that Votto "passes up RBI opportunities for walks" as if baseball is merely a binary world makes me want to stick my head in a blender, and stating that Votto has "gone from power hitter and National League MVP (37 homers with 113 RBI in 2010), to the king of on-base percentage" without acknowledging that Votto also led all of baseball in 2010 in on-base percentage, too, screams of letting agenda get ahead of the facts.  Nevermind that the assertion that watching Votto "suddenly morph into Wade Boggs,' a first-ballot Hall of Famer and one of the greatest hitters in the history of the game, is said with some sort of odd disdain, or that the statistical analysis of the value of OBP has been done over and over and over again to results that show Votto knows exactly what he's talking about.

To me, at least, that's not really the most annoying part of this.  What's annoying is that the perception from an outsider who simply read this piece with no knowledge of players or context would assume that all Votto's approach does is produce walks while all Phillips' approach does is drive in runs.  In reality, that couldn't be a longer hike from the truth.  Since Votto's first full season in 2008, he's averaged 180 hits and 94 RBI per 162 games played, while Phillips - who's spent the bulk of that time batting behind the oft-on-base Votto - has averaged 176 hits and 88 RBI per 162 games played.  In other words, the designed article pitting "always walks regardless of scenario guy" against "swings the bat meat and gets hits to drive in all those lazy walkers guy" includes two guys whose statistics simply do not back up that argument.

For 2015, at least, I can only hope that both lineup cogs are healthy enough to employ their strategies for 150 or so games each, since regardless of how they cast themselves, both have been and can be highly effective members of the Reds' offense whether they realize why they're good, or not.  So much of this article failed to highlight how debilitating Votto's leg injuries have been to his power hitting ability in recent seasons, or how Phillips' numbers tumbled mightily in the weeks following his thumb and wrist injuries since 2013.  I don't care if Votto states publicly that he's trying to think of cheeseburgers while he's in the batter's box if that's what gets him over 300 total bases again, and I would openly endorse Phillips' methods if he mentions in an interview after his 130th RBI that he closes his eyes before the pitcher ever lets go of the ball.

Fans of the Cincinnati Reds will get to watch these differing approaches play out for years thanks to the lengthy contracts both Phillips and Votto are on, and it will be interesting to see how their approaches adapt to their growing age.  I fear that Phillips' unwillingness to use the strike zone to his advantage will render his approach useless far quicker than Votto's intent to avoid swinging at pitches that umpires will deem balls, and when both are too feeble to continue to launch dingers into the outfield bleachers, one will at least still have a skill that the rest of the players in the lineup will be able to capitalize on:  on-base ability.

A flute with no holes is not a flute.  And a donut with no hole, is a danish.

★★★

FanGraphs has been running their annual Positional Power rankings this week, and if you're not totally familiar with them, it's basically pooling the cumulative expectations of their projection systems, sorting by team and position, and saying which one's supposed to be better.  Remember, WAR is an estimator, not end-all and be-all, and FanGraphs has pretty consistently undersold many of the Reds better players, but in case you'd like to check in on where they rank vs. their peers, here they are:  IntroductionSecond Base (including some ribbing of Phillips' quotes from the other article), and First Base (with a schnitzel shout-out to Donald Lutz).  They'll be posting the rest over the next few days, so stay tuned if that interests you.  If not, do that Votto thing and just think about cheeseburgers.

Over at Reds.com, Mark Sheldon caught up with Manny Parra to check in on the lefty's outlook for 2015 after a rather tough 2014 season.  For as much as we've placed emphasis on Sean Marshall's injury and unavailability for Tony Cingrani's recent move to the bullpen, the uncertainty around Parra probaly had plenty to do with that, too.  Hopefully, they'll both be firing on all cylinders and providing the Reds with one of the best trios of power and strikeout lefties among all bullpens in baseball.

Finally, C. Trent Rosecrans caught up with Todd Frazier about his bat selection and how it's helped his offense take off.  Baseball is an amazingly finicky game as is, but it's always great to hear how seemingly innocuous details are sometimes at the crux of changes that result in wildly different outcomes, and the extra inch on Frazier's new bats is just that.  I mean, just imagine how far his no-handed dinger would've gone had that extra inch of sweet-spot been around!  I love these kinds of articles, really, since they show that baseball isn't some clear-cut formula despite how many statistics and regressions we attempt to pin it to, and I say that as a complete subscriber to doing those.  Sometimes, it's a swing change (see:  Chris Heisey), sometimes it's using eye-black, and sometimes it's just getting a good night's sleep in a familiar bed that turns the tides for players' fortunes.  I'm sure there's more to Frazier's breakout 2014 season, but damn if I'm going to tell him it was anything other than some sweet new bats.