Joey Votto went hitless in Sunday’s series finale against the Milwaukee Brewers, which brought to an end his then 17 game hit streak. He walked twice, however, which did manage to continue an even more impressive streak, as The Enquirer’s C. Trent Rosecrans detailed in this morning’s BAR: he’s been on base at least twice in 18 consecutive games, a stretch that’s closing in on an all-time record held by none other than Ted Williams.
Talking about the statistical excellence of Votto at the plate never gets old. Votto himself, however, is pushing 34 years old, a birthday he’ll reach in less than one month. And while the offensive numbers that he continues to post are otherworldly in their own right, that they’re being put up by a player his age is an aspect I don’t think we lend enough applause to on a day to day basis.
Take the current MLB leaderboard by wRC+, for instance. Votto’s 165 mark sits as the 4th best in all of baseball, just marginally behind 27 year old Jose Altuve’s MLB-best 169 mark. The 30 names on the front page consist of the best offensive players in the game today, but that group is also largely made up of the best 20-somethings the game has to offer. In fact, of all those players, only Seattle’s Nelson Cruz (37, 144 wRC+) is older than Votto, and only a handful are even over age 30.
Votto’s age 31, 32, and now age 33 seasons have been truly astounding, especially given the physical ailments he had to overcome in the seasons prior to those. The 166 wRC+ he’s posted during that stretch is second only to Mike Trout (178 wRC+ in his age 23-25 seasons) in all of baseball, in which time he’s hit a stupid good .318/.446/.561 in 1886 PAs.
That got me thinking. Just how do Votto’s age 31-33 seasons compare offensively to the greats who’ve played this game? Well, I looked it up. I blinked. I blinked again. And after double checking to make sure that I’d set all the parameters correctly, I discovered that on the front page of a list that begins with Babe Ruth, Rogers Hornsby, and Lou Gehrig, Joey Votto’s name sits alongside ho-hum regulars like Harmon Killebrew, Mickey Mantle, and Stan Musial.
That’s every player who has ever played from age 31 to age 33 since 1871, and the only players who have bested Votto’s 166 wRC+ in that span are 11 inner-circle Hall of Famers and the late 90’s dinger-poppin’ duo of Barry Bonds and Mark McGwire. That’s surely important to Votto, too, since he’s on record stating wRC+ is the stat he himself values most.
It seems somewhat trite to claim that the player who is leading all of Major League Baseball in OPS at the moment is playing great baseball, obviously. But with Votto, it may be worth emphasizing that his league-leading OPS isn’t just him playing great, it may well be him playing better than he ever has despite owning a career of incredibly impressive feats. Factor in his power surge, his plummeting strikeout rate, and renewed emphasis on defense, and we might actually be talking about a player who is still getting better on the cusp of his 34th birthday.
Since he’s under contract through eternity, Joey Votto’s name is going to continue to be on lineup cards regularly into his 40s. Perhaps that’s actually a great thing for the Cincinnati Reds.