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Updating the Top 100: Joey Votto

Detroit Tigers v Cincinnati Reds Photo by Jamie Sabau/Getty Images

The saddest of all mythical tales are when gods become mortal. Joey Votto, routinely in four digit OPS territory, experienced a calamitous power outage en route to a nearly 200 point year over year decrease in OPS. To wit, coming into 2018, Votto had a career HR/FB rate of 11.4%. In 2018, that number was only 4.8%.

We’ve seen this before, namely in 2014 when Votto played a truncated season on one healthy leg. To the best of my knowledge, there were no analogous injuries in 2018, which makes the drop-off season a bit more curious.

Joey Votto’s slugging percentage in 2018 was only three points higher than Jose Peraza’s. Roll that around your brain for a few minutes.

Despite power numbers that resemble a middle infielder and a mediocre batting average of .284, Votto still led the league in on-base percentage. Some things are slump proof, apparently.

At this stage of his career, Votto represents a bit of a Rorschach test. Was this the cliff? Or is there an obvious bounce-back season in store. Put me in the latter camp, if partly due to hope and partly due to believing that Votto being amazing 8 of the last 10 seasons should be weighed more heavily than whatever 2018 was. After all, the greatest of all tales are redemption stories.

Regardless of what Votto’s 2019 brings, with five more seasons guaranteed on his contract and relatively good health, we’ll have the opportunity to begin thinking about Votto in historical terms. Here are five quick thoughts:

1) Many of the franchise records are out of reach. Votto has been with the Reds a long time. In 2018, he crossed the half-way mark in terms of most plate appearances as a Redleg (Rose had 12,344; Votto now has 6,764).

2) That said, Votto can become the all-time franchise leader in walks this season, as he’s 106 walks behind Rose coming in to 2019. The last time Votto failed to walk 106 times in anything close to a full season was 2010.

3) One milestone that might eventually be in reach is career home runs as a Red. Votto is currently 120 behind Johnny Bench (Votto: 269; Bench: 389) , which would mean averaging 24 per year over the next five years. Possible? Absolutely. Probable? Not after 2018. I’d call it 3-to-1 against, although if someone offered me that bet, I’d probably take it.

4) Depending on your definition of the term, Votto has potentially been in the inner circle of franchise greats for a while now. I’m ranking Votto as the 5th best player in franchise history after the 2018 season, which means he’s inner circle regardless of your definition (My list: Rose, Bench, Morgan, Larkin, Votto). With those aforementioned five seasons still to go, there’s the obvious question of how high he will rank when he’s done. Barring catastrophic injury, he’ll finish top 3 without much trouble. Passing Bench seems possible; Rose not so much. You can and will disagree with my particular rankings, but we got lucky to see Votto as a Red this long, this consistently. It’s been fun and the ride ain’t close to over.

5) One of the obvious differences between Votto and the other top five players is Votto’s lack of postseason success. That’s obviously not remotely on Votto, but it does give added urgency to the team making a push very quickly. Not to get sentimental, but I think the franchise owes him another legitimate shot at a ring.

Through twelve seasons with the Reds, Votto has appeared in 1,575 games, hitting .311/.427/.530 for a 155 OPS+. He currently has 1,729 hits, 930 runs scored, and 897 RBI. Despite talking about his 2018 season as though he was worthless, Votto still ranked as the team’s 3rd best player this year. As a result, he notches up one place on the all-time list (climbing above Frank Robinson) to #5. He remains the franchise’s greatest first baseman.

Top 15 1st Basemen in Reds history

  1. Joey Votto
  2. Tony Perez
  3. Ted Kluszewski
  4. Frank McCormick
  5. Dan Driessen
  6. Jake Beckley
  7. Sean Casey
  8. Lee May
  9. Jake Daubert
  10. Dick Hoblitzel
  11. Hal Morris
  12. Rube Bressler
  13. Gordy Coleman
  14. Deron Johnson
  15. Hal Chase