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Updating the Top 100: Joey Votto

MLB: Arizona Diamondbacks at Cincinnati Reds David Kohl-USA TODAY Sports

I have this long-ago memory from when I was a child, in which a group of us neighborhood kids were playing at a local park, back when kids played at local parks without parent supervision or structured activity. In the memory, a pair of teenagers began to fight each other on the other end of the park. Young boys being who they are, we all gravitated towards the end of the park where the fighting was happening, so as to get a better view. It didn’t take long before it was clear that one of the pugilists was far better at the craft of ass-kicking than the other, and I seem to remember that the more skilled fighter had beaten his opponent to the point of the defeated being on the ground with the victor perched on top of him, ready to unleash a final volley of ultimate humiliation. Before doing so, the stronger boy acknowledged his audience (us) and dramatically said that we should all leave, because things were about to get ugly.

Which brings us to Joey Votto.

Every time I do one of these player profiles, I start by looking at the basic stat line and wait until I see something that prompts a question. And then I look for other clues that might help answer that question. The volume of granular baseball data that’s readily available is pretty cool, if we give ourselves a minute to arrest our brains from thinking that 2019 is one of the darker times in human history.

Here’s the point. I’ve looked at Votto’s horrible, no good, truly terrible 2019 numbers and then have looked for clues. Is he pulling the ball more? Is he hitting fewer line drives? How has his exit velocity changed? And the frustrating thing is that these fairly obvious questions have not produced any meaningful answers, because the answer to each question is: No, No, and It hasn’t.

There’s certainly a more technical explanation for why this is the case, but the simple reality is that pitchers aren’t super afraid of Joey Votto anymore. Opposing pitchers threw a higher percentage of strikes to Votto in 2019, and they threw a corresponding higher percentage of first pitch strikes to him as well. He was behind in the count more often and, on a related note, he struck out more and walked less than vintage Votto ever did.

There’s a tension I find when thinking about Votto’s prospects for 2020. On one hand, I’m a bit weary from the time spent waiting throughout 2019 for Votto to finally break out and become himself at the plate. If it never happened in 2019, why should I expect it in 2020? And on the other hand, we’re one season removed from a .400+ on-base percentage and two seasons removed from 36 homers and a slugging percentage that flirted with .600. The 2019 numbers were undeniably paltry: 15 homers, 76 walks, .261 batting average. It’s like the producers swapped out Joey Votto for Dan Driessen to see if anyone would notice. It would be real swell, mister, if they could find it in their hearts to switch them back.

Across 13 seasons with the Reds, Votto has amassed a batting line of .307/.421/.519 (150 OPS+) over 1,717 games and 7,372 plate appearances. He has career totals of 1,009 runs scored, 944 RBI, 284 HR, 404 doubles, 1,866 hits, and 1,180 walks. Votto mentioned in an end-of-season interview that he dreams of being in the parade celebrating a championship in Cincinnati. I think that would be nice as well.

Votto remains #5 on the Reds all-time list and is the greatest first baseman in franchise history.

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