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Updating the Top 100: Joey Votto

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Syndication: The Enquirer Meg Vogel via Imagn Content Services, LLC

There are seven position players who:

· Are in the Hall of Fame

· Played their entire careers post 1900

· Played a plurality of their career games for Cincinnati

The list, in alphabetical order, is: Bench, Larkin, Lombardi, Morgan, Perez, Robinson, and Roush. The two players we could easily add to that group are Rose (ineligible for the Hall due to being a horrible human being) and Votto (still active). One could ask about the lack of pitchers, but LOLReds. In other words, this is the list from which the franchise’s best player almost certainly must come from. When we start to lay out some basic metrics (shown below based only on each player’s time with the Reds), some challenges emerge:

Reds greatest players at a glance

Player Pos G PA OPS+ bWAR # 5+ WAR Seasons # 8+ WAR Seasons All-Star Games Gold Gloves
Player Pos G PA OPS+ bWAR # 5+ WAR Seasons # 8+ WAR Seasons All-Star Games Gold Gloves
Johnny Bench C, 3B, 1B 2,158 8,674 126 75.2 8 1 14 10
Barry Larkin SS 2,180 9,057 116 70.5 8 0 12 3
Ernie Lombardi C 1,203 4,288 127 27.9 1 0 5 N/A
Joe Morgan 2B 1,154 4,973 147 57.9 6 5 8 5
Tony Perez 1B, 3B 1,948 7,630 127 45.6 4 0 7 0
Frank Robinson LF, RF, 1B 1,502 6,410 150 63.8 8 1 8 1
Pete Rose Yep 2,722 12,344 124 78.1 8 1 13 2
Edd Roush CF 1,399 8,157 135 40.3 2 0 N/A N/A
Joey Votto 1B 1,771 7,595 149 61.8 6 1 6 1

It’s easier to cross names off this list than it is to pick out an obvious #1. Ernie Lombardi is a wonderfully fun player but really doesn’t compete in this group. He’s not the weakest inductee in Cooperstown, but he had more in common with Russell Martin than he did Mike Piazza or Pudge Rodriguez.

Edd Roush is probably underappreciated in franchise history, but his advanced numbers suffer due to a few things: He averaged something like 20 missed games per year with the Reds, he wasn’t a particularly good fielder and centerfield was actually a negatively adjusted position (in the WAR calc) back in the late teens and early 20s (CF back then was where LF or RF are today on the defensive spectrum).

And Tony Perez, God love him. It’s interesting that his OPS+ matches so closely with his teammates Bench and Rose. He didn’t have the glove or positional adjustment that Bench had; he didn’t have the ridiculous longevity of Rose. He’s out.

Reds greatest players, refined

Player Pos G PA OPS+ bWAR # 5+ WAR Seasons # 8+ WAR Seasons All-Star Games Gold Gloves
Player Pos G PA OPS+ bWAR # 5+ WAR Seasons # 8+ WAR Seasons All-Star Games Gold Gloves
Johnny Bench C, 3B, 1B 2,158 8,674 126 75.2 8 1 14 10
Barry Larkin SS 2,180 9,057 116 70.5 8 0 12 3
Joe Morgan 2B 1,154 4,973 147 57.9 6 5 8 5
Frank Robinson LF, RF, 1B 1,502 6,410 150 63.8 8 1 8 1
Pete Rose Yep 2,722 12,344 124 78.1 8 1 13 2
Joey Votto 1B 1,771 7,595 149 61.8 6 1 6 1

These are the elite players in the franchise’s history. I don’t think there should be much dispute about that. What’s fascinating is that while there are many franchises where the #1 selection is pretty cut and dry, the Reds’ top spot elicits debate and disagreement. I’ve heard plausible arguments for Rose (highest career value), Morgan (best peak), and Bench (played catcher, career stats might be understated as a result)…possibly Robby too (old people). There doesn’t seem to be much claim for Larkin or Votto as the #1 of all time.

Personally, I’ve previously had the top of the charts ranked as Rose/Bench/Morgan/Larkin/Votto/Robinson. This time, I’m moving Votto ahead of Larkin into the #4 spot. It’s all really, really close. If you want to disagree, I won’t even ask that you complain to Wick.

For next year, there are three key storylines for Votto.

First, to what extent can he carryover the hot streak that began immediately after he was famously benched in late August (.258/.385/.557 in 29 games)? It’s a month’s worth of data, meaning it’s not really worth much from a forecasting perspective, but a late-career renaissance season would be mucho bueno.

Second, how much of Votto’s poor fielding numbers in 2020 are a blip? Normalized for a standard-length season, Votto’s Defensive Runs Saved numbers over the last few years have been -11, +15, +13, +11, -21. That’s not a trend. Your guess is as good as mine for what they look like in 2021. Maybe slightly negative, if I was going on the record.

Lastly, Votto will take aim at some round number milestones in 2021. He’s 92 hits away from 2,000, 5 homers away from 300, and 34 RBI away from 1,000. With just three seasons guaranteed on his current contract, 2,500 hits is almost certainly out of reach, as is 400 HR. So if round numbers are your thing, take a deep pull of the 2021 air.

After fourteen seasons with the Reds, Votto has posted a career batting line of .304/.419/.517 (149 OPS+). That .419 on-base percentage is the best career mark in Reds franchise history. He is the best first baseman in franchise history.

Top 15 First Basemen in Reds history

1 Joey Votto
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