Two articles were posted recently in stark contract to one another. The first is a very insightful piece by ESPN’s Jerry Crasnick, detailing Reds first baseman Joey Votto’s approach to hitting. The second was a not-so-insightful piece by Paul Daugherty of the Enquire, taking a swipe at Votto because he doesn’t have many runs batted in.
As Crasnick writes, Votto doesn’t concern himself with RBI’s:
Now along comes Votto, who pays zero attention to conventional stats like runs scored and RBIs and focuses strictly on having the most productive at-bats possible in his quest to make life hell on pitchers. Votto doesn’t step in the box looking to draw walks, but he does adhere to a standard that many new-school bloggers and statistical types hold dear.
Whatever Votto is doing, it is working, despite having the fourth-most RBI on the team, behind Brandon Phillips, Jay Bruce, and Todd Frazier. Votto’s 1.030 OPS is by far the best on the team and the only other Reds hitter who comes close is Shin Soo Choo at .984. RBI machine Phillips registers at .795.
Daugherty, though, isn’t willing to look past those RBI’s.
If you’re going to laud the ability of Choo and Votto to score runs and get on base, why no love for BP’s ability to drive them in? Votto’s had as many chances to drive in Choo as Phillips has. More, in fact, given that he hits ahead of Phillips. Doesnt BP’s RBI prowess make Votto and Choo look good, same as their ability to get aboard makes BP’s RBI total look impressive?
Riddle me that, Statman.
And this, really, is the generational gap. Last year, the debate was had between traditionalists and Saberists with Miguel Cabrera and Mike Trout, respectively, as proxies. Not much progress has been made. Now we get to have the battle again, this time with Phillips and Votto as proxies.
We laud Votto for getting on base because it’s something he controls. (I don’t know any Saber types that are crediting his scoring runs.) One does not control the rate at which hitters in front of oneself reach base or the aggressiveness and efficiency of base runners, two large factors that influence RBI totals, arguably more than the hitter’s own skill level.
The Reds’ 1-4 in the lineup has mostly been Choo (.449 OBP), Zack Cozart (.247), Votto (.484), and Phillips. Votto has the unfortunate job of hitting after Cozart, who reaches base rarely but has enough power (.408 SLG) to drive in Choo, a swift runner in his own right (21 steals last year). Phillips has the privilege of batting after Votto, who has reached base nearly one out of every two times he has stepped to the plate. Because pitchers are so careful around Votto, and his plate discipline is impeccable, he has drawn an absurd 41 walks in 221 PA, meaning that runners on base when Votto bats typically don’t score. Thus, Phillips comes to the plate with both Votto on base and the runners that were on for Votto. Votto couldn’t be helping pad Phillips’ RBI total more.
This isn’t rocket science. Reaching this conclusion simply requires a willingness to go the extra mile to look up this information and to not be tethered to old ways of thinking. It’s a no-brainer who has been better between Votto and Phillips, and it’s a shame that this is even a debate in the year 2013.