Joey Votto

Joey Votto and the generation gap

25 Comments

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.

The Blue Jays will . . . not be blue some days next year

blue jays logo
1 Comment

The Toronto Blue Jays, like a lot of teams, will wear an alternate jersey next year. It’ll be for Sunday home games. They call it their “Canadiana,” uniforms. Which, hey, let’s hear it for national pride.

(question to Canada: my grandmother and my three of my four maternal great-grandparents were Canadian. Does that give me any rights to emigrate? You know, just in case? No reason for asking that today. Just curious!).

Anyway, these are the uniforms:

More like RED Jays, am I right?

OK, I am not going to leave this country. I’m going to stay here and fight for what’s right: a Major League Baseball-wide ban on all red alternate jerseys for anyone except the Cincinnati Reds, who make theirs work somehow. All of the rest of them look terrible.

Oh, Canada indeed.

Sports and politics share some of their worst excesses

CLEVELAND, OH - JULY 19:  Montana alternative delegate Susan Reneau shouts "guilty" as New Jersey Governor Chris Christie speaks on the second day of the Republican National Convention on July 19, 2016 at the Quicken Loans Arena in Cleveland, Ohio. Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump received the number of votes needed to secure the party's nomination. An estimated 50,000 people are expected in Cleveland, including hundreds of protesters and members of the media. The four-day Republican National Convention kicked off on July 18.  (Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)
Getty Images
2 Comments

Thomas Boswell of the Washington Post writes a column today — likely part of the Post’s overall Inauguration coverage — about how the world of sports and sports fandom is a refreshing change from the world of politics. It’s a place where “facts are still facts,” he says. Where  “debates, though sometimes loud, are surrounded by oceans of substantiated facts and often informed by respected experts who depend on rational analysis to make their points.” Contrasted with politics, of course, where objective fact has turned into opinion and vice-versa.

I get what he’s trying to say and I think he’s well-intentioned. But I also think he badly misreads both sports discourse and political discourse, each of which have borrowed the worst excesses from the other. And by this I do not mean the extent to which the substance of sports and politics overlap, which we have often argued about in this space. This is not a “stick to sports” point. I’m talking about the way in which sports fans interact with sports and political people interact with politics, even in a relative vacuum.

Politics has coopted sports discourse in the most toxic and wrongheaded of ways. The idea that “scoreboard!” is all that matters. The belief that winning is the only objective as opposed to a means to an end. Notions of rooting and tribalism, and that “our team” and “the opposing team” is the proper way to view the parties to the contest. All of those things — each of which make sense to varying degrees in a sports context — have been imported into politics and have served to degrade them.

Likewise, contrary to what Boswell says, sports fans and commentators have eagerly begun to traffic in political-style reality creation, distortion and spin. He takes an oblique swipe at the “hot takers” like Skip Bayless and talk radio shouters, but he’s deluded if he thinks that they do not have more influence over sports fans than do than “the respected experts who depend on rational analysis to make their points” which he describes. Bayless and his crowd are a direct aping of “Crossfire”-style political shows.

Likewise, the concept of fan loyalty is increasingly discussed and routinely encouraged by sports leagues and teams in terms that were once reserved for party politics. The notion that those who have succeeded have done so because they are worthy and all of those who are worthy have succeeded is likewise fully believed by both sports fans and political actors. The idea that validation of one sort — electoral or competitive — justifies overlooking the political or athletic actor’s real life transgressions likewise crosses political and athletic lines. How much do sports fans and citizens overlook crimes and misdemeanors if there is a sufficient redemption or comeback narrative to cloak them?

Yet Boswell believes there to be a fundamental gap between how sports and politics are practiced and consumed. To explain it, he says this:

One partial explanation for the gap between the way we talk about sports and the way we talk about some other subjects may be the distorting force field of ideology. When we have a deep attachment to unprovable beliefs, ideas and emotions get intertwined. The psychological cost of disentangling them can be profound.

Tell me that you have not witnessed that dynamic among people whose identities have become far too wound up in the sports teams for which they root. There is ideology among sports fans just as much as there is among political partisans, even if the stakes aren’t as high.

He also says this:

For example, Clemson and Alabama have split the past two college football titles. Yet both coaches, in both years, deferred respectfully to the results, didn’t seek scapegoats, didn’t claim the results were invalid and, by their example, encouraged their fans to take pride in the battle — won or lost — and analyze it with enthusiasm but without distortion.

As if sports fans haven’t spent years re-litigating the Tuck Rule, Don Denkinger or Maradona’s Hand of God. As if notions of good sportsmanship and proper perspective are satisfied by merely accepting results. As if cheating scandals, real, imagined or inflated beyond all perspective, have not caused people to question the very legitimacy of the players in question.

As I said at the outset, I get what Boswell is trying to get at. And I find it admirable that he’s looking to sports to find some grace in an increasingly graceless world. Moreover, none of this is to say that sports don’t provide some refuge from raging political storms. They do.

But the world of sports is every bit as susceptible to the reality-denying, magical thinking storms which have increasingly come to characterize politics. And those raging political storms are very much fueled by a type and mode of passion that was first cultivated in sports and repurposed for a larger stage.

I mean, are these things really all that different?

screen-shot-2017-01-20-at-10-57-35-am

screen-shot-2017-01-20-at-11-00-59-am

screen-shot-2017-01-20-at-11-05-35-am

screen-shot-2017-01-20-at-11-06-47-am