Joey Votto and the generation gap

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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.

CC Sabathia won’t visit the White House if the Yankees win the World Series

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Over the past couple of days the subject of athlete activism, always present to some degree in American sports, but recently revived by Colin Kaepernick and a few other football players in the form of silent protests during the National Anthem, exploded into a headline dominating news story. Lighting the fuse: President Trump directly inserting himself into the controversy.

He did so during a speech on Friday night and during a series of tweets Saturday and continuing into this morning in which he urged NFL owners to “fire” or suspend players who do not stand for the national anthem. He also attempted to disinvite the NBA champion Golden State Warriors from their traditional White House visit because of their star player Stephen Curry’s public opposition to him, though Curry had already said he wouldn’t go.

As Ashley wrote last night, the silent anthem protests have now come to baseball, with A’s catcher Bruce Maxwell becoming the fist player to kneel during the National Anthem. Before that, at least one baseball executive, Orioles Vice President John P. Angelos, came out strongly on the side of players and against Trump. Joe Maddon said some less-than-enlightened words on the matter. Major League Baseball issued a statement on the matter. It was, not surprisingly, somewhat empty, taking something of a both-sides-have-good-points tack. It’s understandable, I suppose. I suspect Major League Baseball and its owners would prefer to not have to comment on this at all. The league does not do this sort of controversy well.

Ballplayers, however, will likely continue to speak up. The latest: Yankees starter CC Sabathia, who was asked yesterday whether he would visit the White House if the playoff-bound Yankees won the World Series. From the Daily News:

“Never. I just don’t believe in anything that is Trump. So there wouldn’t be any reason for me to go at all. I just think it’s stupid. I just think it’s dumb that he’s addressing players and stuff that he shouldn’t be. But it is what it is, and that’s the country we live in these days . . . I’m proud of the way that everybody has Steph’s back and just athletes in general these days, the way everybody has been stepping up has been great.”

Baseball players, as we’ve noted many times over the years, tend to be a more conservative bunch than football or basketball players. There are a lot more white players and a lot more players from southern, suburban and exurban areas. A significant number of racial-ethnic minority players were not born in the United States, so U.S. politics may not necessarily preoccupy them the way it may players from the United States. As such, political protest like we’ve seen in the NFL and NBA was never going to start in baseball in 2017.

But that does not mean that it was not going to come to baseball. Contrary to what so many fans seem to think, sports do not exist inside some bubble into which the real world does not intrude. Athletes are citizens just like you and me with social, political and personal concerns just like you and me. And, at the moment, a government official is demanding that they lose their jobs because he does not agree with their political views and the manner in which they are expressed. I suspect most of us would get upset by that if it happened to us. Certainly a lot of people I know on the conservative side of the political expression worried about government overreach and freedom of speech. At least before January of this year.

So I am not at all surprised that baseball players like Sabathia are beginning to speak out. He will not be the last. Others will join him. Others, as is their right, will push back and say they disagree with him. If and when people feel inspired to tell them to “stick to sports,” or “stay in their lane,” perhaps they should ask why the President of the United States decided not to do so himself. And ask why he thinks it’s appropriate for athletes to lose their jobs for their political views and why private entities like the NFL should be patriotic institutions rather than businesses which put on sporting events.

 

Bruce Maxwell first MLB player to kneel during National Anthem

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Athletics’ rookie catcher Bruce Maxwell did not stand for the National Anthem on Saturday night. He’s the first MLB player to do so and, like other professional athletes before him, used the moment to send a message — not just to shed light on the lack of racial equality in the United States, but to specifically protest President Donald Trump’s suggestion that NFL owners fire any of their players who elect to protest the anthem by sitting or kneeling.

“Bruce’s father is a proud military lifer. Anyone who knows Bruce or his parents is well aware that the Maxwells’ love and appreciation for our country is indisputable,” Maxwell’s agent, Matt Sosnick, relayed to the San Francisco Chronicle’s Susan Slusser on Friday. He continued:

Bruce has made it clear that he is taking a stand about what he perceives as racial injustices in this country, and his personal disappointment with President Trump’s response to a number of professional athletes’ totally peaceful, non-violent protests.

Bruce has shared with both me and his teammates that his feelings have nothing to do with a lack of patriotism or a hatred of any man, but rather everything to do with equality for men, women and children regardless of race or religion.

While Maxwell didn’t make his own statement to the media, he took to Instagram earlier in the day to express his frustration against the recent opposition to the protests, criticizing the President for endorsing “division of man and rights.”

Despite Trump’s profanity-laced directive to NFL owners on Friday, however, it’s clear the Athletics don’t share his sentiments. “The Oakland A’s pride ourselves on being inclusive,” the team said in a statement released after Maxwell’s demonstration. “We respect and support all of our players’ constitutional rights and freedom of expression.”

Whatever the fallout, kudos to Maxwell for taking a stand. He may be the first to do so in this particular arena, but he likely won’t be the last.