“Saber people get all worked up over BB’s, Joey Votto is paid to drive in runs, and he’s on pace for 80 RBI.”-Marty B, 700 WLW #Reds
— Lance McAlister (@LanceMcAlister) June 22, 2013
It’s not just the walks that make Saberists praise Joey Votto, though. Entering tonight’s game against the Diamondbacks, Votto was hitting .330 with a .441 on-base percentage and .525 slugging percentage. He is one of only five players in baseball to have a .300/.400/.500 or better slash line, along with Miguel Cabrera, Chris Davis, Yadier Molina, and Troy Tulowitzki, all of them with legitimate early cases for their respective league MVP award. Votto has done the .300/.400/.500 thing in each of the last four seasons. If he does it again in 2013, he would be one of only 35 players in baseball history to have at least five such seasons. Other players to have accomplished the feat five times include Shoeless Joe Jackson, Frank Robinson, Jeff Bagwell, Larry Walker, Lance Berkman, and Miguel Cabrera.
Votto’s RBI total (37) is often compared, disparagingly, to teammate Brandon Phillips (58). According to FanGraphs, Phillips has hit at exactly the league average with a 100 wRC+ (weighted runs created), a stat that weights each offensive event according to its contribution to run scoring, then adjusts for league and park effects. Votto, comparatively, has a 165 wRC+, meaning he has been about 65 percent more productive than an average hitter. Phillips has more RBI than Votto not because he is a better hitter, but because he has simply had more opportunities, in part because Votto gets on base so often ahead of him.
According to Baseball Prospectus, Phillips has come to bat with 239 runners on base, the third-largest total in baseball. Votto has come to bat with 207 runners. It would be higher if Dusty Baker didn’t insist on batting Zack Cozart (.280 OBP) directly in front of him so often. Phillips also walks ten percent less than Votto does (16% to 6%). While Phillips puts the ball in play more often, allowing him to drive in more runners, this also causes him to hit into more outs. Indeed, Phillips has made the sixth-most outs in the National League with 223 in 311 plate appearances (71.7%). Votto has made 198 outs in 340 plate appearances (58.2%).
Look, you don’t have to care about Sabermetrics to recognize that Votto is one of his generation’s best hitters. Sabermetrics certainly help paint him in the light he deserves to be seen in, but all you really need is his slash line. It is criminal to not appreciate Votto’s 2013 as MVP-worthy and his career as being on a Hall of Fame trajectory.