Joey Votto: don’t change a thing

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Fun story here about Joey Votto and the continuing disdain some people in and around Cincinnati seem to have for his patient approach at the plate. My favorite quote in there was actually a question Dennis Janson says he asked when Bryan Price was introduced as Reds manager:

I asked Walt Jocketty if Price is up to the task of disabusing Joey of the notion that a base on balls is as beneficial as a run scoring sacrifice fly.

Jocketty, according to the story, replied that yes, Price was up to the task but that everyone in the organization would chip in to rid Joey Votto of this patience virus and get him hacking away for sacrifice flies like a good run producer should. Well, I’m encapsulating.

This general theme is a pretty old one — this idea that sluggers who walk a lot are somehow not helping the team as much as they should. They said it about Ted Williams and Duke Snider too.

From The Boys of Summer on Snider and sportswriter Bill Roeder:

“Watching Duke Snider turned Bill Roeder sardonic. The Duke could run and throw and leap. His swing was classic; enormous and fluid, a swing of violence that seemed a swing of ease. ‘But do you know when he’s happiest?’ Roeder complained. ‘When he walks. Watch how he throws the bat away. He’s glad.’ Roeder would have liked to have Snider’s skills, he conceded. If he had, he believed he would have used them with more ferocity. Snider was living Roeder’s dream and so abusing it.”

Isn’t that at the heart of it all? A walk, by definition, means that a pitcher threw four pitchers that an umpire deemed out of the strike zone and, as such, not much good for hitting. Almost no one hits .300 or slugs .500 when connecting with pitches out of the strike zone. No one – no exceptions, not even the famous bad ball hitters like Yogi and Clemente — makes consistently good contact on pitches outside the strike zone year after year. A hitter makes his bones on pitches inside that box.

So, why would you ask someone to swing at pitches outside the strike zone? Why would a hitter be considered SELFISH for not swinging at bad pitches when, in fact, it’s almost certainly the other way around? I think it’s the Bill Roeder thing. We have this impulse inside us — a good impulse much of the time — that success comes from trying harder, being more aggressive, going out and getting it, giving 110%. A walk seems a passive act. This is especially true when there are runners in scoring position. Dammit Joey, you’re an RBI man not a walker. If only I had Joey Votto’s talent, I’d drive in more than 73 runs in a season.

But it’s a lie. Joey Votto’s “talent” is not being wasted when he takes bad pitches. That IS HIS talent. That was Ted Williams talent. That was Stan Musial’s talent. That was Mike Schmidt’s talent and Barry Bonds’ talent and Babe Ruth’s talent — they all had this extraordinary ability to know what pitches they could hit and what pitches they could not. It might be the rarest gift in baseball.

Yes, if Votto was a different hitter — a free-swinger with low batting averages and OBPs like his teammates Brandon Phillips and Jay Bruce — he probably could have driven in 100 runs in 2013 like they did.* And … he would be at least one-third less valuable as an offensive player.

*Maybe. Maybe not. Bruce and Phillips came to the plate with many more runners on base. Bruce and Phillips were actually 1-2 in the National League in runners on base. Bruce came up with 500 runners on base, Phillips with 492. Votto came up with 441 — more than 50 less. You know the difference? Joey Votto got on base in front of Bruce and Phillips.

But let’s get to the point here: Does Joey Votto really take too many walks when he should be hitting sacrifice flies? This is actually pretty easy to look up.

In 2013, Votto came up 53 times with a runner on third and less than two outs. He was intentionally walked 11 of those times, so there’s not a lot he could do about those. In his other 42 times, he hit six sac flies and he walked seven times. That doesn’t really seem like a trend. Well, he only got seven hits in 29 at-bats for a .241 average, so maybe there’s something to that …

… no, I’m just joshing with you. Having a little small-sample size fun. There’s nothing to it.

2012: Came up 23 times in sac fly situations. Was intentionally walked four. Hit two sac flies and walked three times. Hit .571 the rest of the time.

2011: Came up 42 times. Was intentionally walked five. Of the remaining 37, he hit six sac flies, walked four times, and hit .393 the rest of the time.

Career: Came up 210 times. Intentionally walked 25 so that leaves 185 at-bats with a runner on third and less than two outs. In those 185 plate appearances, he hit 20 sac flies, walked 27 times unintentionally, hit .365 and slugged .584. The guy’s a bleeping beast in sac fly situations, which is why pitchers consciously try to pitch around him. If Walt Jocketty and Bryan Price and the rest of the Reds spend even one minute disabusing Joey Votto of the notion that a base on balls is as beneficial as a sac fly — and trying to change him as a hitter — they should be forced by the Baseball Gods to trade him to my favorite team and pick up Josh Hamilton and his gargantuan contract in his place. Hamilton, you will note, is a sac fly machine.

Clayton Kershaw’s initial prognosis: 4-6 weeks on the disabled list

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Some seriously bad news for the Dodgers: Ken Rosenthal reports that the initial prognosis on Clayton Kershaw is that he will miss 4-6 weeks with his bad back. A final determination will be made after he gets a second medical consultation.

Kershaw exited Sunday’s start against the Braves with back tightness after just two innings of work. He was seen talking with trainers in the dugout after completing the top of the second inning and did not return to the mound for the third. Kershaw has a history of back problems. Last year he missed over two months with a herniated disc in his back.

Assuming the preliminary schedule holds, Kershaw would be on the shelf until late August at the earliest, but more likely early-to-mid September. The Dodgers currently hold a 10.5 game lead in the NL West so they can withstand his absence. But if they have any hopes of advancing in the playoffs, they’ll need a fully armed and operational Clayton Kershaw to do it.

David Price was a complete jackass to Dennis Eckersley

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In late June, Red Sox pitcher David Price confronted Hall of Famer and NESN analyst Dennis Eckersley during a team flight to Toronto. The circumstances of the argument were not clear at the time and at least one report said that it was a “back and forth,” presumably about some critical comments Eckersley made on the air about Price. We learned a few days after that it was less of a “back and forth” than it was Price merely berating Eckersley.

Now, via this story from Dan Shaugnessy of the Boston Globe, we get the true flavor of the exchange. It does not reflect well on Price or his teammates:

On the day of the episode, Price was standing near the middle of the team aircraft, surrounded by fellow players, waiting for Eckersley. When Eckersley approached, on his way to the back of the plane (Sox broadcasters traditionally sit in the rear of the aircraft), a grandstanding Price stood in front of Eckersley and shouted, “Here he is — the greatest pitcher who ever lived! This game is easy for him!’’

When a stunned Eckersley tried to speak, Price shot back with, “Get the [expletive] out of here!’’

Many players applauded.

Eckersley made his way to the back of the plane as players in the middle of the plane started their card games. In the middle of the short flight, Eckersley got up and walked toward the front where Sox boss Dave Dombrowski was seated. When Eckersley passed through the card-playing section in the middle, Price went at him again, shouting, “Get the [expletive] out of here!’’

Assuming this account is accurate, Price’s behavior was nothing short of disgraceful. Disgraceful in that Price was too much of a coward to take his issues up with Ecklersley one-on-one. Beyond that, it’s classic bully behavior, with Price waiting until he was surrounded by lackeys to hurl insults in a situation where Eckersley had no opportunity to effectively respond.

But it’s mostly just sad. Sad that David Price is so painfully sensitive that he cannot handle criticism from a man who is, without question, one of the best who has ever played the game. One of the few men who has been in his shoes and stood on that same mound and faced the same sorts of challenges Price has attempted to face. And, it should be noted, faced them with more success in his career than Price has so far.

No one likes criticism, but David Price is at a place in his life where he is, inevitably, going to receive it. And unlike virtually every other person who may offer it to him, Dennis Eckersley knows, quite personally, of what he speaks.

Shame on David Price for acting like a child. Shame on his teammates for backing him up. Shame on John Farrell and the rest of the Red Sox organization for not sitting Price down, explaining that he messed up and encouraging him to apologize. And, of course, if he apologizes now, it’s not because he means it. He’s had a month to reflect. It’s simply because his disgraceful behavior is now all over the pages of the Boston Globe.

What a pathetic display.