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.

MLB managers weigh in on anthem protests

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No other Major League Baseball player has taken a knee during the National Anthem since Athletics’ catcher Bruce Maxwell‘s protest on Saturday night. The demonstration was sparked by President Donald Trump’s call for the boycott of the National Football League and the firing of any player who chose not to stand during the anthem. The comments drew harsh criticism from many NFL players, coaches and owners and more than a few in MLB have also lended their support. There is still one game left to play on Sunday, but it’s unclear whether any of Maxwell’s league-mates will show their solidarity by refusing to stand as well.

Given a baseball culture that tends toward conformity more often than not, it seems unlikely. But it’s something league managers are prepared for — even if they don’t all agree with the demonstrations themselves.

White Sox’ skipper Rick Renteria specifically addressed Maxwell’s protest on Sunday, speaking to the league’s policy of inclusivity:

None of the White Sox knelt prior to their series finale against the Royals. Neither did members of the Pirates or the Cardinals, though St. Louis manager Mike Matheny and Pittsburgh GM Neal Huntington both weighed in on the situation.

Matheny called the president’s comments “hurtful” and, like the Cubs’ Joe Maddon, appeared content to leave the decision to protest up to each player.

The Pirates, meanwhile, took a firmer tone. “We appreciate our players’ desire and ability to express their opinions respectfully and when done properly,” GM Huntington told Elizabeth Bloom of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. “When done appropriately and properly, we certainly have respect for our players’ ability to voice their opinion.”

Just what the Pirates consider “appropriate and proper” protocol was left up in the air, and club president Frank Coonelly offered no further insights in a separate statement to the press. Setting strict parameters for players to voice their opinions kind of puts them in a gray area, one they’ll have to clear up should someone elect to protest in the days to come, either with a bent knee and a hand over their heart or in some other fashion.

Equally ambiguous were comments from Dodgers’ manager Dave Roberts, who claimed to oppose the movement for personal, if misguided reasons, but also respected the right of his players to make an “educated” statement in protest.

The Indians’ Terry Francona took what was perhaps the most balanced approach of the entire group:

“It’s easy for me to sit here and say, ‘Well, I think this is the greatest country in the world,’ because I do,” Francona told MLB.com’s Jordan Bastian. “But, I also haven’t walked in other people’s shoes. So, until I think, not just our country, but our world, until we realize that, hey, people are actually equal — it shouldn’t be a revelation — and the different doesn’t mean less. It’s just different. We’ve got work to do.”

These may all be moot points. Maxwell may be the only player to formally protest Trump’s comments, despite the good intentions of his teammates and fellow players around the league. Others may feel too ambivalent, threatened or uncomfortable to protest what the A’s catcher referred to as a “racial divide,” especially in a way that is routinely perceived as unpatriotic.

Even if the protests made by NFL players and Bruce Maxwell fail to gain momentum, however, the underlying issues they speak to are not going away anytime soon. Here, then, is where MLB managers can help foster a more inclusive environment throughout the league, not only by showing respect for a player’s decision to stand against racism but by actively partnering with those who do so. It’s not a perfect solution, but it’s a start.

Nationals plan to activate Bryce Harper on Monday

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The Nationals are planning to activate Bryce Harper from the 10-day disabled list on Monday, Chelsea Janes of the Washington Post reports. Janes adds that Harper has been taking his knee injury on a day-to-day basis, so if he experiences pain ahead of tomorrow’s series opener in Philadelphia, then the Nationals won’t activate him.

Harper, 24, suffered a knee injury running out a grounder last month against the Giants. The Nationals hope to get him into some game action before the end of the regular season just so he can get acclimated in time for the playoffs.

When Harper returns, he’ll look to improve on his .326/.419/.614 slash line with 29 home runs, 87 RBI, and 92 runs scored in 472 plate appearances.