This morning, we looked at the rawest of projections for Joey Votto and concluded that the Reds are at least somewhat likely to get their money’s worth from him. But giving Votto a “typical” aging trend only tells us so much. After all, not all players are created equal.
To start, we’re going to look at hitters who are similar to Votto in that they also signed an enormous contract.
The charts you’ll see below are from Fangraphs. The first one is a comparison of six players – Joey Votto, plus Derek Jeter, Alfonso Soriano, Alex Rodriguez, Todd Helton, and Ken Griffey Jr. It shows how many WAR they accumulated throughout their careers.
What you should be looking at is not so much how many WAR each player had accumulated by each age, but rather, how they track through seasons when they were the same age. Rodriguez and Griffey clearly put up bigger mid-20s seasons. Soriano makes you question why he was ever given a big contract. Helton and Jeter, however, track very closely with Votto during their mid-twenties.
Encouragingly, both Helton and Jeter continued to provide production well into their 30s. Helton certainly had some off seasons, but his graph doesn’t flatten out like Griffey’s or Soriano’s. ARod is a different matter entirely, but, well, I expect you know about him.
So a comparison of players with similar contracts yields at least mildly encouraging results. Except for Soriano, all of these players ended up with 60+ WAR. That, by the way, is where the Hall of Fame conversation usually starts.
However, beyond the money they make, these players don’t have much in common with Votto. Only Helton plays the same position and he’s played his entire career in Coors. Much of it before the humidor. Once again, Dave Cameron comes to the rescue. In a recent post, Cameron identified the following players as being historically similar to Votto: Hank Greenburg, Jim Thome, Fred McGriff, Jeff Bagwell, Will Clark, Eddie Murray, Harmon Killebrew, Don Mattingly, Harry Heilmann.
Now, if you look at the raw numbers of these players, you’ll very different totals. Cameron, in comparing them, used a stat called wRC+. This stands for weighted Runs Created Plus. Basically, it figures out how good a player was relative to the league and sets 100 as an average score. This is important because, as you are aware, hitting in the 60s was much harder than hitting in the 90s. A stat like that allows you to compare seasons across eras.
All of the players listed above had wRC+ ranging from 142-161 during the ages of 24-27. Votto’s was 152, placing him right in the middle of that range. Now let’s look at a graph seeing how these players aged.
This is a very encouraging comparison. It’s a messy graph, but you can see that, as a group, these players produced very well to an advanced age. Only three of the nine players in our group generate concern: Mattingly, Clark, and McGriff. Injuries killed Mattingly and Clark retired early by choice. So, as long as he stays healthy, we can look at Fred McGriff as Joey Votto’s floor.
And McGriff wasn’t even that bad, he just very clearly started to tail off right around his age-30 season, with another drop-off at age-35. It is worth noting that McGriff’s drop-off in value corresponds more to a changing of eras than a change in his numbers. The 90s happened and suddenly, McGriff’s 25-30 HRs weren’t as valuable as they were in the 80s. Do with that what you will.
Now that we’ve completed a complex analysis, I think you have to be optimistic about this contract. Certainly, Votto is going to have a bad year or two and he’s unlikely to be worth the money he’s being paid in the last few years of the deal. However, he is very likely to have some seasons earlier in the deal when the Reds are getting much more value than they are paying for. Over the course of the contract, it should balance.
Only injury, it seems, is likely to keep Joey Votto from being a truly elite player over the course of his career, and with a little luck, we could be talking about an all-time great.
Last, the wins Votto figures to add are important wins. There is a concept called marginal wins which basically says that the most valuable wins are those that get you into the playoffs. Moving from 70 to 75 wins? Nice, but not huge. Moving from 95 to 100? Again, nice but not huge (that team was in the playoffs anyway). Moving from 85 to 90? That’s enormous. If the Reds fine themselves sneaking into the playoffs during the first few years of this deal, Votto will easily earn his keep.