Any moment now, Joey Votto will reach 30 wins above replacement (WAR). This is significant because, historically, it takes about 60 to get in, so he’s halfway there. Of course, there are exceptions on either side of the 60 wins line, but it’s a good marker.

However, as you know, Votto got a relatively late start on things as his career didn’t really start until he was already 24 years old. What that means is that he needs to continue to be productive into his decline phase if he’s going to get there. To try and take an objective look, I looked at the WAR totals of the five first basemen immediately above and below Votto at the end of their age-29 seasons (in this scenario, I project Votto to finish the year with about 35 WAR). Here are the results:

Player Debut Age Full Season Age-29 WAR Total WAR
Harry Heilmann* 19 20 39.7 69.4
Orlando Cepeda* 20 20 38.7 50.4
Keith Hernandez 20 22 37.7 59.1
Ed Konetchy 21 22 36.3 50.3
John Olerud 20 22 35.5 57.6
Joey Votto 23 24 35**
Boog Powell 20 21 33.8 44.6
Will Clark 22 22 33.5 51.7
Fred McGriff 22 24 33.4 57.3
Jim Thome 20 24 33.3 68.1
Todd Helton 23 24 33.3 56.1***

*Hall of Fame

This isn’t very encouraging. Only the top two players on the list made it into the Hall and Cepeda is very borderline. McGriff is still on the ballot and Helton and Thome probably each have a shot, but it’s hard to like Votto’s odds looking at this list.

However, you might notice something. Most of these players debuted at a much earlier age than Joey Votto. So then, what if we just look at those first basemen who produced on Votto’s level from ages 24 to 29?

Player 24-29 WAR Post-29 WAR Total WAR
Stan Musial* 40.2 61.5 126.8
Frank Thomas 39.3 22.7 72.6
Johnny Mize* 38.8 25.1 68.2
Jeff Bagwell 38.0 37.9 80.1
Hank Greenberg* 37.6 13.8 60.5
Joey Votto 35**
Todd Helton 33.4 23.0 56.1
Miguel Cabrera 32.8 3.2*** 51.0***
Harry Heilmann* 32.7 29.8 69.4
Eddie Murray* 32.5 19.2 72.1
Fred McGriff 32.1 24.1 57.3

*Hall of Fame

This list looks much better, doesn’t it? I mean, look at that, Votto gets himself on a list with Stan Musial. That’s something (never mind that Musial lost one of the included season to WWII, yes, he really was that good).

5 of the players on this list are already in the Hall. Bagwell and Thomas will be eventually, as will Cabrera unless he suddenly implodes. Only Helton and McGriff are questionable, both victims to some extent of the era they played in.

What’s really interesting is that nearly all of the players who played at Votto’s level were VERY productive after they turned 30. Greenberg, it should be noted, had the second half of his career destroyed by WWII. Thus, only Murray checks in under 20 WAR among those who have finished or effectively finished (*cough* Todd Helton *cough*) their careers.

Thus, it’s probably fair to guess that, after this year, Votto is good for around 25 WAR. That would put him right on the 60 WAR line.

The two best comps, to me, are Bagwell and Helton. Which path Votto takes will probably determine if he ends up in Cooperstown. If he puts up several more big seasons and plays solidly until the end of his contract, he’ll almost certainly make it in. If he fades as quickly has Helton has, then he’ll be on the outside looking in.

After doing the research, I feel more confident than I did going in that Votto will make the Hall of Fame. He’s not a shoe-in by any stretch of the imagination, but he’s keeping very, very good company right now. It should be fun to watch his career play out.