Death, taxes, and Joey Votto’s being a hotly debated topic in Cincinnati. I suppose that I am part of the problem by writing this, but I wanted to touch on an idea that I have seen on Twitter recently. Being on Twitter in the first place is probably where I went wrong, but what can you do.

The question is this: does Votto only perform well in games when the team is losing and therefore not contributing to winning baseball? It is hard to believe anyone would feel that way about a former MVP, but here we are.

One initial argument combats this to near perfection. Joey Votto won the team’s first NL MVP Award since Barry Larkin in 1995. That happened to coincide with the Reds first division championship since 1995. Votto literally led the charge of bringing winning baseball back to Cincinnati.

Going further for the sake of argument, I took a deeper dive into Votto’s splits in wins vs losses. My first ever post here at Redleg Nation was a look at how Billy Hamilton performed significantly better in wins relative to the rest of his teammates. It is now Votto’s turn through the gauntlet to see if he has been padding his stats with too many garbage time walks. The data used is from Baseball Reference and includes all active players with at least 500 games played since 2007.

While this theory held little water to begin with, Votto’s performance in Reds victories is all we need to know to close the door on this completely. Only five players have performed better than Votto in games where their team was the winner. All five are very good baseball players. From top to bottom, they are Paul Goldschmidt, Mike Trout, Miguel Cabrera, Giancarlo Stanton and Bryce Harper. Votto’s OPS of 1.071 is tied for sixth with Kris Bryant. Switching from OPS to OBP, Votto’s .464 leads all players. It is not possible to argue that Votto has not helped his team win games.

Moving on to his numbers in Reds losses, it becomes a bit clearer why this is even a discussion. Votto’s OPS is highest in baseball (0.850), with Mike Trout right on his heels (.846) and then a big-time gap to Miguel Cabrera (.784). Votto’s gap over Trout is even larger for OBP, leading .392 to .371. Cabrera is again third at .345.

Is it possible that Joey Votto is too good when the Reds lose? Is it skewing Reds fans’ perception of his performance in wins? It seems that may be one factor. Among the six elite players mentioned above, Votto’s OPS gap between wins and losses is the smallest (21%). Harper, Goldschmidt and Stanton have performed 37%, 35% and 32% worse in losses compared to wins, respectively. So while Votto may be “padding” his stats in losses more so than other stars, he is padding stats that are already among the best of his generation. And it is not his fault that his teams have been below average for his career.

To that point, one possibility I considered was if the team’s winning percentage played any part in this. Votto has a lower career winning percentage than most stars, so I thought it was worth looking into. Turns out that is not the case, however, one player in particular stood out as a good comparison to Votto.

Among players with a very low team winning percentage and a small variance of performance in wins and losses, the Reds own Derek Dietrich is the most extreme. Dietrich’s teams have only won 42% of the time (47% for Votto) and yet he has only performed 19% worse in losses. One huge difference between the two (among a lot of other things) is win probability added. Dietrich’s career WPA of 3.3 is dwarfed by Joey Votto’s 50.2. Dietrich is an example of a player with decent numbers who has played on losing teams, while Votto is a potential Hall of Famer who has played on a lot of losing teams. Nothing against Derek, a fine player and a new fan favorite in Cincinnati. But comparing the two shows how valuable Votto has been to the Reds, regardless of wins or losses.

Win probability brings in another counter argument. Joey Votto has accumulated more WPA since 2007 than any active player. More than Trout, Cabrera, even more than Bryce Harper and Anthony Rizzo combined. And for anyone wanting to argue that Votto has been in the league longer than most, his rate of games played per WPA is second-best behind Trout. So the idea that Votto cannot contribute when it matters to help the team win is, well, completely untrue.

At this point, I can hardly remember why I even started writing this. I think we should probably stop talking about this now.

18 Responses

  1. Kurt Frost

    That is the dumbest thing I’ve heard on a while. I can’t believe you even had to write this.

    • MK

      They used to say same thing about Bench.

  2. Michael Smith


    Agreed and it is a head shaker.

  3. burneraccount123

    first time – long time. I usually avoid comment sections like the plague, but I was compelled after reading this post.

    I implore you, if you have made it this far down the page, to go back up and read that list of players Joseph Daniel Votto is lumped in with…I’ll wait…

    Losing takes a toll on any fan base, and Lord knows we’ve seen plenty in recent years. Even so, Votto has so acutely NOT been the reason that the Cincinnati Reds baseball club has been on the wrong side of the ledger that some on the interwebs are hoisting the blame on the HoF shoulders of our first baseman because the 2019 season has not played out as expected (as of yet…).

    Slow down, people, and take a deep breath. Enjoy Votto while he is here. Everyone wants to see the Reds win more and there has been no other player in the last 10+ years that has helped them win as much as they have than Joey Votto.

    Personal opinion – I think some lash out at Votto because he is the best player on their favorite team. A natural reaction when things don’t go the way you think they should. When larger scope problems are taking place people tend to assign blame to the prominent figure – a boss or manager, mayor/town council, highest paid ball player. My dad always told me that people throw rocks at the top of the mountain not at the bottom. It comes with the territory…

    Go Reds!

  4. docmike

    Yep. Mike Trout is the best player in the game, and it hasn’t exactly translated into a string of titles for the Angels. Baseball is a team sport, and one player’s contributions cannot single-handedly result in “winning baseball”.

    Reminds me of the argument I’ve had with people about football, where they bring up Super Bowl rings as a reason why someone would be considered an elite QB. I then remind them that Trent Dilfer owns a Super Bowl ring as a starting QB, and that ends that argument pretty quick.

  5. RojoBenjy

    I firmly believe that Franchester M. Brennaman has let his personal distaste for Joey Votto as an individual color his professional characterization of him as a player. And it’s kind of hypocritical since FMB himself was known as a “poofy-haired fancy boy” in his hey-day.

    And Jim is right–Perez gets all the credit for coming through with the RBI–but if there weren’t all those guys getting on base for him, he would never have made it as far.

  6. David

    I saw a lot of Tony Perez when he played, to compare 1st basement with 1st basemen (Although Tony played 3rd base for a couple of his best years, 1969-1970).
    Tony got a lot of RBI’s, big homers, etc. He also struck out a lot and hit into a lot of Double plays.
    Tony played on some really good teams, and a couple of great teams.

    Joey Votto has played on a couple of good teams (2010 and 2012) a decent team (2013), an up and coming team (2009) and a bunch of lousy teams.
    In 2010, he won the MVP instead of Albert Pujols again.

    Pete Rose thinks and has said that Joey is an elite hitter. At 35, he may now be in decline (or it may be a bad lower back).
    I don’t know what more people expect of Joey. He’s been a great player, period. I hope he still has some more really good years in him, but time is cruel to professional athletes. One season, the toast of the town, and the fans adore him. Get a year or two older, and fans want to see “that lazy bum” sit on the bench.

  7. docmike

    This is one of the best articles I’ve ever read on here. Kudos.

  8. Cyrus

    Many great comments. IMO, the most salient is how the construct of baseball completely limits the impact one player can make versus all other major sports.

    Just for fun, it would be interesting to see how many actual RISP have been LOB after a Votto’s AB this year and how that compares to the MLB average and then to the top RBI men thus far.

    Currently, there are 10 guys hitting over .315 with Bellinger and Yelich separating themselves from the pack. Their teams are in first place and the run differentials for their teams would certainly be vastly different without the 50+ RBIs they’ve produced this year. But those two have had MANY more opportunities. Look at the team OBP and BA for LAD and MIL versus us. This is not a Joey Votto problem.

    If anyone wants to go there, then, to be consistent, we must have a future HOF pitching staff and defense because, along with the Rays, we are about as stingy in giving up runs as anyone…and it’s not even close. So why aren’t we gushing about our pitchers who must be bound for Cooperstown?

    You really cannot hide your flaws on a baseball team like you can in other sports. If all our guys get it together offensively and the pitching just remains somewhat consistent, this team will go on one of those runs similar to what the Rockies did a few years back.

    And Votto will be a key part of it if it happens.

  9. Doug Gray

    It’s been shown time and again that swinging at pitches outside of the zone results in outs. It’s not how you produce runs. Your frustration that someone isn’t purposefully trying to make bad contact is misguided at best.

    • DX

      Joey Votto May be the best hitter in Reds history.

      I don’t think Marty and Thom cause fans to turn on Votto. I think being in last place again tends to lead to finger-pointing and unfortunately the guy who makes $25m gets some hate. It’s stupid.

      I would be interested to know how detailed the numbers are regarding swinging out of the strike zone.

      For example if a team is down by 2 or more runs then a walk might be better, however if it is a 1 run game or a tied game then it might be looked at differently.

      If it is a one run game with a runner on 3rd and less than 2 outs, a ground ball hit on a pitch outside of the strike zone that gets the run home is a good result. It counts as an 0-1 and nothing more than a ground out that ties the game.

      Do the numbers break down the situations?

      A summer baseball coach that coached in the Southwest Ohio area who played with Gary Sheffield said he would practice hitting a ground ball in these situations on a pitch that might be a few inches out of the strike zone.

      So again, do sabermetrics tell you on a pitch hit outside of the strike zoneground that a ground out is a ground out or that a ground ball tied up a baseball game.

      • Doug Gray

        Stats can tell you anything you want if you look for it.

        Here’s what we do know: Swinging at pitches outside of the zone highly increases the chances that you don’t make contact, and it highly increases that if you do make contact it’s going to be very bad contact.

        You are thinking of the successful situation, which is not likely to happen. Sure, in a “I can guarantee” world, give me the ground out that scores the run in the 8th inning of a tie game. But we don’t live in that world. We live in one where swinging at that pitch out of the strikezone is leading to a high chance of failure.

  10. TR

    The chance that the Reds will contend in the next 2 to3 years, in my view, is slight in the tough NLC. Too many questions in the outfield, infield and catching and by that time Votto will be wrapping it up. He’ll make the HOF but I doubt it’ll be on the first go around.

  11. MK

    I would like to see the same comparisons when looking at defense as he has had some major defensive flubs that have played significant roles in losses. Whether it be a poor toss to a pitcher when covering first, a poor throw to second on a potential double play, or taking himself out of position to cover first on a play to be easily made by second baseman. His defense has been poor.

    • Big Ed

      Votto has pretty good hands on grounders and throws. Not that he scoops it out every single time, but I really can’t remember a throw that he should have gotten and didn’t. You are correct that he has an incorrigible habit of ranging to his right on grounders that the second baseman could field more easily. He doesn’t throw particularly accurately, either, as Zack Cozart’s elbow will attest.

      And he isn’t going to be confused with Barry Larkin on the bases.

      But getting on base 42.4% of the time for 13 years sure outweighs a few flaws.

  12. MK

    Really don’t think padding his Hall of Fame stats is a team priority for anyone but you and his mother.

  13. Roger Garret

    Problem is that for so long guys that knocked in runs were viewed as the most valuable on the team along with the guys that hit the home runs.I can remember when Rose said he wanted to become the first singles hitter to make a million and he was.Now with all the data we must realize getting on base is paramount in helping your team win.Stiil at times Joey will be criticized for walking instead of expanding the zone in order to try to drive in a run in a key moment in the game but he never deviated from just trying to get on base.Even now I will take 8 guys that get on base at a 400 clip and beat other teams to death each and every day.He is truly a first ballot HOF in my book