The circus recently came to the comments section of my second favorite Reds blog (the first being Redleg Nation, of course). It was littered with Clowns, Freaks, and even a guy that could “effectively” predict every move needed to make the Reds World Series champions. The Clowns talked about how “washed up” and “overpaid” Joey Votto is. They talked about “trading” him and “releasing” him. They even talked about how Joey Votto is “one of the worst hitters in baseball” and how he needs to “swing the *expletive* bat” – even if the pitch is 10 feet outside the strike zone.

I got tired of hanging out with the Clowns so I strolled over to Twitter (I know – more clowns, right?). There I found (among the Clowns) some Apologists. The Apologists were talking about the 30 games before the Reds last 10 games where Joey Votto hit around .300. They were still talking about the month of June and the year 2017. The Apologists were talking about how he’s on pace to hit more home runs this year than last year. They were even gloating over the fact that Votto recently had two hits in a game – a game in which he took a close strike 3 looking…in the 9th inning…with two outs…and two men on base…where they were losing 3-1. The Apologists were grasping for straws and squeezing the positive out of every Joey Votto criticism thrown their way.

The Apologists and the Clowns have come out in full force this season. Joey Votto has become the most polarizing player on a team with more characters than a Dr. Seuss book. The guy that was once known as “boring” has been the cause of Civil War between Reds fans. Simply put – is Joey Votto good or not?

The answer is yes and no.

Joey Votto isn’t as good as he once was. This is a fact. Over his last 236 games (2018 and 2019) he is down (sometimes significantly) in pretty much every major offensive statistical category. His OPS over that time of .799 is down from his 2007–2017 OPS of .969. Votto isn’t hitting as much, he isn’t walking as much, and he isn’t hitting for as much power.

Joey Votto isn’t the worst player in the league – or even on his own team. This is also a fact. Votto ranks 5th in the National League in average and 10th in OPS for first baseman when looking at that same 2018–2019 time window. When expanding that lens to include all position players in the National League, Joey Votto ranks 31st in the entire league in OPS over the past two seasons (sitting right above J.T. Realmuto, funny enough). He is also in the top 25 in average. Joey Votto is surely not the worst player in the league. He’s been arguably one of the best 25 players in the National League over the past two seasons.

I understand the frustrations from the Clowns and the stubbornness from the Apologists. Many of the Clowns have become so accustomed to a Votto-like season that they lose perspective on what decent or above average actually looks like. I also get why an Apologist may grasp for any kind of positive they can muster up. It’s hard to see such a beloved player for some struggle at times the way that Joey Votto recently has. Many of us are still holding out hope that the Votto of old will eventually walk through those GABP doors.

How far apart the Apologists and Clowns sit on the spectrum between Joey Votto being good and bad is what can be ridiculous at times. It’s tiresome and embarrassing to hear the Clowns constantly complain about how bad Joey Votto is – especially when he is realistically only a fraction as bad as they make him out to be. Likewise, it can be frustrating and hopeless when mentioning that Joey Votto is MAYBE not as good as he once was to an Apologist. When it comes down to it, the Apologists and Clowns aren’t being fair to themselves or Joey Votto.

I think deep down we all know that the Joey Votto over the past couple of years is comparable to the guy we’re going to get from here on out. Some ups, some downs, and a lot of average. About as good as you can expect from an aging 35-year-old first baseman. A guy who’s decline is comparable to fellow MVP Miguel Cabrera’s and Albert Pujol’s decline. In a sense – the norm.

We’re getting a guy who’s not nearly as bad as the Clowns make him out to be but not really as good as the Apologists want him to be – somewhere in the middle.

Clowns and Apologists – come meet me somewhere in the middle.

Former Joey Votto Apologist, signing off.

23 Responses

  1. Kurt Frost

    I stopped reading comments. My life is better for it.

    • TR

      Like many things in life today, information overload is a reality.

      • Tom

        I think the best thing is to be grateful we got to see Joey Votto in his prime. There’s a reason his career OBP is only bested by one modern player (I count any player who had a color picture in the stats as modern) – Bonds. And, Bond’s juiced and Votto hasn’t.

        We’ve gotten to see one of the greatest players in history and, in a way, we’ve had him to ourselves. He was definitely the toughest out of his generation. I think we all want a Indian-Summer from Joey and maybe we might get one. But, we might not and that’s needs to be fine too.

        I also think it’s important to recognize that he’s still one of the best players in the game today even if he’s fell off from his prime.

        My favorite thing about Joey is that, for once, the nerd made it in sports. Joey, obviously, approached the game very differently than most “see ball, hit ball” players. I would say he’s a great example of a growth mindset – working his tail off and focused on the details that make the biggest difference. We’ve all seen players with more God given talent. We’ve not seen one as smart or hard working as Joey.

  2. Optimist

    Not an apologist here, but I don’t expect he’s in the same category with Pujols and Cabrera. I doubt he is in for a physical breakdown, and while the speed was never there, the power is declining normally, but I would not be surprised if the average/OBP rebound to league leading contention. He’ll need to change his game, and so long as he and Bell concur on moving him around the order, he can still be very, very useful.

  3. Scott Benhase

    I, too, winced when JV took that close 3rd strike with the Reds down 3-1. But that happens even to best hitters. Your piece was quite fair to JV and I’m a big fan of JV as a player and person. He is 35 and without steroids, he, like every other player, isn’t going to be the player he was even a few years ago. JV is still above average for the NL, but not above average for the JV we’ve all watch with awe for ten+ years. Batting 2nd or 6th makes sense from here on out. He will adjust because he’s just that smart and that good, even at 35. For me the issue will come farther down the road when his inevitable decline continues and he’s in the last 2 years of his contract and slashing maybe 250/330/390. Will he still be an everyday player for a first baseman then? Not with those numbers if the Reds want to compete. That’ll be one tough managerial decision.

  4. John Whaley

    I’ve been a reds fan since 1970..Joey votto has to has to be one of the best I’ve ever seen. At his worst he’s still dangerous to opposition.. I’m not a clown or apologist..i think Joey was a pete rose clone of seeing the ball.. Maybe now not so much but I’m still in favor of Joey got to..regardless..he ain’t done just yet..a loyalist to Cincinnati..i love it

  5. David

    According to some people, Joey has been suffering with lower back issues this season.

    That is extremely painful and weakening, and Joey has not complained or used that as an excuse.
    Joey has been a GREAT player for the Reds. But he is getting older. It is typical of sports and sportsfans to react to the decline of a star player with some kind of “he’s over the hill, overpaid…Blah, blah,blah…”

    When the Reds signed joey to the Big Contract and extended him through 2024, I kind of thought….”what are you thinking?” I suspected the end of the contract would be ugly with the organization and fans.
    Time catches up with all of us, and it is catching up with Joey. He’s not a bad guy, just a human being.

  6. Andy

    Just did some poking in fan graphs. JV was 5th in WAR among MLB 1B in 2018 and 22nd so far in 2019. Both years combined, 10th. Biggest change seems to be drop in walk rate from 17% to 10%. I am hopeful that his walk rate recovers and he can remain in the ~5-10 range for another year or two. Without power top 5 is unreasonable. I do not think he is washed up but I also think it is foolish to let history and contract matter more than wins. JV has already earned every dollar of contract. The next few years can be considered deferred payments. Reds need to field best 9. This might mean giving some starts to VanMeter and/or Mitch Nay, and possibly keeping eye on free agency. I would love JV to go on a tear to finish the season and cement his starting spot, but if he doesn’t, the Reds need to seriously consider if they can compete with a 1War 1B.

  7. Andy

    VanMeter has nothing to prove at AAA anymore. He needs some starts to see if he can stick at MLB level. Votto plays his position and is underperforming this year. Just saying… Reds should start VanMeter at 1B about twice a week rest of year, and get some data to try and project who will provide more value next year. You could make same case with Nay, but a weaker case considering stats are only AA. I remain worried that Reds desire to get Value from Votto and let him chase team records will prevent them from seeing if either of them could be improvements.

  8. Armo21

    It was hard to watch Votto be a shell of his old self the 1st 2.5 months of the season. With his age and contact situation it has to be concerning to the FO moving forward. For $25 million a year Votto has to reinvent himself as a 2 hole hitter (High OBP and good average) hitting gap to gap as the power declines. The new stance and grip could lead to his resurgence the rest of this season and hopefully the length of his contract.

  9. Kyle

    People love votto when he does well and hates him when he does not well. There is no other player like that on the team. That is for sure.

    I know votto is good. Heck he’s still the best pure hitter on the team at his age in my opinion. I’ll probably get roasted for this but I just wish he would maximize his ability when it matters most. Striking out looking With a guy a third with less than one out for him is unacceptable. With his contact ability, he should be driving in more runs than he does. He’s a different player when he is up there attacking the BALL (driving the ball, making contact in the right moments) instead of being defensive (check/half swings, striking out looking with RISP). Getting on base is all good but I wish he could use more of his strengths, especially with the team struggling the way it is. Sorry but that’s how I feel.

    Honestly, it’s more frustration with votto than it is hatred

  10. jreis

    thought provoking piece Jeff. Joey Votto’s career mimics Davey Concepcion’s in so many ways. from 1985-1988 the reds had one of the most dynamic and productive offenses in the league (just not quite enough pitching to get by the dodgers) and a big reason for that was Davey hitting in the 7 or 8 hole anchoring that line up. he will probably go down as the greatest 8 hole hitter the reds have ever had both in the brm era and in the last years of his career and I can see Votto filling that role nicely the last few years of his career as well.

    I think if you move Joey towards the bottom of the line up his rbi total will improve and the batting average will get back to the 300 range. also his lack of speed will not be as big of a factor because he will have the pitcher hitting behind him which will just create sacrifice situations.

    unfortunately, like Davey I think when it is all said and done he will be on the outside of Cooperstown looking in but I HOPE I AM WRONG!

  11. Jeff Gangloff

    Yes sir – and the be fair, not EVERYONE is categorized as an “Apologist” or a “Clown”. There are some rational ones out there. It’s the irrational ones that need a swift slap on the wrist from time to time!

    • Big Ed

      I, sir, am both a Clown and an Apologist. If he goes 0-for-4 with 2 strikeouts, I deride him (in my own mind, at the least) as washed-up and done. If he goes 3-for-4 with a homer, then I am an Apologist again: “He’s back!!”

      I pretty much do that with all 25 guys, other than Senzel. I will sometimes pretend to be sane with written comments, though.

  12. Rick

    But…..but since late May…………dah. The truth is somewhere in the middle. Yes, the clowns are idiots who struggle with math. Yes, the apologists are annoying with their selective endpoints and embarrassing celebrations every time the guy gets 2+ hits in a game (lately singles). The truth is somewhere in the middle. However, I don’t think we can rule out the possibility of a nagging minor injury or two which limit him at times. The knee, the back, things 35-year old athletes deal with. I remember the days when Don Mattingly was the man and then lost his power due to back issues. These can come and go with age and we may see spurts of a guy who resembles the Votto of old at times when he’s feeling good and seeing the ball well. I do think that the early seasons struggles this year can be written off as slump rather than age, however. He looked like Billy Hamilton up there for a while. If not for that prolonged stretch where he looked lost, his numbers would likely be a little more normal.

  13. CFD3000

    I have three thoughts on all this, after saying thank you Jeff for reminding us that neither extreme viewpoint on Votto reflects reality. I’m a huge Votto fan but try hard not to slide into apologist mode.

    First, can we please stop worrying about Votto’s contract. If the total AAV were the same but he’d been paid $10M more per year through 2017 and the same less since nobody would complain about him being overpaid. Since his salary has not and will not limit the Reds budget for other players, how is it an issue? Unless you sign his checks, please stop worrying about Votto’s contract.

    Second, there is all kinds of criticism on Votto as a leader (or more precisely his lack of leadership). He’s not Hunter Pence or Derek Jeter, agreed. But he is by consensus the hardest worker on the team and has been for years. If that’s not leadership by example I don’t know what is. Let Jesse Winker be the team cheerleader, and Nick Senzel can play the Charlie Hustle role. But when asked in interviews recently who had influenced them most, who had helped them the most, both the rookie Senzel and the hugely independent veteran Puig both named Votto first and without hesitation. He learned Spanish a la Barry Larkin to better communicate with his Hispanic teammates. That’s a leader. Unless you work in the Reds clubhouse I’ve heard enough about Votto’s lack of leadership.

    Third, finally and most importantly, is the issue of Votto’s results, aging, and production. He is clearly not Joey MVP. He may need to be moved down to 6th or 7th in the lineup. He may need more days off. He may eventually want to switch to the AL to DH. And as disappointing as that is, there’s something very odd about it all. In 2017 Votto was, with Stanton, the best player in the NL. And then something weird happened. He didn’t have a slightly worse year, he dropped off a lot. Normally you’d wonder if he was hurt, but reports say no. So why the plunge? He changed his approach, largely proactively. He started choking up on every pitch. He started practicing this odd abbreviated swing. He started trying not to get fooled. In some ways it’s surprising his results weren’t even worse. I think there’s a good reason no one else in the league tries to hit that way. And maybe that stretch of .320 we saw for a month or so earlier this year is the best we’ll see in an ongoing decline. But like the pitcher who learns a changeup or the switch hitter who stops batting lefty, I believe that Votto will make, perhaps already has made, a fundamental change. He appears to have gone back to using the whole bat, and taking a full or nearly full swing. And he’s hitting the ball hard again. Fair warning: ridiculously small sample size. But if this is a fundamental change, and if it turns out he didn’t suddenly go from 33 to 53 after 2017, maybe the best resolution to the polarizing question of Joey Votto’s decline will come from Votto himself. So I’ll keep watching the must see TV that is every Votto at bat, keep booing every called strike three and cheering every line drive. But don’t count me as too surprised if the most cerebral hitter since Tony Gwynn and before him Ted Williams has figured out how to be Joey Votto, or at least a very convincing impression, again. The Reds need to accept that may never happen, and adapt accordingly. But as a fan it turns out optimism is free and for now at least I remain encouraged. Go Reds (and go Joey go)!

    • Big Ed

      Yeah, I agree that Votto had been proactively defensive about getting fooled.

      He seems to have made the conscious decision that if he gets fooled, well, then he gets fooled, but he thinks that his former approach will still work work fine when he is not fooled.

      I think that they will try to sit Votto (maybe starting next year) against tough lefties and the top power right-handers. Hitting elite fastballs is a young man’s game.

      If I were Ervin, I would use the off-season to learn the fundamentals of playing first base, because they don’t really have a good RH bat to play first base.

      • CFD3000

        That’s certainly an option, perhaps one of many, that I hope the Reds are considering. It’s one thing as a fan to hope that Votto is / will adjust and get back to being more of the hitter we’ve so admired. It’s another thing entirely for the Reds to have no contingency plans if that doesn’t actually happen. And Ervin’s bat, at least lately, definitely can make a difference.

    • vegastypo

      I can’t help wondering whether Votto decided that if he was going to have an elevated strikeout total, he might as well go for more power/harder hit balls along the way, rather than butcher boy lots of hits and still strike out as much as he does.

      And I guess I don’t quite understand how paying Votto for the next several years won’t have a limiting effect on money the Reds can spend elsewhere.

  14. Don

    Very good article Jeff.

    Baseball success if graded by whom fails the least often. Joey has been one of the best at failing the least often for 10 years. So far in 2019 he is slightly below league average and he has changes his stance, positioning in the box multiple times so far in 2019.

    His latest change seems to result in harder hit balls. This hopefully will turn into better results as everything seems to be figuring out how to get higher exit velocity with all the defensive shifts so that an average infield defender whom has to take more than 1 side step cannot get to the ball.

    My opinion on the team offense in 2019 is that Joey is not hitting and the rest of the team has been pressing to make up for that.

    When Joey hits the rest of the team feels less pressure to produce, relax and gets more hits.

    If Joey can be 75 to 85% of what he was in 2017 the rest of this year and 2020,2021. The others in the lineup will relax and produce more hits and runs which should bring more wins.

    75% of 2017 Joey is still better than more than 1/2 the first baseman in all of baseball.

  15. Tom Mitsoff

    I agree with the sentiments above that this was a well-written article. I have no idea for sure if there is a back issue that has contributed to his issues this season. What is clear to me is that opposing pitchers are no longer afraid to challenge him, and that is one reason why the walk numbers are down and the strikeouts are up. Despite his issues, Votto is clearly a hitting technician, and makes rarely seen adjustments to his stance and hitting approach. He is having to adjust to a back issue or just the effects of aging, or both. Everyone has to realize that he’ll still be above average, but not what we saw during his glory years.

  16. streamer88

    Votto was (is) HOF worthy due to his rate stats, not his counting stats. Sadly for him, counting stats go up in your mid/late thirties, but your rate stats go down. There will be a delicate balance for the team and JV. The best plan would involve platooning him away from his weaknesses (injury and LHP I suspect). This will allow him to rate stat higher for 100-110 games per year, AND help the Reds win games. He may even produce more wins this way. Requires cohesion between management and player though.