On Thursday over at Fangraphs, Craig Edwards put the digital pen to the digital paper for an article titled From Votto to Pujols to Chance: The Greatest Decades at First Base. Edwards has sort of been running a series in a similar fashion to this one where he looks at how certain players stack up, historically, in 10-year increments of their career to the best players ever.
At the start of the article, Edwards notes that it’s not so much the power that makes Joey Votto stand out – he’s only had two 30+ homer seasons in his career – but it’s his high average and walk rate that separate him from his peers. Starting with the year 2010 and moving forward, each of those years marking the end of a 10-year stretch, only three first basemen have been tops for “the decade”. Albert Pujols was on top from 2010 through 2014. Then Miguel Cabrera took over for 2015 and 2016 before Joseph Daniel Votto grabbed things away for the top spot for the past three seasons.
Joey Votto made his debut with the Cincinnati Reds in September of 2007 and became a full-time player at some point in April of 2008. Two years later he was the National League MVP and the rest is history. While it’s tough to say that Votto’s the best first baseman of his generation given that he has had his career overlap with Pujols and Cabrera (and maybe in a few years some others can be tossed into the group with all three of these guys), for a good stretch Joey Votto at least had an argument that he was better than both of them for a prolonged period of time.
Edwards took a look at the best 10-year stretches for first basemen since 1961, looking at the players run by WAR.
The only players in the last 50 years with a 10-year WAR at first base higher than Votto’s are either in the Hall of Fame or are no-doubters like Albert Pujols and Miguel Cabrera. A little lower on the list we see more borderline cases like Todd Helton, Keith Hernandez, Dick Allen, Todd Helton, and Rafael Palmeiro. Votto’s 2019 season certainly didn’t bode well for his future or his case for the Hall, but he’s got an MVP award and a couple more solid seasons might solidify his case.
Right now, it seems that Joey Votto is kind of in that “tweener” area of Hall of Fame recognition. He’s not as good as the truly elite first baseman, but he’s better than the other “tweener” types, too. And he’s just as good, if not better than some guys that are already in the Hall of Fame. His career certainly doesn’t appear to be over, and no matter what happens he’s likely going to have to rely on voters down the line overlooking the counting numbers in his home runs and hit column and focusing more on his slash line and WAR totals if he’s going to get in.
With the Baseball Writers Association of America changing up who gets to vote (it’s no longer reserved for only newspaper writers), as well as who gets to keep their vote – something that hasn’t been there in the past, a more modern group of voters with more advanced approaches to how they view the games numbers could play into Joey Votto’s favor when he does get his name put on the ballot.
Father Time is still the undefeated champion of the world, and while Votto hasn’t lost the fight yet, it’s getting into the later rounds of the fight and with at least several months of 2020 lost already, he’s lost time to add a few numbers to the columns on the back of his baseball card when he was most likely to be able to do so moving forward in his career.