Like me, you may have already decided Reds first baseman Joey Votto is a lock for the National Baseball Hall of Fame. However, before this season, Votto’s Cooperstown status apparently was more questionable than Reds fans might have thought. His statistics are impressive, but when compared to an average Hall of Fame first baseman, they are on the low end of the measuring stick.
In 15 total seasons, Votto has six All-Star appearances, one MVP award, and one near-MVP award. Votto’s career slash line is currently .303/.417/.519 and his career OPS sits at .936. He’s been in the top 10 for on-base percentage and OPS in nine different seasons and the top 10 for batting average and slugging percentage in eight different seasons. This means that in over half of his entire career, he’s been in the top 10 of players in four different categories.
Votto already reached the 300 home run and 1,000 RBI milestones this season. He’s now chasing 2000 hits, of which he currently has 1,986. Three hundred home runs, 1000 RBI and 2000 hits is not an automatic berth to Cooperstown, but those numbers combined with Votto’s impressive on-base numbers should help his case tremendously when he eventually lands on the ballot.
More and more writers are voting with advanced statistics in mind, rather than just the basic statistics of batting average, home runs, and RBI. This includes OPS, OBP, and WAR. It’s both helping and hurting Votto’s case.
Votto’s career WAR currently sits at 62.5. It’s a little low, when compared to the average career WAR of 66.9 for 21 Hall of Fame first basemen. But it’s not out of the realm of possibility that Votto could reach that mark with the number of years he still has left to play, barring injury. While his career WAR is low, Votto is one of the best at getting on base. He has over 1,200 career walks. He’s also one of six players who has led the National League in on-base percentage seven times. Four of those players are in the Hall of Fame. The fifth is Barry Bonds, who should be in the Hall of Fame.
If we judge Votto’s body of work by just the basic statistics, he is on par with other Hall of Fame players. Most players have only reached one or two benchmarks (300 HR, 1000 RBI, 2000 hits), rather than all three; however, of the milestones they have reached, they’ve far exceeded that milestone. For example, Ty Cobb only hit 117 home runs in his career, but he did have 4,189 hits and 1,944 RBI.
A more recent player would be Barry Larkin. Inducted into the Hall of Fame in 2012, Larkin hit only 198 home runs and drove in a career 960 runs, but he had 2,340 hits. Tim Raines, inducted in his last year on the ballot in 2017, only hit 170 home runs in his career and just missed 1,000 RBI. However, he had over 2,500 hits and was a stolen base machine with 808. Raines also walked over 1,300 times, similar to Votto. Not all players inducted are excellent in every area of baseball. Even if a player is stronger at one area over another, if they were really good, they’re likely in the Hall of Fame. Votto may not have one area in which he is definitively stronger, but his on-base numbers make up for that.
The shortened season last year definitely hurt Votto. He didn’t get a full 162-game season to add to his stats, but after a slow start in April, he’s more than made up for it. With his impressive season in which he’s reached a number of milestone accomplishments and the fact that he should play for at least another three years, it’s becoming more and more likely he will be giving a speech in Cooperstown one day. Votto is a future Hall of Famer, simply because of the longevity of his career (he played his 1800th career game at first base on Wednesday) and the combination of his plate discipline and his ability to hit the baseball.
Statistics courtesy of baseball-reference.com and Fangraphs.com.