Why Joey Votto’s 2013 was Extraordinary
I don’t think I’ve ever seen a player held to as ridiculously high of a standard as Joey Votto was for the 2013 season. Coming off of two knee surgeries the year prior, Votto broke the all time Cincinnati Reds’ on-base record. Despite this, Votto has received massive criticism for his approach at the plate from a lot of people, including manager Dusty Baker and Hall of Fame broadcaster Marty Brennaman because he only had 73 RBIs. These same people have also criticized him for not coming up in clutch situations and his preference to take a walk instead of expanding the strike zone.
In fact, in a poll conducted on the website for ESPN 1530, Votto was actually the least voted person for Reds’ MVP, coming in behind even Brandon Phillips, who received one of the highest vote amounts. Really? The same Brandon Phillips that hit .261/.310/.396, posting his worst season as a Red? Oh, and yes, his OBP and SLG are below league average (.310 and .405 respectively.) But hey, he had a lot of RBIs. That’s good, right? The same Brandon Phillips that hit .211/.276/.263 in the most important month of the season? I guess I just don’t understand the logic here. Aside from his RBIs (which were entirely a product of his spot in the batting order and didn’t even lead the team), he was mediocre across the board. It’s not just upset people on Twitter saying this, either. People like the Hall of Famer Marty Brennaman, Lance McAlister, and Paul Daugherty (among others) have cited Brandon Phillips as their team MVP. I guess I just don’t get it.
Moving on with Votto, he was one of the league’s best hitters for the 2013 season. Moving on from Dusty Baker (who is famously quoted as saying “it’s called hitting, not walking” … yes, he actually said this… man, I’m glad he’s gone) could allow Votto’s talents to be more appreciated heading into 2014. It was clear that Baker disliked his approach, and this likely rubbed off on the media. To explain Votto’s greatness, we’ll have to take a look at a couple of advanced stats:
Runs Created- This incredibly simple stat was devised by Bill James in an effort to approximate a player’s total offensive worth. It takes OBP and multiplies it by Total Bases. To paraphrase Bill James, he says that scoring runs consists of two actions- getting on base (represented by OBP) and advancing those runners (represented by Total Bases.) This gives a pretty solid overall picture of a hitter’s production (h/t to CSG Network.)
wRC+- wRC+ stands for adjusted weighted runs created, and is an improvement over Bill James’ run creation formula. Whereas Runs Created gives an actual, approximated number (“[Player] was worth X numbers to his team”), wRC+ gives a number on a scale, with 100 being average (h/t to FanGraphs.)
wRAA- Weighted Runs Above Average. Another run creation stat. 0 is league average, and 40 is considered excellent.
WAR- WAR (Wins Above Replacement) is probably the most well known sabermetric stat. WAR attempts to summarize a player’s total contribution into one, concise number. It takes numbers from all aspects of the game into account- hitting (wRAA), baserunning (UBR & wSB), and fielding (UZR) into account. It also adjusts the result for position (with first base being the most highly deducted.) A WAR of 0-1 is considered mediocre, while 6+ is considered incredible.
Despite posting some of the weakest defensive metrics for any NL player, Votto was fifth in the league in WAR, behind Paul Goldschmidt, Matt Carpenter, Carlos Gomez, and probable NL MVP Andrew McCutchen. His 6.2 WAR ranks as incredible, yet people have been bagging on him like he’s BJ Upton. Why?
Votto *only* drove in 73 runs, hit 24 homers, 30 doubles, and posted a .926 OPS. All of these numbers are good (except for the OPS, which is really good) but pale in comparison to his usual numbers (and the numbers of guys like Miguel Cabrera.) What’s with the high offensive WAR?
The answer is that Votto was, arguably, the best player in the NL in the first facet of run production- getting on base. He also had elite numbers in the second facet- advancing runners. This is the simple answer. The long winded answer is that, aside from Jayson Werth (who only had 532 PAs to Votto’s 726) Joey Votto was the best run creator in the National League.
Votto’s wRC+, at 156 (56% better than league average), is tied with Arizona’s Paul Goldschmidt for best in the NL. Brandon Phillips, for comparison, had a wRC+ of 91 (9% worse than league average.) But, hey, at least he had a lot of RBIs…
Votto led the National League last year in vanilla Runs Created with 132. Comparatively, Marty Brennaman’s team MVP Brandon Phillips created 71, his lowest full-season total in his career. But, hey, at least he had a lot of RBIs…
Votto was second in the National League in wRAA only to Paul Goldschmidt in Weighted Runs Above Average with 49.1. Remember that, on the scale, 40 is considered excellent. Brandon Phillips, on the other hand, had a -3.6 wRAA, meaning he was actually a below-average run producer. But, hey, at least he had a lot of RBIs…
In case you weren’t convinced yet, here are Votto’s NL Ranks in some other, less-critical stats.
- Run Expectancy Wins- 5.69 (3rd) [Phillips- 1.76 (54th)]
- Walks to Strikeouts- 0.98 (3rd) [Phillips- 0.40 (48th)]
- Weighted Runs Created- 129 (1st) [Phillips- 69 (42nd)]
- OPS- .926 (4th) [Phillips- .706 (53rd)]
Now, there was one category that Votto struggled in this season offensively, and that was average with RISP. He only hit .291 with RISP, which is well below his career mark. But, I’m willing to write that off as an anomaly. Why? Because he, despite his “low” number with RISP this year, still leads the NL in average with RISP from 2009-2013.
Votto has been an elite player this year, and he knows it (he stated earlier this year that WAR is his favorite stat.) Despite constant ribbing from fans, his manager (ex-manager, now..thank God), and the Cincinnati media. With a full offseason to train in, Votto should have a big year in 2014- combining his elite on base/run producing numbers this season with his usual propensity for extra base hits. This guy is good. Criticizing him for his hitting, especially while concurrently praising Brandon Phillips, is asinine.
My Reds’ MVP list for 2013:
- Joey Votto (duh)
- Shin Soo Choo
- Mat Latos
- Homer Bailey
- Jay Bruce
- Todd Frazier
- Aroldis Chapman
- Bronson Arroyo
- Tony Cingrani
- Brandon Phillips