Before we get this going, we have to truly understand something.
Joey Votto has always been an elite offensive player for the Cincinnati Reds. This idea that he had fallen off since signing his 10-year, $225 million contract about three years ago is the stuff of crackpots.
Therefore, Joey Votto is not necessarily “bouncing back” from the depths of ineptitude. His game never resided there. People just ignorantly assumed it did.
There are no mistakes to be made through the first 13 games of this season, though. Votto finished Tuesday night reaching base three more times, one of them via his sixth home run and one via his 12th walk, which is tied for the major league lead. He scored a run, also his 12th, tied for the third-highest total.
Votto has produced a .377/.492/.792 slash line, tied for third in the league all around.
But casual fans don’t adhere to slash lines, and neither does at least one of Votto’s teammates. They adhere to power, driving in runs, the home run and the days when Votto was challenging 30 and 40 a season.
They could not care less that Votto led the league in OBP from 2010-2013 or in walks from 2011-2013—he did not qualify for either title last season. Or that he is second in the National League in accumulated Fangraphs WAR, which is a counting stat, since 2009 (32) despite playing in only 62 games last year.
No. Some people care only that Votto has not hit 25 homers or driven in even 75 runs in any of the previous three seasons. They also do not care that Votto has made a conscious decision at the plate, electing to focus on getting on base rather than swinging out of his shoes four times a game in order to hit 30-plus home runs, which would sacrifice other valuable parts of his game.
They also somewhat dismiss that Votto has missed 149 games over the last three season with leg injuries, which have sapped some of his power and taken nearly a whole season’s worth of plate appearances from him.
Votto told Bob Nightengale of USA TODAY Sports during spring training:
I still don't understand the conversation. I'm like [sixth] in active players in slugging percentage (.536), [fifth] in batting average (.311), and the on-base percentage just happens to be the one thing everyone highlights because I've had some success with that.
Hopefully, after this year, it will be a thing of the past, and people will stop being fixated on just one part of my game.
Votto is completely healthy this season. His legs are sturdy once again and the six home runs through 13 games are proof that had he never been hurt, this whole conversation about what approach most helps an offense might have never even started.
And players like Brandon Phillips, Votto’s teammate, would have nothing to criticize. Phillips told Nightengale:
I don't do that MLB Network on-base percentage [stuff]. I think that's messing up baseball. I think people now are just worried about getting paid and worrying about on-base percentage instead of just winning the game.
That's the new thing now. I feel like all of these stats and all of these geeks upstairs, they're messing up baseball, they're just changing the game. It's all about on-base percentage. If you don't get on base, then you suck. That's basically what they're saying. People don't care about RBI or scoring runs, it's all about getting on base.
What Phillips fails to comprehend—he’s not the only player with these blinders on, either—is that hits and RBIs are not what make an individual player elite. It is the ability to avoid outs, which is what Moneyball was all about, not just walks and OBP. It was about finding players who do not make outs.
Votto is among the best the game has ever seen at this, for his career and for this year. Yet, even in an era where advanced statistics—OBP is not one of those, by the way—have found a foothold in our everyday baseball lexicon, Votto is underappreciated. Even in his own clubhouse.
As long as he stays healthy, though, this is the season Votto reintroduces himself for the people who do not value him properly—fans, teammates and others within his own organization. His legs are under him, he understands the strike zone and he knows how to put round barrel to round ball.
Votto now has the national league lead in home runs .. Once again I present you the 2010 Joey Votto. Maybe even better— Cincy Reds Talk (@CincyRedsTalk) April 21, 2015
Those facts could again make Votto the kind of guy who can hit 30 homers, but it doesn’t necessarily make him a guy who can drive in 100 runs because that is a team stat. And even though Votto is an OBP machine, the rest of the Reds lineup dragged down the team OBP to .287 entering Tuesday, the fourth-lowest mark in the league.
Even Phillips should understand that if no one is on base for Votto, he can’t drive them in.
Votto has not fallen off since signing that contract extension, the seventh-richest deal in major league history. His game has just evolved, and accepting that has proven difficult for some.
But there is hope for unity. Because so far this season, Votto is giving everyone what they want.
Follow Anthony on Twitter @awitrado and talk baseball here.