Friday, September 6, 2013
Joey Votto: Destroyer of pitches, narratives
By Matt Meyers
It's remarkable how some narratives take on a life of their own.
For the past few years, Joey Votto has been the Reds' best player by almost every objective measure. (He even has an MVP to show for it.) But because his RBI totals have remained relatively low for someone with the reputation of a middle-of-the-order slugger, there is a sentiment out there that Votto is too passive. (This is a sentiment that is perpetuated by Votto's own manager.)
This narrative is silly for reasons I'll explain in a moment, which is why it was refreshing to see him hit a game-changing two-run homer off J.P. Howell in the fifth inning on Friday that would provide the tying and winning run in a 3-2 Cincinnati win against the Dodgers.
It was vintage Votto. He's one of the few left-handed hitters who is adept against lefties (career .883 OPS), and he deposited a pitch on the outer half to the opposite field, but increased his RBI total to only 66 in the process.
So why does he have so few RBIs? Well, it's no secret he's not afraid to take a walk, and after taking two free passes on Friday he now has a league-leading 113 on the season. That's just the type of hitter he is. He knows that teams will pitch him carefully when runners are on base, and he's not going to give up an out. As a result, he has 40 walks when he comes to the plate with runners in scoring position, which is the most in MLB. (He's also hitting .294 in such situations, which isn't so bad.)
Sure, he could be more aggressive with men on base, but the end result would be more outs and (likely) fewer runs. And per Baseball Reference, Votto has a career line of .308/.430/.532 in situations defined as "late and close," so it's not as if you can even tie yourself in knots making a "Votto's not clutch" argument.
Votto had been in a bit of a slump of late, as he's hitting just .254 since the All-Star break -- albeit with a .404 OBP -- so his teammates and manager must have been thrilled to get a hit of any kind.
Of course, part of what makes Votto so effective is that he's productive on offense even when he isn't hitting, and no one should try to change that. And hopefully he can hit a few more homers like this one over the next few weeks and put this silly "passive" narrative to rest for good.