You know, I'm usually not much for the hyperbole. I don't like to hold guys to unrealistic expectations or label players as Hall of Famers or perennial All Stars without a solid sample size and extensive proven history.
But I'm going to tread a little bit into the uncharted territory to bring up the possibility of stardom with Joey Votto.
First of all, while I don't claim to be a professional scout, Votto simply passes the eyeball test. One of the things the scouts always look for is the 'sound' of the ball leaving the bat. Votto has this. Scouts look for opposite field power. Votto has that. Scouts love a guy that has fantastic discipline at the plate with the ability to foul pitches off (bat control). Check again.
It's amazing. When you watch Votto in an at-bat, he can go to the plate and wait three or four pitches before swinging, because he rarely is overmatched. Monday he swung and missed at a pitch, giving him a rare strikeout, and I think it was simply a matter of expecting a fastball and getting a changeup. Curious as to just how good a season he's been having, I decided to see how the numbers corroborated the eyeball test.
Did they ever.
No. 1 in batting average (.368)
No. 18 in AB / HR (16.7)
No. 3 in AB / RBI (3.8) - behind only Prince Fielder & Brad Hawpe
No. 1 in OBP (.479) - 19 percentage points ahead of Carlos Beltran
No. 3 in SLG (.632) - behind only Albert Pujols & Raul Ibanez
No. 2 in OPS (1.111) - behind Raul Ibanez
No. 1 in RC/27 (11.08) - meaning a team of Vottos would score 11 runs/game
No. 1 in Off. Win Pctg (.836) - meaning a team of Vottos and an average staff would be expected to win 84 percent of their games / this is 22 pctg. points ahead of Pujols
No. 16 in RC (32.4) - aggregate total despite missing several games. Ibanez leads with 44.8
No. 1 in RBI Rate (40.0) - This is a stat I've made that is essentially a ratio of all runners on base that was driven in compared to runners left on base. If a player gets a hit or walks but does not drive in a run, it does not count against the player. The equation is essentially (RBI-HR) / LOB. Second place in the league with at least 100 PA is Brad Hawpe (35.7), then Todd Helton (32.9), Chase Utley (32.8) and Carlos Delgado (31.7). Last year Pujols led the league based on qualified players with a 30.2 ratio.
No. 2 in Gross Production Average / GPA (.374) - this is said to be the highest correlation to run scoring even over runs created, base runs etc. It's essentially like OPS but it's 1.8 times the OBP plus slugging. It's then divided by four to scale it to a batting average-like metric. Manny is No. 1 (.382). Albert Pujols is third (.366), Raul Ibanez (.365) and Carlos Beltran (.350). League average is around .263.
No. 19 in BB% (13.1%). Adam Dunn (17.5%) and Kosuke Fukudome (17.3%) lead the league.
No. 50 in K% (15.%%). Juan Pierre & Miguel Tejada (5.9%)are league leaders with Albert Pujols (6.7%) third.
No. 8 in P/PA (4.30). Jayson Werth (4.55) leads the league.
What's interesting about these two aforementioned categories, however, is that of the top 50 players in the league in pitches seen per plate appearance, only nine (9) of the top 50 have a better strikeout rate (i.e. fewer strikeouts per plate appearance) than does Votto. So in other words, Votto is among the league's best at seeing more pitches while still avoiding strikeouts.
Dovetailing on this BB/K issue, Joey Votto is 10th in the league in BB/K ratio (1.05). Albert Pujols leads at an insane 2.69 with only a total of 12 NL qualified players having a plus ratio of 1.00 or more. Side note: Brandon Phillips is the 12th of these players.
Only Scott Hairston (.500) and Brad Hawpe (.486) have a better BA with RISP than does Joey Votto (.457).
Lastly, Votto is No. 3 in the entire major leagues in WPA (Win Probability Added). This is arguably the most important stat (beyond run creation) because this measures the aggregate percent chances a player contributed to his team winning games. For instance, say a player comes up in the 5th inning, down 2 runs with a runner at first and one out. If he strikes out, WPA will then deduct the chances the team had of winning the game after the player hit minus the chances they had of winning before he hit. This is all based on historical play data. So if there was a 33% chance of the team winning and his out made it 31%, he gets a -2.0. Then if he comes up with runners on second and third, two outs in a tie game in the ninth while hitting a home run, he'll get credit for a + percent (100% chance of winning minus whatever the chances were before he came to the plate). He currently trails only Raul Ibanez and Jason Bay with a 2.55 WPA. Over the course of the season, the leaders usually are around 5-8. Anything over 8 is a fantastic year.
OK so I may have overdone this. But clearly, Votto is having the kind of season that only Albert Pujols and Raul Ibanez can match in the National League. These guys are more proven players, although Ibanez has not typically been THIS good. But though sample size is still an issue, combine the season Votto is having with the old-fashioned eye-test, and we have something potentially special here.
A couple of additional notes:
* Though his batting average seems unsustainable, especially given his .409 BABIP, he continues to hit a very, very consistent 25% line drives. In fact, all three seasons thus far in the majors he's hit at 25-26%. This bodes well for him consistently being a .300 hitter.
* Though his BB/K rate is spectacular, his career ratio is a respectable but a bit more tempered 0.63 including minor league seasons. So this might be in line for an eventual correction.
* His HR/FB ratio (21.9%) continues to climb. This indicates to me he's getting stronger and I think it's indicative of the number of opposite field home runs he's now hitting out of the ballpark instead of becoming "warning track" outs.
Anyhow, to summarize, clearly Votto is putting up some lopsided numbers. Can he sustain it? Hard to say. Is he overperforming? Possibly so. Either way though, the guy has some great potential and is a lot of fun to watch.