The Summer of Going Full Votto

Owen just wrote about the fact that Joey Votto is having a fantastic season on a team that isn’t fantastic. That’s not exactly what Votto would prefer — on some level, every player has to be selfish, but Votto, like everyone, wants to be on a winner. One benefit of playing for a winner: winning is fun. Another benefit of playing for a winner: winners get attention. Votto is having an MVP-caliber year, but because of the team built around him, he’s putting his season together in almost total silence, which is greatly unfortunate. His overall numbers are outstanding. And his more recent numbers are almost inconceivable.

Maybe you’ve seen some of these; maybe you haven’t. If you saw some of these a few weeks ago, it’s not like Votto has slowed down. I’ll concede that splitting at the All-Star break is mostly arbitrary, but if we do that, then what’s revealed is nuts. It’s not just the categories that Votto’s leading. It’s the extent by which he’s in front. Over the last several weeks, Votto’s posted the highest walk rate in baseball, by eight percentage points. He’s posted the highest wOBA in baseball, by 69 points. He’s posted the highest OBP in baseball, by 101 points. Since about the time the All-Star Game rolled around, we’ve seen a player go the full Votto. The output is bewildering. We can see what’s happened. What’s driven what’s been happening?

I’ve gotten in the habit of doing something, so let’s do it again. This year, in what we call the second half, Votto has played 49 games. His OBP is an otherworldly .575. So let’s observe his career OBP on a plot of 49-game rolling averages. This should drive home the point that this stretch is almost genuinely unbelievable.

votto-rolling-average-obp

There you see him on the right, pushing .600. There are some strong, strong forces working against a sustained elevated OBP. Pitchers in the major leagues are incredibly good. Regression to the mean is like statistical gravity. Yet here’s Votto, reaching almost 60% of the time over almost a third of a full season. The plot is impressive in a few ways. Votto’s never had a long stretch of a sub-.300 OBP. There’s the obvious recent peak. There’s the fluctuation around .400. But before now, Votto spent very little time in the .500s. He’s blown by his old record. This is new offensive territory, for a player thought to be in decline.

A big part of OBP is hitting. Votto has hit very well. Unreasonably well. It’s not like he’s making much stronger contact — relative to the season’s first half, Votto’s second-half batted-ball speed is up a little more than two miles per hour. But he has sprayed the ball around a little more. With the help of Brooks Baseball, here’s Votto’s first-half spray chart:

votto-first-half-spray

And his second-half spray chart:

votto-second-half-spray

It’s not a dramatic shift, but it’s there — Votto is spending less time these days in right field. By the Baseball Info Solutions numbers, first-half Votto pulled 41% of his balls in play. Second-half Votto, meanwhile, has pulled 31% of his balls in play. At his best, Votto specialized in going up the middle and hitting toward left, so this looks like a conscious decision. He might’ve tried to pull the ball more when he was getting over his lower-body problems. Now that he has his legs under him again, he can go back to the way that he likes.

You can’t talk about this Votto, though, without talking about the discipline, and the walks. Last week, when I expressed surprise over what Ryan Goins has been doing, I listed him with Votto among the walk-rate leaders, but Votto’s really blowing everyone else away. This is the other part of OBP, and Votto just can’t stop reaching base. In the second half, he has baseball’s lowest swing rate, by three percentage points. In the second half, exactly 50% of the pitches Votto has seen have been balls. It reads like a case of productivity through passivity.

Yet that wouldn’t be totally accurate. For example, in the first half, Votto swung at 29% of first pitches. In the second half, 27%. His chase rate has gone down just two percentage points. The biggest change: Votto’s rate of swings at pitches in the zone has dropped from 63% to 53%. This version of Joey Votto is hunting, and when he’s in control, he doesn’t make compromises.

Pulling now from Baseball Savant, here’s Votto’s first-half swing map:

votto-swing-first-half

And, his second-half swing map:

votto-swing-second-half

I don’t know how clear certain differences are to you, so I’ll throw out some numbers. How much has Votto been hunting? Compared to the first half, Votto’s second-half swing rate at inside pitches over the plate is down 12 percentage points. A little more remarkably, Votto’s second-half swing rate at high pitches is down 13 percentage points — cut nearly in half. Votto has been looking for those pitches middle-away, at or below the thigh. This might be my favorite representative statistic:

First Half: 41% swing rate when ahead in count
Second Half: 28%

When Votto has been in control of the count, he’s sat his version of dead-red, and he’s been far less willing to go out of his own zone. So that’s made it more difficult for opposing pitchers to regain ground, and it’s also helped Votto directly, as the first-half version slugged .524 in such counts, while the second-half version is up at .944. Votto, basically, has been better about swinging at his pitches. He’s also maybe just put better swings on them, but Votto’s offered less frequently at pitches in his colder zones, and he’s been happy to take the resulting walks and hits. Pitchers probably realize they can work Votto up or inside, but they have to be precise, because missing means either a ball that Votto will take, or a strike that Votto will hit. He’s showing the world his zone, but it’s hard to exploit, because he’s too good, and most pitchers aren’t good enough.

We know now that Joey Votto is feeling healthy. He has his swing where he wants. And his eye never left him. Now he’s perhaps more focused than ever on just staying within his own hot zone, and though some might call that too passive, there’s simply no arguing with what Votto’s been able to accomplish. For a couple months, he’s essentially been Barry Bonds. Not all that many people have noticed, but then again, maybe that’s the way Votto likes it. He’s going the full Votto, and he’s playing like an MVP.

We hoped you liked reading The Summer of Going Full Votto by Jeff Sullivan!

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Jeff made Lookout Landing a thing, but he does not still write there about the Mariners. He does write here, sometimes about the Mariners, but usually not.

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BigDaddyCool
Member
BigDaddyCool

Nice curtain call from Votto. Anthony Rizzo is likely the best third baseman in baseball going forward.

Between Rizzo, Bryant, Russell, Castro/Baez, and Schwarber, the Cubs might have the best infield in modern baseball history over the next five to ten years.

Dr. Fail
Guest
Dr. Fail

Fail

BigDaddyCool
Member
BigDaddyCool

Cardinals’ fan?

Molly Knight just tweeted out Cardinals steal most signs in MLB. Some would call that cheating.

Oliver
Guest
Oliver

1. Rizzo is a 1B 😉
2. Castro/Baez = Meh
3. Not a Cards fan but I dont think stealing signs is cheating. I guarantee the majority of teams at least try to do it

BigDaddyCool
Member
BigDaddyCool

Oliver, Castro still young with some great seasons. Baez = best bat speed in baseball and recent change in approach could him him a 40-50 homer SS or 2nd Baseman.

Pirates Hurdles
Guest
Pirates Hurdles

Now who’s trolling, Big Daddy?

Kevin
Guest
Kevin

please… everyone knows the blue jays and the man in white steal the most signs in MLB

RoyHobbs
Guest
RoyHobbs

I read it on the internet so it must be true…

Gavin
Guest
Gavin

Curtain call?! He’s 31 years old.

Paul Goldschmidt
Guest
Paul Goldschmidt

Id just like to say Hello

BigDaddyCool
Member
BigDaddyCool

Goldy never had the tools the Rizzo had coming up. Rizzo has the pedigree. Goldy did develop into a fine player, no doubt.

Only Glove, No Love
Guest
Only Glove, No Love

You are a great troll. I can’t stop replying to you.

Rizzo and Goldy have both been in the MLB since 2011. Goldy has been significantly better every year but one (2014) in which he had the same wRC+ as Rizzo (155). He is also 10 pts better so far this season (150-160).

What makes you think that Rizzo is better or will be better going forward?

And what are these “tools” and “pedigree” you are talking about and why should we care?

RationalJoe
Guest
RationalJoe

Bigdaddycool- 40-50 HR’s per year for Baez? What are you smoking man! His peak will probably resemble a Brandon Phillips type with (likely) more erratic defense and lower contact skills. Funny how none of this has anything to do with Votto, you just wish Jeff had posted something more along the lines of “Cubs ’16 Projected WAR higher than Votto’s single-season RBI total”

Alex K
Member
Alex K

OGNL- Rizzo was up for 50 games in 2011, not all consecutively, when he was 21/22…we can probably throw that year out as some type of comparison to Goldschmidt (who is almost 2 years older).

I’m not trying to say Rizzo has been better than Goldschmidt to this point because that would be silly. Just trying to add some context. When Goldschmidt was the age that Rizzo made his MLB debut he was in college/Rookie league.

I think it’s reasonable to say that Rizzo could be better going forward.

Only Glove, No Love
Guest
Only Glove, No Love

Alex- I agree Rizzo could be measurably better going forward. And so could Goldy. But I think it unlikely. Both players look to be maximizing their skill sets right now. And considering how similar their approaches are I am betting they mostly stay within 10-15 points of wRC+ for the next 5 years or so…

PS. If there is one area where Rizzo could improve it is an increase in hard hit balls. That is one area where he lags Goldy.

PPS Goldy goes oppo more and could possibly sell out for more power.

Alex K
Member
Alex K

I like Rizzo a little better going forward just because of the age difference. You can’t really go wrong with either, though.

Nate
Guest
Nate

Super relevant comment, bro.

BigDaddyCool
Member
BigDaddyCool

Though Votto is good, we must not forget the other good first basemen in baseball, namely how amazing Rizzo has become, and remember, while Joey Votto put up 1 win last year, Rizzo put up nearly a 6 win season. Rizzo is younger and doesn’t have the health problems Votto has.

Only Glove, No Love
Guest
Only Glove, No Love

What injury history? He fought through an injury to his leg last year and still put up:

.255/.390/.409 wOBA.359 wRC+127

That is egregious cherry picking.

Rizzo has to get better and keep it up for 5 years to be where Votto is now.

I hope he does but if you think Rizzo will log more ABs over his first 8 full seasons good luck…

hypocrite
Guest
hypocrite

We have all the best players in the world! Wrigley is the best place in the world! It doesn’t matter that it smells like piss and you can’t breath in the concourse! The ivy! Throwing the ball back! You steal all our traditions, you idiots! We have the best fans in the world and the best team ever and you all can go ferk yourselves!

Oh, that Chicago hospitality…

BigDaddyCool
Member
BigDaddyCool

Wrigley is best experience in MLB bar none. I’ve been to many stadiums. Worst is Busch stadium. Best is Wrigley. Second best is Dodgers’ stadium. PNC and AT&T are consistently overrated. Coors is actually a really cool stadium, it’s just that the Rockies are always bad. Nothing compares to the atmosphere and aura of Wrigley though. You should actually go to the stadium before spewing these ludicrous sentiments. Wrigley does not smell like piss and you can breath in the concourse. It smells like tradition and exudes everything beautifully tragic about the nature of life.

ReuschCakes
Guest
ReuschCakes

I have a hard time following you sometimes… are you saying piss is tradition? or that piss is the beautifully tragic nature of life?

hypocrite
Guest
hypocrite

You smell like poo. You are a dirty mustache full of poo. You look like a dissected frog’s reproductive system.

IsIt2015Yet?
Guest
IsIt2015Yet?

Wrigley isn’t even the best experience in Chicago baseball. USCell is a much better place to watch a game and, hell, the fans there even know what’s going on! You can see the game action well, there’s better, cheaper beer, it doesn’t smell like rotting. When you exit the stadium you won’t be surrounded by dude-bros barfing everywhere on their way in and out of 100s of bars. Wrigley sucks. Sure, it’s old. That’s what it’s got going for it.

RoyHobbs
Guest
RoyHobbs

I happened to be in Wrigley for opening night vs the Cards 2015. No bleachers or upper deck bathrooms for a packed opening night? It most certainly smelled of piss everywhere. Bathroom lines were over a hour long. People pissed in cups. People pissed in the concourse. Cubs said there were plenty of toilets but promptly brought in 62, yes sixty fuckin two, portapotties the very next day.

And the whole bleacher entrance smelled of piss before this years remodel. Blame the piss troughs, blame a broken sewer line, whatever. At least that seems to be repaired.

Wrigley is a historic place. I’ll give you that. But in the 30 times I’ve been to Wrigley, its more college drunken good times than showing up to watch a baseball game.

Geraldo
Guest
Geraldo

Increasingly convinced this is a fan of an opposing team doing his/her best interpretation of an obnoxious Cubs homer.

BigDaddyCool
Member
BigDaddyCool

I am a fan, not a Cubs’ homer. You do not need to be a homer to see the Cubs have the best young core in baseball and project the best going forward for the next 5-10 years. Four 6+ WAR /per full season players in Arrieta, Bryant, Rizzo and Schwarber – can anyone else boast that kind of core? Baez and Russell could be 6 WAR too as soon as next year.

Only Glove, No Love
Guest
Only Glove, No Love

You do know that they actually have to play the games, right?

You don’t add up projected WAR and compare and then go home?

BigDaddyCool
Member
BigDaddyCool

Cubs pounding Cards last two and Schwarber not even in the lineup

Only Glove, No Love
Guest
Only Glove, No Love

I know and appreciate quality trolling when I see it and this is that. My hat is off to you! Nice work here today.

Pirates Hurdles
Guest
Pirates Hurdles

I think “best infield in modern baseball history” should become the next #6 Org around here.

RoyHobbs
Guest
RoyHobbs

Good solid core under 25?
How about Grichuk, Heyward, Wong, Piscotty?

Then add Carlos Martinez, Wacha, Seigrist, and Rosenthal.

I’ll even hold off on Piscotty and Grichuk since they could still use some seasoning but they stepped up when given a chance.