12/29/2013 10:40 P.M. ET
Suggestions to change Votto's approach unwarranted
Plate discipline makes perennial NL MVP candidate among best hitters in game
By Richard Justice / MLB.com
Some people think it would be a good idea for Reds first baseman Joey Votto to make more outs. To get on base less. To help out the opposition. At least, I think that would be the intent. Friends, you can't make this stuff up.
National League pitchers have to love this suggestion. If Votto is going to start getting himself out, their jobs suddenly become easier. How does this nonsense get started anyway? Are some of you bored? I'm as ready for Spring Training as the next guy, but let's not get silly.
Here's the bottom line: Joey Votto should NOT change his approach at home plate. To argue otherwise is nuts. He's already one of the NL's 10 best players, so why attempt to fix what's not broken?
Let's review the season that started this discussion among talk-show hosts, bloggers and others in Cincinnati. In 2013, Votto led the NL in on-base percentage for the fourth straight year.
OK, that's a good thing, right? Wrong. Some fans apparently see this as a negative. Votto also led the NL in walks, this for a third straight year. Some don't like this part of his game, either.
Never mind that his name was scattered around the NL leaderboard in almost everything: fifth in runs, sixth in hits, 10th in batting average, 11th in home runs, 11th in slugging and fourth in OPS.
He and D-backs first baseman Paul Goldschmidt were tied for the NL lead in intentional walks with 19. Votto had a .477 on-base percentage with runners in scoring position. He may not have been the NL's best player in 2013, but there was no way to have that discussion without including Votto.
Now about the more sophisticated evaluations. I'll bet those math models expose a weakness in Votto's game. Well, not exactly. He was sixth in the NL in Wins Above Replacement among position players and fourth in offensive WAR, according to baseball-reference.com. Among all players, including pitchers, he was 10th in WAR.
To some, this isn't good enough. They point to the fact that Votto had just 73 RBIs. You and I understand that RBIs are a function of time and place, and that there are far better ways to evaluate a player. Some folks haven't caught up with us.
For instance, OBP and slugging percentage and OPS are very good at revealing offensive value. Votto was first, 11th and fourth in the NL in those three measuring sticks.
In the end, the game is still about not making outs. Some of baseball's smartest organizations pride themselves on finding offensive players with the discipline to grind out long at-bats and to force opposing pitchers to throw more pitches than they'd like.
No hitter in baseball forced pitchers to throw more pitches last season than Votto. He saw 3,033 in all, 18 more than Mike Trout. He led the NL in 2011 as well, finishing right behind Dustin Pedroia and Curtis Granderson among all big league hitters.
Still, because Votto had just the 73 RBIs, some have argued -- and Reds executives have been asked about it several times -- he should expand his strike zone with runners in scoring position. It's not like he's failing in these situations. That .477 OBP with runners in scoring position speaks volumes. Only four NL hitters got on base more frequently in these situations.
The thinking goes that if Votto swings at more pitches out of the strike zone -- in other words, if he gets away from one of the things that makes him so good -- he'll get more RBIs. This advice is about as wrong-headed as it gets. Votto has 3,790 plate appearances in his seven big league seasons. He has done things one way virtually the entire time. This is who he is. He should not be changing now. He's plenty valuable to the Reds NOT making outs.
If he starts swinging at pitches out of the strike zone, he'll hurt the Reds. Rather than going up, his RBI total might go down, although this (again) is a function of time and place.
He'd certainly be on base less, see fewer pitchers, etc. There's lineup chemistry to consider. If Votto becomes a wild swinger, what message does that send to Brandon Phillips and/or Jay Bruce behind him? He's telling them he doesn't trust them, that he believes it's on him to deliver.
It's not on him. It's on all of them. Hitters feed off one another. Bruce and Phillips would be the first to say that hitting behind Votto has been good for them, has given them more opportunities.
It's natural to look for ways to improve the Reds after another quick exit from the postseason. Changing Votto would be the wrong thing to do. He's a joy to watch and is a role model in an assortment of ways. In short, the Reds are lucky to have him, just the way he is.
Richard Justice is a columnist for MLB.com. Read his blog, Justice4U. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.