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Joey Votto: The Most Underrated Player in Baseball?

Coming into today, if you had to guess what National League first baseman was leading the league in wOBA, whom would you pick? Albert Pujols? Adrian Gonzalez? Prince Fielder? It’s actually Reds first baseman Joey Votto, who, with a .425 wOBA, is also leading the entire NL and is fourth in all of baseball.

Those facts may come as a shock to some baseball fans, but they really shouldn’t. Ever since he came to the big leagues, all Votto has done is hit. With a career line of .310/.393/.543 (.400 wOBA), his breakout season at age twenty-six may just be a sign of things to come. With a UZR/150 of 10.1 this year (after -1.5 in 2009 and 11.9 in 2008), Votto has cemented himself as one of the most valuable properties in baseball.

What’s also been shocking is how Votto has been so upfront and honest about his struggles with depression. Playing in a macho sport where players are told to “suck it up” and “play like a man,” Votto has been completely candid about his issues, which has been extremely refreshing:

“There were nights that I couldn’t be alone…The one night I was alone, the very first night I was alone, was when I went to the hospital. I couldn’t take it. It just got to the point where I felt I was going to die, really….

I’ve been lumped into the Khalil Greene, Dontrelle Willis, Zack Greinke category…I’m not saying one way or the other about those guys, because I don’t know what they’re dealing with. But I do know I’ve had a real struggle with my father’s passing. It’s really something I’ve had a real hard time with. It was my biggest hesitation coming out and letting people know, letting my teammates know. We’re supposed to be known as mentally tough and able to withstand any type of adversity…

I was having such a difficult time getting through the night that once I felt like I could get through two or three nights of sleep without having the phone beside me and worrying about having to call the hospital, I felt like I could start playing ball again.”

Votto missed thirty-one games last season, many of them due to time on the Disabled List because of depression. He still put up 4.5 WAR for the season, hitting .322/.414/.567.

The Reds are a half-game out of a playoff spot right now, and Joey Votto is the biggest reason why. For his career, he has a WAR/Game higher than guys like Mark Teixeira and Adrian Gonzalez. Let’s take a minute to notice.