The Joey Votto Technicality

Joey Votto didn’t pop up on Monday. Of course he didn’t. It’s not because he didn’t play — he did play, and he batted four times. The first time, he grounded out. He’s human. The second time, he singled on a liner. He’s a talented human. The third time, he flew out. He’s still human. The fourth time, he walked. He’s human, but less so than us. I remember, back in the old days, I was excited to get my hands on line-drive percentage. Batted-ball data! Could you imagine! Since then, I’ve taken a big step back, since LD% has seemed littered with flaws. One flaw is that Joey Votto’s career LD% isn’t 80%. There’s no way that’s correct.

Pick something there’s been one of this year. There have been more Astros sweeps of the Angels this year than there have been Joey Votto infield pop-ups. There have been more Travis Wood grand slams this year than there have been Joey Votto pop-ups. There have been more Jesus Montero triples this year than there have been Joey Votto pop-ups. There have been more home runs ruled non-home runs then reviewed on instant replay and still somehow ruled non-home runs this year than there have been Joey Votto pop-ups. That is, according to the data we have here on FanGraphs. Votto’s historically been unbelievable in his pop-up avoidance, and the pages will tell you his 2013 total is a big empty zero. We’re getting into the middle of June. Vernon Wells has hit 17 pop-ups, and Votto’s still sitting at none.

This post began as an examination, a look into how close Votto has come this season to hitting an infield pop-up. It was out of pure curiosity and nothing else, and I started by narrowing down candidate balls hit in play. I expected to find a fly ball hit to shallow left or a bloop to shallow center. A case where Votto clearly didn’t make real good contact, but a case where the ball in play was unquestionably an outfield fly. One always goes into these things with expectations. Even if you aren’t thinking about it. My expectations were not met, or perhaps my expectations were exceeded. I’m not entirely sure.

Here’s one ball in play I found. It’s from May 17, or, as you might remember it, “some weeks ago.” Votto was standing in against Cliff Lee, and then Votto swung at the first pitch. This is a ball in play of interest, but this is not the ball in play of the most interest.

VottoFlare.gif.opt

Votto broke his bat swinging, and he dropped the ball over the shortstop. Naturally, even with this kind of contact, Votto wound up with a hit. This is either a sign that Votto is mortal, or it’s a sign that he’s superhuman. In any case, this wasn’t an infield fly, and I’m only including it because it seemed like the thing to do. There’s been a closer ball in play. There’s been a ball in play of some disagreement.

I take you one day earlier to May 16, when Votto and the Reds were in Miami, facing the Marlins. The Reds wound up winning 5-3, but nobody cares. Votto batted five times in the contest. Here are the results:

  • fly out
  • double
  • foul out
  • foul out
  • intentional walk

The first of those foul outs was to moderate left, where it was tracked down by Juan Pierre. The second of those foul outs was tracked down by Nick Green. Nick Green was playing third base.

VottoPop.gif.opt

This is not an infield pop-up, in that it was not caught in the infield. This is an infield pop-up, in that it was caught by an infielder. According to Baseball Info Solutions, which gives its data to FanGraphs, this didn’t count. According to MLBAM, and therefore MLB.com Gameday, this did count. It’s right there in the Gameday window: “Joey Votto pops out to third baseman Nick Green in foul territory.” Meanwhile, reads the FanGraphs play log: “Joey Votto fouled out to third (Fly).”

Pretty clearly, this extended beyond the infield dirt:

vottopopup2

While I don’t know exactly what the classification rules are, though, it means something that MLBAM calls this a pop-up. It means that there’s a gray area, a kind of ball in play that some people think is a pop-up and that other people don’t. In a way, this is the whole problem with subjective batted-ball data, in a Joey Votto nutshell. It’s not really that important, but for our purposes, this certainly isn’t cut and dry. We can’t say that Joey Votto hasn’t hit a pop-up this year. We have to clarify by adding “…according to Baseball Info Solutions.”

Votto was behind Mike Dunn 0-and-2. Interestingly, Dunn threw Votto a fastball over the plate, which seems particularly hittable, given the situation.

vottopopup

But then, that ignores how the at-bat began. Here are the first two pitches that Dunn threw to Votto, before the arguable pop-out:

VottoPop_1.gif.opt

VottoPop_2.gif.opt

Dunn blew him away with heat, then he blew him away with heat. It’s hard to blame him for trying again, and it’s not like he wound up with an unwanted result. The result he got was as good as a strikeout, and yet far, far more interesting. Joey Votto arguably popped out, and he made a wonderfully appropriate face about it.

VottoPop2.gif.opt

I don’t know how Joey Votto usually looks after he pops out, because he doesn’t do it enough. This, however, is about what I’d guess.

Votto: er
Votto:
Votto:
-huh.
Votto: Huh.
Votto: welp
Votto: all right then
Votto: /leaves

It’s interesting, to me, that Votto’s possible pop-out was preceded by consecutive swinging strikes. It’s also interesting to me that, in this game, Votto made two outs in foul territory. They’re his only outs in foul territory of the season. Votto has 18 outs in foul territory in his career. This is the only time he’s made more than one in a game. This game wasn’t only weird because Votto might’ve popped out. Fittingly, it was weirder for other reasons, too.

One recalls that, on September 22, 2008, Votto hit two infield flies in the same game against the Marlins. That’s the only time that’s happened. There’s something about the Marlins. Or, there’s not, but, statistically, there is. That much is undeniable, and this is a stupid point.

I intended to find out how close Joey Votto has come to hitting an infield pop-up. After a thorough examination, I’ve found he’s come so close he might indeed have already hit an infield pop-up. According to one data source, he has. According to another data source — our data source — he hasn’t. I can assure you that most people don’t care, because Votto’s still got a 162 wRC+ and an OBP in the mid-.400s. I can assure you the overwhelming majority of people don’t give a crap whether or not Joey Votto has hit an infield fly. But I can assure you that Joey Votto most certainly does. You don’t get to be that good by not being a perfectionist.




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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.

60 Responses to “The Joey Votto Technicality”

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  1. cass says:

    Joey Votto is amazing.

    +11 Vote -1 Vote +1

  2. Roberto Alomar Spitting says:

    Best Canadian Ever

    +23 Vote -1 Vote +1

  3. Sparkles Peterson says:

    Courtesy of a poster on VEB after Devin Mesoraco’s ultra-cheap HR on Saturday:

    The reason Joey Votto hits no infield fly balls is that those end up as home runs in GABP.

    Vote -1 Vote +1

  4. Nick says:

    Re: the first gif not being an infield fly, Sam Holbrook begs to differ. amiritebravesfans?!

    +23 Vote -1 Vote +1

  5. Jeff Sucks says:

    Why does Jeff try so hard to be funny whenever he writes something? It is so forced and unnatural. Not to mention obvious. He tries way too hard.

    -68 Vote -1 Vote +1

    • scraps says:

      Why do you read Jeff, then? Plenty of other writers at Fangraphs.

      Ohhhh… waitaminute. Are you a troll? Because you are very subtle, then. Not a all forced and unnatural and obvious.

      +17 Vote -1 Vote +1

    • Mark says:

      +1

      Comedy isn’t his forte.

      Vote -1 Vote +1

      • Terry says:

        Comedy isn’t anyone’s forte here… have you seen notgraphs? its like every forced internet meme distilled into one place.

        The baseball articles are still top tier though, so I stick around.

        Vote -1 Vote +1

    • nobleisthyname says:

      Meh, he makes me smile. Maybe you just lack a sense of humor?

      Vote -1 Vote +1

    • rusty says:

      Clearly, an investigation of Joey Votto pop-ups should be undertaken with a bit more… gravitas?

      And I can see why you didn’t just skip this post, since you apparently don’t like the author, as this burning question would make the front page of any number of mainstream sports news sites. I’ll bet you saw the headline, thought “Aha!”, saw the byline, thought “:(“, and then plunged onward anyway, because, c’mon, Joey Votto gifs.

      Vote -1 Vote +1

    • Mel says:

      Jeff has a writing style that many people, myself included, find informative and entertaining. If you don’t like how he writes then don’t read his columns.

      Vote -1 Vote +1

  6. Myran says:

    Love the er face. Wonder if he makes that face any other time.

    Vote -1 Vote +1

  7. steex says:

    At first I thought “The Joey Votto Technicality” was the latest show for Comedy Central to slot between Tosh.0 and The Daily Show, but then I realized this wasn’t NotGraphs.

    Still, I think it’s a viable idea. An 8-episode run of Votto making faces like in the gif above would be just as successful as some of the garbage they’ve tried.

    Vote -1 Vote +1

  8. Kevin says:

    “This is either a sign that Votto is mortal, or it’s a sign that he’s superhuman”

    I’d say he’s superhuman. I hope by the time he his HOF eligible there are voters who will acknowledge how amazing of a player he is.

    Vote -1 Vote +1

    • Jmpmk2 says:

      I hope he has to endure all the scrutiny Todd Helton will for playing in the Great American Small Park.

      -10 Vote -1 Vote +1

      • GlennBraggsSwingAndMissBrokenBat says:

        You are clearly uninformed.

        Helton’s splits

        home – .348/.444/.610
        road – .289/.389/.475

        Votto’s splits

        home – .300/.403/.536
        away – .334/.432/.561

        One of these guys is going to the Hall of Fame. The other is Todd Helton.

        +58 Vote -1 Vote +1

        • Aaron Lehr says:

          pwned

          +7 Vote -1 Vote +1

        • Scraps says:

          Though Todd Helton doesn’t play in any road games in Coors.

          Vote -1 Vote +1

        • Sparkles Peterson says:

          As of now, Votto is peak-Thome without the 37 years of sub-peak Thome we got to enjoy. And without the power stats that several of the HoF electorate still loves. Thome is widely considered to fall short of the HoF standard.

          Votto’s got a HoF case if he doesn’t falter through his 30s. Getting way ahead of ourselves pretending he’s already there.

          Vote -1 Vote +1

        • Scraps says:

          “Widely considered”? Jim Thome is considered HOF-worthy to lots of educated people. Maybe not sportwriters, who do the voting; that’s why the Hall of Fame is a joke, to me.

          Vote -1 Vote +1

        • Anon says:

          Helton has those road numbers with a large portion of his away games at SF, SD, and LAD.

          Colorado and Texas are both hitter’s parks, but their home/road splits are exceptionally deceptive due to the pitcher’s parks in the rest of the division.

          Vote -1 Vote +1

        • Astro Villain says:

          And a lot of informed writers consider Helton to be a Hall of Famer. The whole thing is a joke now, anyways.

          Vote -1 Vote +1

        • Oscar Taveras says:

          Consider that the division the Rockies play in also has three pitchers’ parks.

          Vote -1 Vote +1

  9. David says:

    “Votto has 18 outs in foul territory in his career”

    Most amazing part of the article for me.

    +15 Vote -1 Vote +1

  10. Jeff K says:

    Joey Votto also went all of 2010 without an infield pop-up, and he has only pulled one foul ball into the stands in his career – and that was in 2007!

    +6 Vote -1 Vote +1

  11. rotobanter says:

    His BIP data is why i thought he he can’t belt more than 25 HR anymore. His FB% is at 27% and here is the trend since 2009: 39.3>34.8>33.4>32 and now it’s at 27.2 and another 6 Plate Appearances we’re across the FB% stability threshold. Lucky his HR/FB ratio is 20% which is valid based on his FB & HR Avg dist. on Jeff Zimmerman’s baseball heatmaps leaderboard.

    AB CT% FB% HR/FB expHRtotal
    2013 as is 550 0.785 0.272 0.2 23.4872
    my thoughts for ’13 545 0.795 0.32 0.165 22.87692

    Vote -1 Vote +1

  12. cs3 says:

    Any flyball caught by an infielder should be classified as a “infield popout”.

    Vote -1 Vote +1

  13. Dingbat says:

    Other weirdness on the Reds – Shin Soo Choo has hit 10 homers, and all of them have been solo homers. Not too unusual, since he hits leadoff, but it makes me wonder what the record is for most solo homers hit in a row, either to start the season or otherwise.

    Vote -1 Vote +1

  14. Brian Cartwright says:

    It was high in the air, and it was caught by an infielder. That sounds like a pop up to me. I use Gameday data for Oliver, and did see the one pop up recorded for this year.

    More Votto trivia – watching the Pirates shift against Votto last weekend, I looked at my spray charts to see if it was warranted. I break field field down into 7 slices, 6 of 15 degrees, and the first and third base lines of 7.5 degrees each. In his major league career, Joey Votto has never hit a ground ball to the third base line slice. However, that does not mean he’s an extreme pull hitter, as his most likely target was between the second baseman and the second base bag. Jay Bruce, on the other hand, hits almost 50% of his grounders to the second baseman or the first base hole.

    Vote -1 Vote +1

    • Studes says:

      Got to disagree with Brian. The BIS way of determining infield flies is obviously the right way to do it. Otherwise you will have different infield fly rates depending on the range of the infielders on pop flies. To me, this isn’t a technicality at all, but a best practice. Of all the things to complain about regarding batted ball data, I think infield flies are way low down the list (as BIS categorizes them).

      Vote -1 Vote +1

      • Brian Cartwright says:

        When I watched the video, I thought “that’s a pop up”. It was in an area of foul territory where outfielders rarely make a play.

        I am also of the opinion that the definition of a pop up should not be dependent on who catches it. If a batter hits a ball high in the air behind second base and the shortstop catches the ball, it’s a pop up. If the center fielder calls off the shortstop and makes the catch, it’s an outfield fly. Why? The ball had a certain vertical angle and hang time, why should it’s definition change because one of several possible fielders caught the ball?

        Pop ups caught by an infielder will have, on average, a higher vertical angle and a very low hit rate. Pop ups to an outfielder will still have considerable hang time, but a somewhat lower average vertical angle in order for the ball to carry far enough for an outfielder to get to it. This would imply a slightly higher hit rate. The next lower group of angles would belong to outfield flies, then outfield line drives, infield line drives and finally ground balls.

        Having a reliable count of the number of balls in each category allows computation of an expected hit rate for the batter or off a pitcher.

        Vote -1 Vote +1

  15. Mark says:

    Reds are playing two games at Oakland Coliseum this year. High foulout risk there.

    Vote -1 Vote +1

  16. JS says:

    After watching several Reds game recently, Votto’s reaction after making an out is yelling ” F*ck, F*ck, F*ck, F*ck, F*ck”. Definitely loud enough to be picked up by any open microphone.

    http://deadspin.com/lets-listen-to-joey-votto-scream-fuck-over-and-over-510184364

    Vote -1 Vote +1

  17. Gerwin says:

    The real question: would this be considered the infield at Turner field?

    Vote -1 Vote +1

  18. mdahess says:

    Votto approaches the game just like Wade Boggs did; except, Votto has more power. I’d like to know how many hits Votto has with two strikes, though.

    Vote -1 Vote +1

    • MentalGuy says:

      In his career Votto has 1646 plate appearances in which he has had two strikes. He has 314 hits, 74 doubles, 8 triples, and 32 home runs. He has walked 204 times, struck out 619 times, been hit by pitch 8 times. He also has 5 sac flies. His batting average is .220, his OBP is .320, and his slugging avg is .350.

      Data is from baseball- reference.com.

      Vote -1 Vote +1

  19. harold says:

    Votto just hit a popup in the infield, top of the 4th against Cubs 8/13/2013.

    Vote -1 Vote +1

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