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.


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