The Less-Pressing Joey Votto Question

Last season, like usual, Joey Votto was amazing, but last season, unlike usual, Joey Votto then injured his knee. It happened at the end of June, and while Votto tried to play through it for a time, he wound up being sidelined for a number of weeks before returning in September. He hit his final home run on June 24, before the injury, and down the stretch and in the playoffs, it was obvious that Votto didn’t have his normal Votto power. Maybe one of last season’s most unbelievable things is that, if you set a minimum of 100 plate appearances, Votto led baseball in second-half OBP. From the start of July through the end of the regular season, Votto reached 48% of the time. In a short playoff series, Votto reached 50% of the time. His power stripped away, Votto became even more difficult to retire than before.

Understandably, though, despite all the OBP, Votto is a bit of a question mark, as people are unsure whether his power will rebound now that he’s put more time between himself and his injury. It’s evident how a weaker knee can limit a hitter’s strength, and Votto conceded in October that he wasn’t at 100%. Now, there is this brief but encouraging update:

Medical director Dr. Tim Kremchek visited Votto in Florida two weeks ago and reports that Votto’s surgically repaired left knee is fine.

“He’s doing well,” Kremchek said. “He looks great.”

If Votto is feeling back to normal, it follows that Votto’s production should be back to normal, power included. There won’t be any more concerns. But until people actually see Votto going yard, they’re going to wonder about his swing, so for now this is one of those spring-training storylines to monitor. This is the most-pressing Joey Votto question.

What I’m also interested in is a less-pressing Joey Votto question. Probably one of the least-pressing Joey Votto questions, but one that makes for easy gambling. Much has been written about Votto’s ability to avoid popping up. Votto owns a career .359 batting average on balls in play, and he’s also got a career 25% line-drive rate. Put it all together and you get the picture of a guy with a perfect swing, a guy who consistently hits the ball on the screws, the way you’re supposed to. Votto isn’t a guy who makes a lot of glancing contact. He doesn’t swing all that often, but when he does, he usually swings at strikes, and he hits a lot of those strikes hard and fair.

So, the less-pressing Joey Votto question for 2013: this season, will Joey Votto hit an infield pop-up?

Below, two arguments.

Yes, Joey Votto will hit an infield pop-up.

Votto debuted in 2007, and since then, he’s recorded 11 infield fly balls. That’s an average of nearly two per season, and two is more than one, and one is more than zero. So just based on Votto’s own history, you think, yeah, he’ll hit at least one or two. Then you also have the nature of exceptional performances. Votto occupies an infield-fly-rate extreme, and extremes are generally performance + luck. The average hitter hits way more infield pop-ups, and even though Votto’s true talent is presumably much better than average in this regard, there should be some regression. For his career, Votto has popped up 0.6% of his batted balls. His true talent might be 1% or 2% or even higher than that. From a probabilistic perspective, I think you have to expect a pop-up or three this coming season. Especially if Votto isn’t quite 100%, or especially if there’s an aging factor at play. It only takes one slightly imperfect swing. Votto has taken such imperfect swings.

No, Joey Votto will not hit an infield pop-up.

Sure, we can examine Votto’s career record. But he popped up twice in very limited time in 2007, and he popped up five times in 2008. Over four seasons, between 2009-2012, Votto popped up four times. Twice in 2009, not once in 2010, once in 2011, and once in 2012. What matters more: distant history, or closer history? Since Votto debuted, there have been more than twice as many no-hitters as Joey Votto pop-ups. Since 2009, there have been two (or three) more perfect games than Joey Votto pop-ups. Are you getting a sense for how rare these things are?

Joey Votto has already gone one full season without a pop-up, which is proof of concept. Last year, he hit one, and this is said pop-up, complete with Votto’s post-out reaction:

VottoPop1.gif.opt

VottoPop3.gif.opt

That pop-up was hit against Joe Blanton on September 21. On September 21, Votto was playing while being well below 100%, and Votto didn’t have his usual Joey Votto swing. Put more simply: when Joey Votto popped up last year, Votto was effectively playing hurt. In 2013, it doesn’t look like Votto will be playing hurt, so how much should we care about his 2012 pop-up, really? Was that Votto popping up, or was that Votto’s knee popping up? Before the injury, Votto didn’t pop up once in months.

What we have here is a bet to propose to your friends. In 2013, will Joey Votto hit at least one infield pop-up, that shows on his FanGraphs player page? After considering both arguments above, I think I lean toward “yes”, because I believe in the math. But I’d personally project Votto for one pop-up, and as integers go, you can’t get much closer to zero than one. Call it a 0.5 pop-up over/under. I think he’ll do it, but I’m not absolutely certain about it, and while this is just one very tiny part of the overall Joey Votto package, it also speaks to how unbelievable he is when he’s feeling good, and even when he’s not. Joey Votto has such a good eye and such a good swing that we can’t be sure of whether or not he’ll pop up once over the entire 2013 season. By focusing on very little, we can end up saying pretty much everything.



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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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Robert J. Baumann
Member
Member
3 years 5 months ago

As integers go, you can’t get any closer to zero than 1.

Anon
Guest
Anon
3 years 5 months ago

I think zero is an integer. (This would make the original statement true.)

LK
Guest
LK
3 years 5 months ago

Zero is an integer. Negative one is also equally close to zero as one among integers, but when it comes to pop-ups we’re really more interested in natural numbers than integers.

#UnnecessaryMath

Cody
Guest
Cody
3 years 5 months ago

Geekasm

Dan
Guest
Dan
3 years 5 months ago

You absolutely cannot get any closer to zero than 1 in terms of integers. Since the word closer was used, zero is removed from consideration since zero IS zero. Therefore, the next closest integers are negative 1 and 1, both of which are equidistant from zero.

Pendantism rules.

Anon
Guest
Anon
3 years 5 months ago

Why would a comparison eliminate equal values from consideration? Two items of equal value are closer than items of different values.

Dan
Guest
Dan
3 years 5 months ago

Since zero is an absolute. It cannot be compared with itself. A value either is or is not zero, it cannot be considered relative to itself in closeness.

Anon
Guest
Anon
3 years 5 months ago

Of course an item can not be compared to itself. By definition, a comparison requires more than one item.

The comparison in this situation is between two sets (Votto’s predicted result and all possible results).

The closest value to any item in the first set would be the equal value from the second set (including zero).

Your arguement holds true for a comparison within a single integer set, but I do not see the limitation to a single set in this situaton.

TKDC
Guest
TKDC
3 years 5 months ago

Yeah, it’s like having a jar full of jelly beans and a contest for who can guess closest to the number of beans and disqualifying the person who nails it perfect. That would be crazy stupid.

Brian
Guest
Brian
3 years 5 months ago

I think you’re going for natural numbers.

kevinthecomic
Guest
kevinthecomic
3 years 5 months ago

Well, this conversation pretty much confirms what I already suspected: I am the coolest guy who reads fangraphs. Of course, that’s kind of like being the skinniest kid at fat camp, but I’ll take it.

Yo
Guest
Yo
3 years 5 months ago

That last GIF is notanle as it shows a Canadian getting about as emotional as he can get when not in any way involved in Hockey.

Billy
Guest
Billy
3 years 5 months ago

It was like “aw shucks” instead of the usual “AH F%^$!” you’d be expecting.

mikec
Guest
mikec
3 years 5 months ago

Votto had to have a second knee surgery after the first, which delayed his recovery and likely made the knee weaker. I think that should have been in the article. He could not generate power after that for obvious reasons. While his OBP skill is extraordinary, he won’t be a great player if he cannot regain his power. Which makes him the No. 1 player to watch in ST, and you’ll have to look very closely for signs because no one takes a more studiously gradual approach. Also, he was a sneaky-good base stealer (16 SB-5 CS as recently as ’10.) That part of his game is gonna be gone. For a great player so essential to his team and making huge, long-term bucks, you red-light him on steals as injury avoidance.

GlennBraggsSwingAndMissBrokenBat
Guest
GlennBraggsSwingAndMissBrokenBat
3 years 5 months ago

Except nobody ever gets hurt stealing bases. This is only a mild exaggeration.

Joey will do whatever he feels capable of doing, and I would not count him out of anything.

Bab
Guest
Bab
3 years 5 months ago

So Votto has to hit ~30 HRs to be a great baseball player?

Jay29
Member
Jay29
3 years 5 months ago

No, but he has to hit more than the zero he hit after June 24th.

Dan
Guest
Dan
3 years 5 months ago

Is Votto not hitting pop ups common knowledge? If I offer the bet that he won’t hit more than 3 this year, will an average baeball enthusiast be on to me?

LK
Guest
LK
3 years 5 months ago

Depends on how stat-oriented they are. If you pick a random baseball fan, you can probably get them to take the bait.

TKDC
Guest
TKDC
3 years 5 months ago

No, they wouldn’t. They would be on to you. Why would you offer the bet? What you need to do is trick or incept them into offering you the bet. Then go ahead and invest your future winnings in penny stocks. Then buy Fangraphs and treat it as your little play thing.

Colin
Guest
Colin
3 years 5 months ago

I’m pretty sure if you just say out of the blue that you bet Votto won’t hit more than 3 in field fly balls, he’ll think you know something that he doesn’t. That’s a really random, but specific stat to throw out in a bet.

Scott
Guest
Scott
3 years 5 months ago
Art
Guest
Art
3 years 5 months ago

I think this is far more interesting. I wonder how many players have ever come even close to that feat.

Kevin
Guest
Kevin
3 years 5 months ago

I recall Baker saying something last March when Votto was “struggling” about Votto having a different approach in Spring Training where the goal of his ABs in ST games isn’t to necessarily get a hit or reach base but to rather see as many pitches per AB as possible. Based on that, I doubt we will know anymore as to whether Votto’s power has returned or not based on any ABs prior to Opening Day.

As far as the pop-up stats, fascinating.

mikec
Guest
mikec
3 years 5 months ago

You’re kinda wrong there. In ST ’12, Votto’s big adjustment had to do with his front foot. He struggled with that adjustment through April of regular season, and then he was good with it in May, and went on a rampage.

Bip
Member
Member
Bip
3 years 5 months ago

The first gif:

Joe Blanton: I hope Joey Votto doesn’t swing at this.
Joey Votto: *swing*
Joe Blanton: Oh crap he swung that ball is probably coming right at my face
Joe Blanton: *flinch*
Ball: *soft pop up in foul territory*
Joe Blanton (off camera): That was embarrassing. At least this moment won’t be immortalized as a gif and posted on the internet.

jimbo
Guest
jimbo
3 years 5 months ago

Now that you mention the flinch, I wonder how often pitchers throw less than max effort en route to a good defensive posture.

Did he pull up a little there on his follow through?

Hurtlockertwo
Guest
Hurtlockertwo
3 years 5 months ago

Votto only hit four pop ups in four years?? Wow!! Is anyone else even close?
I’ve seen guys pop up 3-4 times in one game so this seems incredible.

Steve Staude
Member
Member
3 years 5 months ago

It is pretty incredible — Votto has registered pop ups in 0.17% of his batted balls over the past 3 years. Next best is Ben Revere at 0.35%, Mauer at 0.42%, Jeter at 0.44%, and Howard Kendrick and Michael Bourn both at 0.52%.

On the other end, there’s Rod Barajas at 8.6%, Clint Barmes at 8.11%, and Vernon Wells at 7.98%.

Aaron
Member
Aaron
3 years 5 months ago

Seeing Vernon Wells on this list is the least surprising stat I’ve ever seen here.

In fact, I’d like to propose a new stat for FanGraphs:

Pop-out rate × swinging strike rate on high fastballs = VWSS (Vernon Wells Similarity Score)

Though I suppose you’d need to work $/WAR in there, too.

Angels Enthusiast
Guest
Angels Enthusiast
3 years 5 months ago

That just means that Joe Blanton is the best pitcher in the Major Leagues–in making Joey Votto pop out.

John Morgan
Guest
John Morgan
3 years 5 months ago

This is a sneaky-great post. …in Joey Votto’s ability (?) to avoid pop-ups: a microcosm of what can and can not be forecast, what can and can not be known.

jimbo
Guest
jimbo
3 years 5 months ago

Should name a web browser after him.

Aaron Murray
Member
3 years 5 months ago

Add it to the list of prop bets alongside whether or not Betancourt will hit a batter this year.

Scott
Guest
Scott
3 years 5 months ago

I see what you did there. Well played. I recall Jeff’s article from earlier this year noting how Betancourt works outside….exclusively.

Neil
Guest
Neil
3 years 5 months ago

So I’m aware of Votto’s amazing lack of popups, but what is his POP-? Someone calculate this.

As always Jeff, brilliant.

Adam
Guest
3 years 5 months ago

I wonder how that # would change if he played half his games in Oakland.

Bab
Guest
Bab
3 years 5 months ago

You hope it wouldn’t. He is, you know, worth almost one-fifth of Oakland’s salary space

glib
Guest
glib
3 years 5 months ago

Concur that this is one great little article, but I already knew about the pop-ups, and also about the pull-foul (note singular), which I think is the most incredible record of the two. There must be a chasm between him and the second best, and who would the second best be? And have we ever seen a hitter with this eye? Probably no numbers for Ted Williams, but Bonds? Boggs? Gwynn?

Jay29
Member
Jay29
3 years 5 months ago

Bonds and Ted Williams walked over 20% of the time. Votto’s at 14% career. Plus Bonds struck out at 12% and Williams at 7%, while Votto’s at 18%. Different eras and such, but I don’t think he’s anywhere near their “eye.”

Peter
Guest
Peter
3 years 5 months ago

I think he will June 25th or 26th

Phantom Stranger
Guest
Phantom Stranger
3 years 5 months ago

Votto has a perfect swing plane and approach at the plate. If I were a young lefthanded hitter, you couldn’t do much better than emulate Votto. His batspeed, even at his current peak, is still a shade below immortals like Pujols and Bonds at their peaks. He would be putting up Ruthian slugging numbers if he had Bonds’ raw athletic ability.

jimbo
Guest
jimbo
3 years 5 months ago

“…Bond’s raw athletic ability.”

JV should juice. I agree. Me likey home-run go boomboom.

Antonio bananas
Guest
Antonio bananas
3 years 5 months ago

Of Joey Votto hits a flyball to the outfield in the one game playoff does that count? But seriously, what was his streak? None in 2010. It be interesting to see when the last one in 2009 was and the only one in 2011 was. Gotta be a record right?

Big Daddy V
Guest
Big Daddy V
3 years 5 months ago

It’s interesting that Fangraphs credits Votto with 4 pop-outs in the last 4 years, but Baseball-Reference gives him 35. A difference in terminology? Maybe Fangraphs only counts balls that stay totally within the infield dirt?

mikec
Guest
mikec
3 years 5 months ago

The over-under Votto popup thing is fun, but, well, I don’t care if he hits 0, 1, 2, 3, 4. I knew very well he’s an extreme no-popup hitter. He figures to retain that. But, folks, again, he’s the best hitter in the National League, a must-have superstar on a really good team. What is the outlook for him, especially his power, after two knee surgeries and having absolutely zilch HR ability from weakened lower base after returning? Maybe it’s me, with f’ed up priorities!!!

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