Joey Votto: 6-WAR Player

In spite of the ridiculous scrutiny regarding his 2013 season, Joey Votto is one of the best hitters in baseball. He also has a large contract that begins in 2014. Big contracts have seemingly brought bad baseball voodoo to some of baseball’s best (injury to Pujols noted). As Votto begins his mega-deal, both ZiPS and Steamer show him declining by over a win in WAR in 2014.  Because of how good he has been for the last four years, I found this projected decline somewhat surprising. I decided to dive into the numbers and found some really interesting things.

Votto has had four straight years of excellence. Since 2010, he has the third-best WAR among position players (25.1), the second-best wRC+ (164), the second-best wOBA (418) and the best OBP (434). Votto is at least in the conversation as the best hitter in baseball over this four-year stretch. But for some more perspective, let’s look at his last four years in detail.

Year

AVG

OBP

SLG

BB%

ISO

BABIP

wRC+

wOBA

Def

WAR

2010

324

424

600

14%

276

361

172

438

-10.1

6.8

2011

309

416

531

15.3%

222

349

157

406

-5.2

6.5

2012

337

474

567

19.8%

230

404

178

438

-2.1

5.6

2013

305

435

491

18.6%

186

360

156

400

-10.1

6.2

Quite impressive. Votto has earned over six WAR every year except 2012, the year he injured his knee and played in only 111 games. He played many of those games injured as well. The only reasonable complaints are that Votto’s power dropped some in 2013, and his defense was poor (decent for a first baseman). The extent to which Votto’s knee surgery affected his power in 2013 remains to be seen, but it isn’t like his power numbers fell off a cliff.  So what do our beloved projection systems say about Votto’s age-30 season in 2014? They say he will be good but not quite as elite as he has been.

Projection System

AVG

OBP

SLG

BB%

ISO

BABIP

wRC+

wOBA

Def

WAR

ZiPS

289

416

506

17.5%

217

334

N/A (149 OPS+)

386

3

4.8

Steamer

296

424

507

17.8%

211

341

156

400

-9.7

5.0

The encouraging part for Reds fans is that both Steamer and ZiPS think Votto’s power will tick up a little. The hope is that Votto’s knee will be healed, and he will return to the doubles machine he once was, with a few more home runs as well. But Votto is also entering his age-30 season. His best power days may very well be behind him. Or maybe not. I’ll get to that shortly.

The other numbers are similar to the four previous years with one noticeable difference. Both projection systems predict Votto’s batting average to drop below 300 for the first time since his rookie season in 2008, where he struggled to a 297 average.  The cause of this decline in batting average is our old friend BABIP. ZiPS has Votto’s BABIP dropping to 334 even though Votto has averaged a 368.5 BABIP for the last four years. BABIP can fluctuate wildly from year to year,  but Votto has shown the ability to maintain a high BABIP throughout his career. We can expect him to do a little better than these projections. If every 10 points of BABIP equals about 0.3 in WAR, Votto is likely to gain between half a win and one full win.

But the equation 10 points of BABIP=0.3 WAR is with all other stats being equal. If Votto’s BABIP is higher than these projections, he is likely to also have some more extra-base hits, including a couple more home runs. This added power would raise his value even more. Both projection systems already have his power rising from last year. Votto could have a few years of solid power left, especially if his knee is fully healthy.

This puts Votto around six-WAR territory. The other important factor will be his defense. Votto’s defense was poor in 2013 compared to his previous two seasons. He was a top-five defensive first baseman in 2011 according to FanGraphs’ Def and would have been top-three in 2012 had he played enough games to qualify. To remain a six-WAR player, Votto will likely need to return to an above-average defensive first baseman. Steamer has his defense at about the same level as 2013. I do not believe ZiPS Def adjusts for position, but it appears they think he will be average to slightly above-average defensively for a first baseman.

The Reds have much bigger problems than their superstar first baseman. They lack the ability to get on base consistently. They have serious question marks in left field and center field. The reality is that the Reds are a borderline playoff team right now and need Votto to be an elite player to have a legitimate chance of returning to the postseason. After looking at the numbers and with the prospect of a fully healthy knee, It is easy to see Votto continuing his run of excellence.




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8 Responses to “Joey Votto: 6-WAR Player”

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  1. The Stranger says:

    Come on, everybody knows that the Reds’ problem is that Votto isn’t driving in runs! Who cares about WAR – the way to win games is to create runs! Get off my lawn!

    That said, I don’t see Votto’s HR numbers going back up. He’s said repeatedly that he’s more concerned with hitting the ball on a line and not making outs. I see 4-5 WAR as a floor for a healthy Votto, and I agree that 6 is reasonable, but I wouldn’t count on it.

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    • ncarrington says:

      I don’t see his home run numbers increasing greatly (maybe 3-5 more). But it is reasonable to think his doubles will see a solid spike over 2013 with a healthy knee in 2014. 44 doubles in 2012 in only 111 games and only 30 doubles in 162 in 2013. I could easily see him with 10-15 more doubles.

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    • Jimmer says:

      According to Fangraphs, last year Votto was 5th in the majors in wRC+ and 4th in wRC. ESPN says he was 4th in the majors in runs created.

      He creates runs just fine, but people seem to believe the only way runs are created by a player is RBI. On top of that, scoring runs was hardly the Reds’ problem anyway. Pythagorean record(based primarily on run differential) says they should have won 94 games last year and they only won 90. Pythagorean record says Pitt should have only won 88, but they managed 94.

      And it’s not like they didn’t make the playoffs.

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  2. japem says:

    Nice article, but a) is there a reason you had no decimal points out in front of wOBA, OBP, etc? and b) why not use Oliver as well as Steamer and ZiPS?

    Other than that, though, this was very good.

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  3. Josh says:

    6 WAR as a ceiling seems pretty low. He had 6.2 last year, with below (his level) average HR power and doubles capability. With his defense in 2013 looking like an outlier, 6.5-7 seems like a reasonable ceiling.

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    • ncarrington says:

      I agree with your ceiling. I believe his floor for 2014 is around 5 and ceiling in the 6.5-7 range as you do. So we can expect something between: around 6 WAR. I was trying to show how the projection systems have likely under projected Votto’s season. His best year was 6.8 WAR so 7 would be a career high. Tough to project a career year.

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