It’s funny how various factors affect how we interpret reality. Growing up, my family owned a boat. We would go fishing, water skiing, and tubing on the Ohio River and on several lakes. When I was a kid, I thought of this boat as a yacht. It was huge! I had all kinds of space to move around and acquire different angles of my brother being thrown from a tube. We had snacks and life jackets in hidden compartments. The seats were wide enough for me to lay down after an especially heinous wipeout. In my mind, we could have lived on that boat.
One time, I came home from college and my uncle and cousin wanted to take the boat out. I jumped at the chance to board our cruise liner and relive some of my youthful adventure. When it came time to board the boat, I realized something: our boat is tiny. The boat could only carry four people on the water legally. The seats were perfect for 12 year old me to lie down, but the extended version of myself could barely stretch my legs at all. I quickly came to a startling conclusion: my perception of our boat had not been entirely accurate. As a kid I didn’t have all the facts. I didn’t realize that only four people could ride in the boat at one time. My senses had deceived me. And for a long time, my memory had deceived me. The boat got bigger to me each year I was away from home. These are two different problems. Our senses may create a narrative that isn’t based in reality. We may also lose perspective on events, people, or experiences as time goes by.
We often do this. We remember things as grander than they actually were. Some of those things were great to begin with, but we embellish them to lofty heights. I recently read a comment from a Reds fan where he stated that besides 2010, Joey Votto has basically been Sean Casey as an offensive player. The commenter also stated that Tony Perez was a better hitter than Votto and insinuated that Votto’s 2010 season was a norm for Perez. Before I address these comments, I need to say a few things. All three players had great careers to varying degrees (Votto’s career still on going). All three players had and have strengths and weaknesses to their games. By examining the facts, I do not intend to belittle anyone of these great players. Let’s look at some numbers.
These numbers tell us several things. While all three players were great offensive players, Votto and Perez are and were a few steps above Casey. Casey was better than Perez at getting on base, but Perez power numbers dwarf Casey’s. Votto trumps Casey by a wide margin in both on-base ability and power. Casey’s career 109 wRC+ shows that he was a good offensive player; he just isn’t on the level of the other two.
The real comparison is between Votto and Perez. In fairness to Perez, who played long enough to have some seasons that drove his career numbers down some, I decided to take his six-year peak and compare it to Votto’s six full seasons. In the table below, Perez’s numbers are from 1970-1975; Votto’s numbers are from 2008-2013.
At their peak (which likely continues with Votto if he can stay healthy), Votto is a little bit better. wRC+ is a good indicator of how each player compared to league average in their era. To this point in his career, Votto has a 156 wRC+. Perez surpassed this number only twice in his 23 year career. Votto gets on base at a much better clip and according to SLG and ISO, he surprisingly hits for more power.
Perez was a phenomenal player. He also had a phenomenal team around him. To this point though, Votto has been a better hitter. Those who remember Perez as a great offensive force are correct, he just wasn’t as good in his peak as Votto has been. Perez had much better teammates than Votto and that might account for some selective memory. The Reds of the 1970s scored an abundance of runs. Perez was a big part of that. Votto’s Reds do not score nearly as much but not because of Votto’s efforts.
While our senses may cause us to draw faulty conclusions, the numbers tell a more complete and accurate story. Reds’ fans should celebrate what Votto has done in his career. We will likely look back at him as one of the greatest Reds’ hitters ever.
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