Joey Votto or Adrian Gonzalez?

According to MockDraftCentral’s latest 5X5 Average Draft Position rankings, two National League first baseman sit back-to-back at spots 30 and 31. Both lefty batters are fresh off monstrous 2009 seasons, with one posting the third-best wOBA in the majors at first base, and the other ranking sixth at the position.

Cincinnati’s Joey Votto and San Diego’s Adrian Gonzalez seem to be valued about equally by fantasy players. Which one is the better bet headed into 2010?

Votto, 26, followed up a quality rookie season in 2008 (.373 wOBA) with a scorching sophomore campaign, trailing only a pair of Princes (Albert and Fielder) in wOBA with a .418 mark. Cincy’s second-round pick in the 2002 draft boosted his walk rate (from 10 percent to 12.9 percent) and his Isolated Power (.209 to .245), bashing all pitch types in the process.

While Votto is well-established as a premium offensive player, he will likely regress somewhat next year: his BABIP was .372. That number figures to fall back to the .340-.350 range, according to projection systems:

Votto’s projected 2010 BABIP

CHONE: .342
Bill James: .344
Marcel: .347
The Fans: .350

That would make Votto more of a .300-type hitter, as opposed to the .320+ guy we saw last season. A less extreme BABIP would result in a still-excellent wOBA in the .390’s (with the Bill James system forecasting a higher mark):

Votto’s projected 2010 wOBA

Marcel: .390
CHONE: .392
The Fans: .400
Bill James: .407

Gonzalez, meanwhile, mashed to the tune of a .402 wOBA in 2009. His walk rate and ISO improved each season from 2006-2008, but they skyrocketed this past year:

The 27 year-old drew ball four in 17.5 percent of his plate appearances last season (career 11 BB%), with a .274 ISO (career .225 ISO).

Of course, the pink elephant in the room when comparing Votto and Gonzalez is environment. Votto takes his cuts at Great American Ballpark (three-year park factor of 105 according to the 2010 Bill James Handbook, with a HR park factor of 125). Gonzalez must confront Petco Park, which ravages offensive performance (three-year park factor of 76, with a HR park factor of 73).

Enter wRC+. The stat takes a hitter’s wOBA and adjusts it based on park and league factors, setting it on a scale where 100 is average and above 100 is above-average. On a context-neutral basis, Gonzalez edged out Votto in 2008. This past year, they were essentially equals:

Votto: 126 wRC+
Gonzalez:135 wRC+

Votto: 157 wRC+
Gonzalez: 158 wRC+

While wRC+ is a very useful metric in evaluating players in a context-neutral manner, we do have to give Votto some additional fantasy points and dock Gonzalez because of the drastic difference in home venues. Here are Gonzalez’s 2010 projected wOBAs:

Marcel: .376
CHONE: .383
Bill James: .383
The Fans: .395

Though Votto’s lofty BABIP and Gonzalez’s massive spikes in walk rate and ISO portend to some regression to the mean, both figure to be excellent first base options again next season. You can’t go wrong either way. But if I had a choice between the two, I would select Votto on the basis of his friendlier confines.

What do you think? Who’s the better option, Votto or Gonzalez?

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A recent graduate of Duquesne University, David Golebiewski is a contributing writer for Fangraphs, The Pittsburgh Sports Report and Baseball Analytics. His work for Inside Edge Scouting Services has appeared on and, and he was a fantasy baseball columnist for Rotoworld from 2009-2010. He recently contributed an article on Mike Stanton's slugging to The Hardball Times Annual 2012. Contact David at and check out his work at Journalist For Hire.

12 Responses to “Joey Votto or Adrian Gonzalez?”

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  1. The A Team says:

    Maybe my projections are a little off, but when I strip R and RBI out of the equation (one of my leagues is a saber-points league), Joey Votto challenges for 2nd best 1b. Adrian Gonzalez is clearly still behind the usual suspects in Prince, Tex and Howard.

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    • The A Team says:

      Of course that’s all non-park adjusted, fantasy purposes only stuff. I have Votto’s BABIP regression mostly offset by a small boost in power.

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  2. Nate says:

    How about in a keeper league? Votto for youth or Gonzo for the team he’ll be traded to?

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    • DurfdaSmurf says:

      The probability that Gonzo is traded to the Red Sox is what points me towards Gonzo, he’d be a beast at the end of the year headed into fantasy playoffs!

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      • cavebird says:

        I agree with this. Where the players currently are, they are very close to equal, with maybe a slight edge to Votto for upside. However, given the very real possibility that Gonzalez spends a good portion of 2010 with a team other than the Padres (and a trade pretty much anywhere has to help his value) gives him the advantage to me.

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  3. Cary Brister says:

    I would take Votto but if Gonzalez endeds up in Boston He will be a teal for what ever price you get him

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    • Pat says:

      Yeah, but what if he goes to Shea? Not a huge drawback, but certainly worse than Fenway (although the stats didn’t show that last year) and the GAP that Votto gets to rake at…

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  4. Resolution says:

    Votto also has the potential to steal around 10 bags or so. He hasn’t shown it at the major league level but in the minors he was a 20-20 type of guy.

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  5. darwin says:

    i second the SBs argument. also, votto could be in a statistical climb, while gonzo may have peaked.

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  6. Hollywood McMoon says:

    I guess what I am wondering about here is whether the spike in Gonzalez’s walk rate and ISO had anything to do with:
    a) He wasn’t seeing many pitches to hit in the zone with runners on because he was the only guy on the Padres who could beat you. Part of the evidence I’m seeing is that his O-Swing% dropped dramatically and I assume it is because he knew he was being pitched around;
    b) He spent a substantial amount of time hitting with nobody on base, which meant he was going to see a higher percentage of fastballs (62.6%) than most other middle of the order hitters (ie: Votto-56.2%, Fielder-55.5%, Teixeira-55%, M. Cabrera-56.6%, Longoria-54.4%).

    With that said, I think Gonzalez has tons of talent, but I feel like what we saw last season was as good as it gets for him in PETCO…I’d love to see him elsewhere just to see what the numbers would look like for a full season outside of that black hole.

    By the way, two other percentages of fastballs seen I found interesting:
    Chase Utley-60.6%
    Ryan Howard-44.8% (down 6.4% from last season)

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  7. sen-baldacci says:

    I know they are trying alonso in the OF to give him room to move to the majors, but isn’t Votto better suited long term for the OF because of his speed? Does anyone else see Votto in the OF come 2012 or so?

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