Joey Votto Went 0-for-0 With Five Walks

In Sunday’s game against the Pirates, Joey Votto batted five times, without recording an official at-bat. He drew five walks, none of which were intentional. It wasn’t actually the only time Votto has drawn five walks in a game in his career. It wasn’t actually the only time a player has drawn five walks in a game this season. And it didn’t actually tie a single-game walk record, thanks to Jimmie Foxx. Five walks in five trips is rare and notable. This, though — this is what really put the Votto game over the top.

Joey Votto batted five times and walked five times while drawing 43 pitches. Now, most articles don’t want to begin by comparing some current player to D’Angelo Jimenez. That’s not exactly a one-way ticket to Traffictopia. But pitch-by-pitch data has existed for nearly three decades. Votto just equaled a modern-day record while notching a four-digit OBP. For this one day, more than any other, Joey Votto was exhausting.

He wasn’t perfect. We’ll get to that. Votto had an imperfect game, and a perfect OBP. Primarily, he was exhausting, and maybe you can just get that from the 43 pitches in five plate appearances. That’s a whole lot of action, but to put it another way, I timed all the Votto plate appearances beginning around when he stepped into the box, and the end result I found is 18 minutes and 24 seconds. For 18 and a half minutes, Joey Votto was the active batter, meaning he took nearly as long as a network sitcom. To be a batter for that long, for that many pitches, requires an awful lot of work and concentration. And in the end, Votto didn’t technically *do* anything. None of his plate appearances ended with a swing. Of course, that glosses over so many details.

Here you can see the whole entire pitch map. If there’s one thing I don’t need to tell you about Votto, it’s that he’s selective. You learn all about his eye in the first couple weeks of Votto 101, and in the plot, you see that he was able to refrain from chasing.

You could say that Votto went out of the zone, but then, only by an inch or two, in defensive situations. And sometimes those pitches get called strikes. There’s what the strike zone is supposed to be, and there’s what the strike zone actually is. Votto, like any hitter, needs to react to the effective zone, as it were. Sunday, Votto was as disciplined as ever. Each trip to the plate ended with a non-swing, but those successful non-swings were earned. That’s how this typically goes.

Let’s break it out, looking at each Votto plate appearance in order, as shown by Gameday.

Joey Votto is the league leader in walks. His first time up, the count went to 0-and-1. Votto is the league leader in walks after the count goes to 0-and-1. His second time up, the count went to 0-and-2. Votto is the league leader in walks after the count goes to 0-and-2. His third time up, the count went to 1-and-2. Votto is the league leader in walks after the count goes to 1-and-2. His fourth time up, the count went to 2-and-2. Votto is the league leader in walks after the count goes to 2-and-2. And his fifth time up, the count went to 3-and-2. Votto is the league leader in walks after the count goes to 3-and-2.

If you just look at Votto’s surface numbers, his talent comes across. He’s so good that there’s not really any feasible way of hiding it. And if you want to understand Votto’s eye, you can just look at how he swings inside and outside of the zone. That’ll get you most of the way there. It works. But to gain the fullest possible understanding, you need to break things down. You need to look at, say, count splits, like in the previous paragraph. To continue with that, ultimately, all five of Votto’s plate appearances on Sunday went to a full count. Full counts are tricky. There’s not a lot of margin for error. There’s great reward for any ball, but there’s also a significant penalty for a strike, swinging or taken. This year, 166 different players have batted in a full count at least 50 times. In those situations, Votto has a 50% walk rate, and a 12% strikeout rate. His K-BB%, therefore, is -38%. That’s the best in baseball by almost seven percentage points. The league average is -7%. When discipline really matters, Votto remains ever the outlier.

I said earlier that Votto had an imperfect game. Here’s what I mean by that. You can’t do what Votto did, for as many pitches as Votto did it, without taking swings. Some of those swings were failures. Here’s one.

Here’s another.

Votto, I’m sure, would’ve liked to make contact. Those are balls he wanted to put in play. One of the old and stupid criticisms of Votto is that, too often, he goes up there planning to walk. Nobody plans to walk. You can’t just make five walks happen. You have to earn them, and unless you’re facing particularly wild pitchers, you have to swing the bat. Votto did swing, several times. None of those swings resulted in a ball in play. Not even, say, this one.

There’s an anecdote that’s a few years old saying that, as a major leaguer, Votto has pulled exactly one foul ball into the stands. I don’t know if it’s still true, and I don’t know if it was ever true, but it used to be one of those things. One of those Joey Votto fun facts people would toss around from time to time, when there was nothing else better to discuss. This is not a pulled foul ball, into the stands. But this is close. This is nearly as close as Votto gets. It’s because his bat control is unbelievable.

How is it unbelievable? How has Votto, this year, managed to trim his strikeout rate another five points? A big part of it, naturally, is his eye, but then there’s also the extent to which Votto chokes up. Try to imagine Bryce Harper looking like this.

With a shortened bat, Votto can fight off a pitch like this.

He can fight off a pitch like this.

He can catch himself before he fully commits to a pitch like this.

In one sense, Votto made a number of little mistakes, extending plate appearances without a ball in play. But this is where you can find the true genius of a given Joey Votto trip to the plate. No batter is perfect, and no batter can aspire to be anything even close to perfect. You can’t always take perfect swings, and you can’t always make perfect decisions. But Votto gives away opportunities less often than just about anyone else. He knows he’s not out until there’s a third strike recorded, and he makes that third strike almost impossible. Yeah, he likes hits. Loves home runs. Everyone does. Most pitches don’t turn into hits or home runs. Votto always has getting on base in the back of his mind. If he misses a pitch, so be it; a foul or a whiff before the third strike isn’t the end of anything. Everyone’s always thirsty for a line drive, but Votto knows how to appreciate an 11-pitch walk.

The Reds lost to the Pirates on Sunday, and they scored two runs. Maybe there are people out there who’d still prefer that Votto swing with more aggressiveness. It’s hard to drive in any runs with a base on balls. But one needs to remember that the goal isn’t to drive in runs. The goal is to try to win the baseball game. By win probability added, Votto just had his seventh-best game of the year. It’s not his fault Adam Duvall had his own second-worst. Don’t blame Joey Votto for the rest of the Reds. There’s almost literally nothing else he could do.

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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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ChippersJonesing
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ChippersJonesing

So, first, it’s awesome that we have an entire article sppreciating this for what it is, ie that it is something worth being appreciated!

Secondly, and it’s really not that relevant (I’m curious though, damn it), but an 0-0 5 walk game has to be more rare, than a 5-5 game, right? I’ll go to the Play Index, but I’m sure someone else already knows.

ChippersJonesing
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ChippersJonesing

I don’t think Play Index is working for me, so that sucks.

hurricanexyz
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hurricanexyz

5 hits in 5 plate appearances: 300 times since 1996
5 walks in 5 plate appearances: 37 times since 1919

hurricanexyz
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hurricanexyz

Interestingly, this is actually a less stark disparity than you might expect. This year in the National League (just for a convenient point of reference, the details are unimportant), about 8.6% of all plate appearances end in walks, while 22.7% of all plate appearances end in hits. That suggests that five plate appearances would all end in hits one time in about 1650, while they would all end in walks one time in about 215,000. That’s more than a 100:1 ratio, so 300 five-hit games since 1996 should imply about 3 five-walk games since 1996. But there have been 16 of them. That’s… not even close to proportional.

Similarly it turns out the complete number of 5-for-5 games going back to 1913 (the same timescale as the 37 five-walk games, there appear to have been none of those 1913-’18) is 1146, when it should be more like 4000 according to these probabilities. These disparities actually suggest something more like a league BB% of 10% and a league H% of 20%, both of which are I think very much not correct.

I don’t really know what to make of that. Maybe players vary more in their likelihood of drawing walks (and/or of issuing walks)? One way or another it kind of looks like walks are more prone to clumping than base hits.

tFunk1106
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tFunk1106

The league wide walk rate might be 8.6% but Votto’s career walk rate is 16.2%.
The odds of 5 consecutive Votto plate appearances ending in a walk are about 1:9000, much greater than your league-wide 1:215,000.

So, in a sense, it was only a matter of time before Votto had a 0-0 5 BB masterpiece.

Gregory
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Gregory

This is his second time too. He had one in 2013 against the mets.

CliffH
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CliffH

“Maybe players vary more in their likelihood of drawing walks”

Isn’t this obviously true? Most players cluster around .300 BABIP with a range up to maybe .360 for a handful of players (alternatively, .260 BA up to maybe .350), but using that average of 8.6% BB, you have players with a walk rate 15-20%, about twice as high.

hurricanexyz
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hurricanexyz

Actually now that I think about it, it’s not just that the absolute differences between players’ walk rates are bigger. The ratios are much bigger! A player who walks 10% of the time walks twice as often as one who walks 5% of the time, but someone who gets a hit 30% of the time is only 20% more likely to get a hit than someone who gets a hit 25% of the time. And raising everything to the fifth power will magnify those ratio disparities; the 10% guy is 32 times more likely to draw five straight walks than the 5% guy, while the 30% guy is just 2.5 times more likely to go 5-5 than the 25% guy. So yeah, it’s definitely not at all surprising that 5-walk games are more common than they “should be” given the league-wide walk rates.

tz's new account
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tz's new account

Also, in any given game, you might be more likely to face a pitcher who can’t find the plate. Doesn’t that up the odds?

ChippersJonesing
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ChippersJonesing

You’re a cool guy, hurricanexyz, thank you!