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Friday, May 09, 2014

Keri: With Runners On Base, Joey Votto Lets Too Many Good Chances Go By

Doc Keri runs the tests.

So what’s going on here?

Leaving RBI aside, Votto’s power numbers have shrunk a lot over the past couple of years. Since his 37-homer MVP season in 2010, Votto has hit 29, 14 and 24 bombs, with just four so far this year. Using isolated power, a stat that gives a better read of a player’s pop than slugging average since it focuses only on extra-base hits, we see that Votto posted a career-low .186 IP mark last year, ranking a less-than-elite 44th among 140 qualified batters. He’s down to .169 IP this year, just the 72nd-best mark in the majors. If a hitter feels he can do less damage when he swings, he’s probably going to swing less often. Votto is one of the brainiest, most self-aware players in the game, so it’s no surprise to see him swinging less often than he has in the past, both with runners in scoring position and the rest of the time.

It’s hard to tell how aggressive Votto might be in the future, given what the numbers tell us. Go back and peruse those charts again. The two biggest drops in his swing rate (with runners in scoring position or otherwise) — and the only two times in his career that he’s been more passive than league average in RBI situations — have come in 2012 and this year.

In 2012, Votto suffered a painful knee injury, one that sapped his power dramatically until it knocked him out of the lineup for 50 games; of course he’s going to swing less often when he’s both playing in pain and not hitting the ball as hard when he makes contact. As for this year, it’s May 9. Votto has seen only 52 pitches in the strike zone with runners in scoring position, and just 36 of those were fastballs. We should probably wait until we have a larger sample of at-bats before we break out Tom Smykowski’s mat.

So yes, Daugherty’s belief that Votto has become more passive passes not only the eyeball test, but also the hard evidence test. Still, Votto doesn’t deserve this much criticism. We’re talking about a player who’s on track to reach base more than 40 percent of the time for the sixth straight season. He’s an excellent defender at first. An infield popup for him is like a Halley’s Comet sighting for the rest of us. And while he might be swinging less often than he used to, even that trend might prove to be much less pronounced than it looks right now.

Joey Votto remains one of the best all-around players on the planet, whether or not he ever makes the ghost of Hack Wilson sweat.

Repoz Posted: May 09, 2014 at 11:59 AM | 28 comment(s) Login to Bookmark
  Tags: reds, sabermetrics

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   1. attaboy Posted: May 09, 2014 at 12:26 PM (#4703485)
So yes, Daugherty’s belief that Votto has become more passive passes not only the eyeball test, but also the hard evidence test.

Guess I am not reading close enough because I thought he just proved that Votto hadn't become significantly more passive as of the writing of Daugherty's article. There was a significant uptick in 2013 Vs 2012 (and his injury in 2012 could well explain his passiveness that year). And even if you want to take 2014 into account, as he said, 36 fast balls with RISP is truly the definition of SSS.
   2. Jose Can Still Seabiscuit Posted: May 09, 2014 at 01:11 PM (#4703518)
This was really interesting. The sample size and related caveats apply but Jonah's approach to the issue was very interesting. I like that he was able to cherry pick the strikes and look at it from that angle.
   3. puck Posted: May 09, 2014 at 02:56 PM (#4703586)
It was also interesting that Trout and Bautista have generally been more reluctant to swing at strikes w/runners on than Votto.
   4. thetailor Posted: May 09, 2014 at 03:16 PM (#4703607)
Trout is a leadoff hitter and Bautista is in Canada but has generally been driving in less runs than you might expect so.. .

I know I'm a weird bird around here because I subscribe to all sabermetric stuff, read fangraphs every day, and love tango, but I want my best hitter swinging more often with a runner on second and first base open with two outs.
   5. Moeball Posted: May 09, 2014 at 03:56 PM (#4703649)
As long as they have breakdowns of "fastballs in the strike zone with runners in scoring position", I'd be curious to see the situational locations of the specific fastballs.

Not all fastballs are created equally. For one thing, some are faster than others (some pitchers throw in the upper 90s while others are only in the upper 80s). For another, what were the counts when the fastballs were thrown and what were the locations, velocities and counts on the pitches Votto was swinging at? If someone throws him an 89 mph fastball belt high down the middle on a 3-1 count, I'm guessing he's swinging at that. A 97 mph fast ball on the inside corner at the knees on a 2-1 count, however, maybe he's letting that one go if he thinks it's a much more difficult pitch to hit and there's a chance it might get called a ball for a 3-1 count.

Furthermore, as with many of the other "patient" hitters throughout baseball history (hitters who often received the same criticisms as Votto such as Williams, Bonds, Frank Thomas, etc.), Votto takes a lot of fastballs over the plate on the first pitch of an at bat. That could represent a high percentage of those "fastballs with RISP" that he's taking. A lot of times a hitter wants to get an idea of what a pitcher is throwing and takes a couple pitches right off the bat to get a better feel for it. For hitters such as the ones mentioned above - heck, throw Wade Boggs in there, too, even though he wasn't a power hitter - you'd be surprised at the number of times they start out with an 0-1 count because of taking a first pitch fastball for a strike - but still end up 3 pitches later with a 3-1 count so they can now sit on a good pitch to hit.

There could be any number of reasons why Votto swings at the ones he does and doesn't swing at the rest. Articles like this only scratch the surface of what could be going on. Given Votto's overall results, I'm inclined to think he knows what he's doing better than the rest of us do.
   6. snapper (history's 42nd greatest monster) Posted: May 09, 2014 at 04:12 PM (#4703671)
Furthermore, as with many of the other "patient" hitters throughout baseball history (hitters who often received the same criticisms as Votto such as Williams, Bonds, Frank Thomas, etc.), Votto takes a lot of fastballs over the plate on the first pitch of an at bat. That could represent a high percentage of those "fastballs with RISP" that he's taking. A lot of times a hitter wants to get an idea of what a pitcher is throwing and takes a couple pitches right off the bat to get a better feel for it.

This never made much sense to me. If you're probably taking on the first pitch, doesn't it make sense to zone "fastball over the plate", and try and crush it if you get it?

Finding out "what a pitcher is throwing" isn't worth not crushing a get-me-over fastball.
   7. thetailor Posted: May 09, 2014 at 04:33 PM (#4703686)
#6 I couldn't agree more.

#5 Your point is valid but doesn't serve to distinguish Votto from ther great hitters.
   8. BDC Posted: May 09, 2014 at 04:51 PM (#4703702)
Finding out "what a pitcher is throwing" isn't worth not crushing a get-me-over fastball

Of course, that principle isn't really about Votto. One assumes that Votto is doing what works for him.

In effect, you're saying that you'd prefer a hitter with Votto's power, but more of a free swinger. And there have been guys like that: Mike Piazza, Vlad Guerrero. There have been guys that powerful who were considerably less patient than even Guerrero, like Josh Hamilton or Sammy Sosa. And they drove in a ton of runs, that's undeniable.
   9. Spectral Posted: May 09, 2014 at 05:36 PM (#4703728)
If you're probably taking on the first pitch, doesn't it make sense to zone "fastball over the plate", and try and crush it if you get it?

Agree completely. If you were inclined to take anyway, just treat it like a 3-0 pitch that you have the green light on. The success rate on fastballs down the middle that a hitter is completely locked in on has to be fantastic, particularly when the other option is starting at a guaranteed 0-1.
   10. Yeaarrgghhhh Posted: May 09, 2014 at 06:12 PM (#4703734)
If nothing else, a hitter should swing once a while to keep the pitcher honest and force him to nibble a little on the first pitch. Taking the first pitch 100% of the time might have worked for Wade Boggs, but 99.9% of hitters aren't Wade Boggs.
   11. Walt Davis Posted: May 09, 2014 at 06:40 PM (#4703742)
C'mon folks

When he deigns to make contact with the first pitch, he's hitting 430/736 -- he's not letting fastballs down the middle go by.

In fact, for any count with less than two strikes, his worst performance is at 3-1 with 380/662.

I think the man knows the pitches to hit.

I want my best hitter swinging more often with a runner on second and first base open with two outs.

Such batters are walked in these situations. 2-outs, scoring position, firt base open, Votto has 47 IBB and 27 UIBB in 205 PA -- 36% walk rate. The rest of the time, pitchers are trying to throw on the corners because they don't care if they walk him and his performance shows it -- low BA, low SLG mostly. He does K a bit much in these situations (over 20% of non-IBB PAs)

Why suspect it is mostly due to seeing different pitches? Well, with 2 outs, runners in scoring position and first base not open he has just 19 walks, 0 intentional in 163 PA. In these situations he's hitting about 300/600.

I suspect this too is pretty common for great hitters. Bonds' was walked about 50% of the time in these scenarios (about 40% IBB) and hit a solid but un-Bondsian 280/550 (or so).

Cabrera has 555 such PA and has 136 BB, 92 intentional. He seems to hit something like 310/550 -- very close to his career numbers.

Keri's chart shows Votto becoming more selective (or less aggressive) with RISP. But his production with RISP was going up over most of that period -- peak BA in 2011, peak OBP/SLG/OPS in 2012. What's not to like? In 2013 his produciton was down substantially but it remained in line with his production the rest of the year -- i.e. whatever the "problem" was, it seems to have been systemic, not tied to RISP.

The 2014 performance obviously has some issues but it's a month. If he's still hitting 263 at the end of the year then we'll have something to talk about. Until then worst case scenario is that the current Joey Votto is Wade Boggs. You don't question the hitting approach of a guy who is, at worst, Wade Boggs.
   12. djordan Posted: May 10, 2014 at 08:27 AM (#4703932)
I enjoy checking out a player's BRS% (Baserunners Who Scored by Batter - may not be RBIs) on B-Ref. Generally speaking, when 20% of the runners on base get home from your at-bat, that is considered exceptional. Votto hit 20% in 2010, 19% in 2011, 16% in an abbreviated 2012, 12% in a full season last year and as of yesterday, he's at 9%, which is unheard of for a heart of the order batter. Anything under 14% isn't great. I've noticed something off with Votto's run production for quite awhile. Glad Jonah addressed it. http://www.baseball-reference.com/players/v/vottojo01-bat.shtml
   13. Ok, Griffey's Dunn (Nothing Iffey About Griffey) Posted: May 10, 2014 at 09:08 AM (#4703938)
as of yesterday, he's at 9%


I didn't know the 2nd spot in the order was considered "heart of the order"?

ob% by Reds, 8, 9, and 1 hitters

8 -.286
9 -.202
1 -.268

edit: The Reds #3 hitter, Brandon Phillips, only has 8rbi (even though he has Joey's .400+ ob% in front of him. Why aren't articles being written about what is wrong with his batting?
   14. Ok, Griffey's Dunn (Nothing Iffey About Griffey) Posted: May 10, 2014 at 09:27 AM (#4703942)
btw, Votto has 5 hr now. Though his walk-off last night came with no one on base, so, I guess it wasn't "clutch". :-)

edit: It wasn't a cheapie, either
   15. PASTE Thinks This Trout Kid Might Be OK (Zeth) Posted: May 10, 2014 at 10:16 AM (#4703972)
Nice mischaracterizing headline there. How about: "With Runners on Base, Joey Votto Takes a Lot of Walks and Crushes It When He Swings"?
   16. Steve Parris, Je t'aime Posted: May 10, 2014 at 06:29 PM (#4704204)
btw, Votto has 5 hr now. Though his walk-off last night came with no one on base, so, I guess it wasn't "clutch". :-)

And it came on a 3-0 pitch to lead off the 9th. Clearly, he was looking to walk.
   17. Ok, Griffey's Dunn (Nothing Iffey About Griffey) Posted: May 10, 2014 at 07:52 PM (#4704240)
6 hr now. First pitch fastball. He obviously takes too many good pitches. Leading off an inning, so, no one on again. Still not clutch!
   18. PASTE Thinks This Trout Kid Might Be OK (Zeth) Posted: May 10, 2014 at 08:02 PM (#4704245)
Right, it's totally because he's not clutch and has nothing at all to do with the fact that pitchers are willing to throw him strikes when there are no runners on base, and are not willing to throw him strikes when there are.
   19. bjhanke Posted: May 11, 2014 at 07:04 AM (#4704321)
I just had my gall bladder removed, so I'm not exactly at my best, but I sure agree with what I think Walt was saying there (which may not be what Walt was actually saying). Basically, swinging at pitches you would normally take just because there are RISP is another way of giving your opponent some free outs. OK, they're going to walk you a lot. They did that to Ted Williams. The result was that people like Vern Stephens and Jackie Jensen drove in a lot of runs. If anything, swinging at "situational" pitches is its own form of "playing for one run", although it's more like "playing for all or nothing." I doubt seriously that this helps your team, except in situations where your team HAS to play for one run, and you're happy to hit a sac fly or deep grounder. Take your walk, don't disrupt your batting eye for the next month, and wait for the inevitable result of OBP to play itself out. You're not going to win every game. Play to win MORE games than you would otherwise. - Brock
   20. Lassus Posted: May 11, 2014 at 07:50 AM (#4704323)
In effect, you're saying that you'd prefer a hitter with Votto's power, but more of a free swinger. And there have been guys like that: Mike Piazza, Vlad Guerrero.

I know I'm behind, but wasn't Piazza known for taking first pitches all the time?
   21. BDC Posted: May 11, 2014 at 08:51 AM (#4704330)
I know I'm behind, but wasn't Piazza known for taking first pitches all the time?

Good question. Piazza and Votto (so far) both swung at 12% of first pitches – Guerrero, by comparison, swung at 20%. But Piazza's walk rate was 10%, closer to Guerrero's (8%) than Votto's (15% so far).
   22. RMc's desperate, often sordid world Posted: May 11, 2014 at 09:24 AM (#4704343)
Get well soon, Brock!
   23. Harveys Wallbangers Posted: May 11, 2014 at 10:39 AM (#4704370)
the reds are 12th in the nl in runs scored. the ops plus is a bit better but in the ballpark the reds should be in the top four in scoring runs if they have a legitimately good offense

but with bruce out, the apparent acceptance of a weak hitting middle infield and what looks to be a subpar bench cincy may need their pitchers to be outstanding all season to stay up with the pirates and cards.

   24. Harveys Wallbangers Posted: May 11, 2014 at 10:40 AM (#4704372)
and no, no mention of the brewers. if i mention them i will have ten know it alls telling me excruciating detail why the brewers will still lose 90 games and i am an idiot for suggesting otherwise so why bother?
   25. DL from MN Posted: May 11, 2014 at 10:56 AM (#4704386)
I've seen this same article in Minnesota but they replaced Votto's name with Joe Mauer. These guys have a plan and are executing it well or they wouldn't get the results they have.
   26. PASTE Thinks This Trout Kid Might Be OK (Zeth) Posted: May 11, 2014 at 01:56 PM (#4704482)
I was very down on the Brewers going into the season, but projecting them to lose 90 games now is pretty crazy. If they play at a 100 loss pace the rest of the year they'll finish 71-91. They aren't THAT bad, at least not relative to their division. Put them in the AL East and yeah, they would probably lose 90.

I still don't take the Brewers seriously as contenders; I see them more like the frontrunner in a horse race, setting a fast pace out of the gate but likely to fade back into the pack later. I still expect St. Louis to run away with the division with the Reds, Pirates and Brewers all around 80 wins and distantly behind, with the Cubs nowhere in sight.

I might be unduly high on the Reds and Pirates, though. Neither team can score any runs.
   27. Harveys Wallbangers Posted: May 11, 2014 at 03:53 PM (#4704543)
zeth

what folks are overlooking is that the brewers defense is pretty good. since the pitchers are now pounding the strike zone versus nibbling the end result is run prevention i believe is sustainable.

look, i get that the dave camerons and rob neyers don't want to think that a defense with jean segura and scooter gennett up the middle can be anything helpful. but through almost 40 games the results are there and it 'looks' pretty good

   28. Harveys Wallbangers Posted: May 11, 2014 at 03:57 PM (#4704544)
for anyone curious as to how that happened it's pretty basic:

--replaced the train wreck combo of yuni/francisco with the competent and actually pretty solid overbay/reynolds at first base
--segura has gotten a hair better
--gennett makes the routine plays which compared to rickie weeks is an uptick
--khris davis has not been kevin reimer
--lucroy and maldonado are very good
--carlos gomez is awesome

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