If you haven't realized what Joey Votto is doing, take a second to go check out his Baseball Reference page.
Impressed? Thought so. The Cincinnati Reds first baseman is terrorizing opposing pitchers and making the game look far too easy. The thing is, the game isn't easy. Hitting 90-mph sliders and fastballs with movement coming in at even higher velocities is a damn hard way to make a living.
Don't bother telling that to Votto, though. There's being locked in and then there's whatever Votto's been feeling. You could say he's having a good summer. And for some reason, maybe because he's not overly flashy, doesn't have gaudy home run and RBI totals—although he'll flirt with a 30-100 campaign—and plays for a franchise that's become one of the worst in baseball the last two seasons, it doesn't feel like Votto's truly special season is getting the recognition it deserves. It's time that changes.
- Player A: .297/.397/.575, .408 wOBA, 170 wRC+, 6.9 WAR
- Player B: .304/.372/.589, .406 wOBA, 161 wRC+, 7.6 WAR
- Player C: .331/.464/.627, .456 wOBA, 194 wRC+, 7.7 WAR
- Player D: .316/.457/.567, .436 wOBA, 178 wRC+, 6.5 WAR
The first two are A) Mike Trout and B) Josh Donaldson, the two American League MVP frontrunners. Player C is Bryce Harper. Player D is Joseph Daniel Votto.
Votto should be at the forefront of the National League MVP debate, at least in terms of who should be the runner-up to Harper—the 22-year-old who has finally had the monster breakout we've all been waiting for. Maybe voters will punish Harper for playing on a team that's increasingly looking like it won't make the postseason, but that won't do anything to help Votto's case as he plays for a club that sits in last place at 22 games under .500. If anything, the door might be opened to Dodgers pitchers Zack Greinke and Clayton Kershaw or perennial MVP candidate Andrew McCutchen.
Sure, players like McCutchen and Harper add more defensive and baserunning value than Votto—which is far from nothing—but hitting is what typically receives the most attention. And besides Harper, and even Miguel Cabrera (in far fewer games), no one in baseball has hit better than Votto this season.
Votto's .457 on-base percentage is second only to Harper. And being second to Harper is going to soon be like finishing second to Trout—it's expected. There's nothing wrong with it.
Votto is one of five qualified players with a .400-plus OBP this season. There were three in 2014, a year in which Votto was injured and limited to 62 games. A knee issue that required surgery zapped his power and ended his season in July, but he still posted a .390 OBP.
In 2013, seven players, including Votto, had a .400-plus OBP. There were four in 2012; Votto didn't qualify but posted a mark of .474 in 111 games. Six players, including Votto, reached that number in 2011; seven, led by Votto's MLB-best mark of. 424, did so in 2010, and 12 in 2009 when Votto had his first .300/.400/.500 season.
Sensing a pattern? Votto is an on-base machine. If the point of the game is to get on base, he's been doing it better than anyone in baseball since breaking into the league in 2007 as a 23-year-old. With great on-base prowess usually comes incredible plate discipline. And no player swings at fewer pitches outside of the strike zone than Votto—an elite hitter who uses all fields to beat the enemy.
He's the active career on-base percentage leader. In fact, he's the only player in baseball today to have a minimum of 3000 plate appearances and a career .400-plus OBP. He ranks 17th on the all-time list, ahead of Hall of Famers like Mickey Mantle, Frank Thomas, Wade Boggs and Rickey Henderson. Ahead of great offensive players such as Edgar Martinez and Jeff Bagwell. The only name ahead of Votto on the all-time leaderboard who played recently is Barry Bonds, arguably the greatest to ever step on a baseball field.
During the second half, there's been no one on Votto's level.
He's hitting .399/.576/.748 with a walk rate a shade under 30 percent entering play Friday. His weighted on-base average is .542—for reference point, the full-season leader is Harper at .456—and his weighted runs created plus is 250. In other words, he's offensively been 150 percent better than league average in the second half. That's not a misprint.
If those numbers seem Bonds-esque, it's because they are.
Here are some numbers to chew on, courtesy of Reds beat writer Trent Rosecrans of the Cincinnati Enquirer: Votto's 1.325 OPS in the second half is the fourth-highest ever (minimum 200 plate appearances). The only players who top that? Bonds, Ted Williams and some guy by the name of Babe Ruth. His .576 second half OBP is the seventh-best ever in any half. Only Bonds and Williams are ahead of him.
Yet, somehow, Votto still feels like he flies under the radar despite posting numbers you'd struggle to match with your self-created character in MLB The Show.
Appreciate what the 31-year-old is doing now because sooner or later we'll be talking about how much a financial burden he is to the Reds when he's front and center on slideshows debating the worst contracts in the game. The Reds owe him close to $200 million and will be paying him into his 40s.
Of course the baseball world recognizes Votto's exceptional talent. He won the 2010 NL MVP award, finished second in Rookie of the Year voting in 2008 and is a four-time All-Star. But it still doesn't feel like enough. Votto deserves more. Votto is one of the five best hitters on the planet and is arguably having the greatest season of his career. Posting the numbers he's doing in this offensive environment, when pitchers are dominating the game, makes it that much more impressive.
He's special, a full-fledged superstar. He's the best player to come out of Canada since Larry Walker. And he's going to go down as one of the best Reds players in franchise history.
Take a minute to watch Votto before the season is up because what he's accomplished, particularly post All-Star Game, is not something you'll see often.
When you reflect on your fun summer of going to stadiums and having cold beers on sunny afternoons, enjoying long weekends, trips around the world, and soaking in the cottage life, just remember: Joey Votto had a better summer than you. Historically better.