The popular issue among the Reds community this week has been the “Joey Votto doesn’t get paid to walk” argument. (Dusty’s lineup decisions have a much-needed week off.) Fans and media alike have chimed in on either side. Enquirer columnist Paul Daugherty wrote the other day that walks and high on-base percentage aren’t enough from your 3-hole hitting, $250 million MVP. Those in the sabermetric club, such as Doc’s colleague C. Trent Rosecrans and Fox Sports Ohio statistician Joel Luckhaupt, both favor the aspect of merely getting on base by any means when it comes to Votto’s stat lines. Fans, naturally, are divided as well, and it’s not as if there aren’t points of merit regarding either viewpoint.
Statistically speaking, yes, Votto walking is a good thing. As Luckhaupt argued earlier this week in one of his tweets, the Reds are ultimately paying Votto to get on base, which he is clearly doing just fine so far in 2013. And while I too think it’s a tad ridiculous to complain about a player who is leading the league in on-base percentage, there are some legitimate quibbles that can be made with his stats in the very early going. His slugging percentage is down around league average, and he has only three extra base hits and three RBIs for the year. Regardless of how high his OBP stretches, it’s not unreasonable to want a little more from the guy on the books for a quarter of a billion bucks.
In any event, I tend to side with the idea that as long as Votto is getting on base, he’s doing his job. But I’m also intrigued by the fact that those who feel differently are, in a sense, wanting Votto to swing at bad pitches. Yes, it’s only been 15 games, but as of this Thursday afternoon, Votto has actually seen MORE balls than strikes at the plate this season, which is absolutely preposterous. Out of 315 total pitches thrown to the Reds first baseman, 157 have been strikes, with the remaining 158 deemed outside the zone (44 more than the trio of hitters tied with the next highest number, 114). Votto’s Zone% (percentage of pitches within the strike zone) is only 40.6 percent, near the lowest in the league. His O-Swing% (outside-the-zone swing rate) is at 13 percent and overall Swing% is at 31 percent, second in the league to only Lucas Duda of the Mets on both counts (12.7 percent and 29.9 percent, respectively). This essentially means that Votto is A) not seeing all that many pitches in the strike zone, and in turn B) being extremely selective with the pitches he does swing at—which is exactly what he should do. If he is seeing so few “good” pitches (and he’s truly seen fewer strikes than balls, according to the umpires), then he better be walking and getting on base at a high clip. There’s a reason his BB% is literally off the charts. The man isn’t getting much to hit. Would you rather him take bad pitches and draw walks, or take more chances swinging at those same bad pitches and hope it pays off? The latter seems like a pretty foolish gamble.
Ultimately, it may prove to be much ado about nothing. There are still 147 games remaining on the schedule, and Votto has publicly labeled himself a “slow starter” for the month of April. Heck, he’s even ahead of his pace through an equal number of games last season. Come summer, this could very well be a distant memory. But for now, if you’re wishing Votto would take the bat off his shoulder more when he steps to the plate, you’d be wise to direct your anger at the guys pitching to him instead.