Votto-matic is listed on Joey Votto’s Baseball-Reference page, so it must be a popular nickname. But for whatever reason, I heard it for the first time on Sunday, when he hit three home runs, including a walk-off grand slam, and the Fox Sports announcers said “Votto-matic” about twice per sentence.
It was a spectacular offensive performance. He hit solo homers off Nationals starter Edwin Jackson in the first and fourth innings, the second a towering shot to straight away center field. In the eighth, he doubled and came around to score. Then in the ninth, with flame-throwing closer Henry Rodriguez on the mound, with the Reds trailing 6-5, with the bases loaded, and with two outs, Votto ended the game with another deep drive to center, the aforementioned walk-off grand slam, one of the most thrilling plays in baseball. Votto’s final line: 4-for-5 with a double, three homers, four runs scored, and six runs batted in. It was an explosive demonstration of why opponents have been so quick to pitch around Joey this season.
But because it came just a few days after former Red Josh Hamilton’s historic four-homer game, Votto’s outburst probably won’t get the national media attention it deserves. That will be just fine with quiet Joey, which is one reason I think “Votto-matic” is a perfect nickname. Put simply, Votto is, for my money, the most consistent player in the National League. Although he occasionally has a headline-producing game like Sunday’s, he usually kills you quietly, with a couple of doubles and a couple of walks. That might not always be sexy, but it’s effective. The MVP trophy might be given to players with eye-catching totals in the triple crown stats, but Votto excels in other, arguably more important ways.
For instance, Votto has led the National league in on-base percentage each of the past two seasons. (So far this year, he’s second to David Wright.) You can make a strong case that on-base percentage is the single most important statistic in baseball. Allow me to explain: Unlike football or basketball, baseball doesn’t have a clock. The goal is not to score as many runs as you can within 60 minutes. Instead, the goal is to score as many runs as possible before making 27 outs. As long as you avoid making those 27 outs, you can keep playing—and scoring. What on-base percentage measures is literally how often a player doesn’t make an out, which is the key to extending innings and games. When Joey Votto is at the plate, there is a higher percentage chance that something good will happen than with any other player in the league. That, to me, is the definition of consistency.
Votto accomplishes this, it seems to me, by exuding constant professionalism on the daily. He treats the game like what it is: his job. Yesterday’s game was a dreaded day game after a night game. Then it morphed into a night game following a three-plus-hour rain delay. If ever there was a time when a player might be tempted to mail in an at-bat or two, this was it. I don’t think it’s any coincidence that Votto had perhaps the best game of his career under those circumstances. The dude comes to play no matter what. In a way, that’s got to be intimidating for opposing pitchers, maybe even more intimidating than a huffing, puffing, home-run-smacking slugger. If you’re not on top of your game, Votto is going to beat you—because he always brings it (or nearly always; everybody has bad days).
Votto’s Terminator-like relentlessness is something that Bryce Harper could use to emulate. While his Nationals left town last night with a series victory, it wasn’t a successful weekend for the 19-year-old phenom. On Friday, Harper went 0-for-5 and injured himself when he hit a wall with his bat in frustration and the bat bounced back and hit him in the eye. He needed stitches. It was a regular Amare Stoudemire moment. After going 0-for-4 on Saturday (credit Harper for not sitting out any games with his self-inflicted wound), he rebounded to go 2-for-5 and score a pair of runs in Sunday’s game. But in the eighth inning, he made a key defensive error. With runners on second and third, Jay Bruce lifted a long fly ball to right field. It was clear as soon as the camera focused on him that Harper had no idea where the ball was. Rather than trying to run after it, he simply put his palms up at his sides, the universal signal for confusion. The ball dropped, and the Reds scored two runs.
But Harper is young, very young. With time, he’ll develop the habits required to produce consistently at the big league level. For an example of how that’s done, he would be wise to look to Joey Votto. Good news for Reds fans: They’re going to be able to watch Votto doin’ work for a long, long time.