By: Scott RossPublished: September 10, 2022

Joey Votto

In celebration of Joey Votto's thirty-ninth birthday, let's put forth the case for his enshrinement in the Baseball Hall of Fame.

Unfortunately, the man's career is coming to a bumpy close as he struggled through the his worst season ever before hanging it up in mid-August to get surgery on a torn rotator cuff (are you old enough to have torn a rotator cuff? It's agonizing, even a 50% tear, and they don't even think about surgery if it's not torn 90-95% of the way--but maybe that's just the NHS. Anyway...). Votto is signed through 2023, with a team option for 2024 that almost certainly won't be picked up. Given that the Cincinnati Reds are 25 games under .500 and with little hope for next year, it would hardly be surprising if Votto were to walk away or if the Reds were to buy him out. Alternatively, he may feel he has something to prove, we'll see.

Like this year's Reds, the 2007 Reds were going nowhere fast, so in September the club decided to give fist baseman Scott Hatteberg a little extra time off so they could take a look at Votto, who'd posted an .859 OPS in the International League, where the average was .728. Votto made the most of that September, with seven doubles, 4 homers and a .907 OPS in 89 plate appearances. The starting job at first was his the following April, and in 2008 he finished second in the National League Rookie of the Year voting, with 24 dingers, 84 ribbies and an .874 OPS.

In 2009, Votto embarked on a ten-year run during which he led the NL in walks five times and on-base percentage 7. in every season, save his injury-shortened 2014, he earned either an All Star nod or MVP votes, winning the award in 2010 (in 2017, the one season in which he led the NL in WAR, he finished second to Giancarlo Stanton in the MVP voting, though to be fair, he led in WAR by just .2, and Stanton did crush 59 bombs that year. In sum, Votto played 1400 games while hitting .312/.434/.532. During that span, he led all players (min. 3000 PA) with a .434 OBP and 1040 walks, while his .966 OPS and 159 OPS+were second only to Mike Trout, and his 56.4 WAR was third, behind only Trout and Robinson Cano.

Votto finished the 2021 season having batted .302/.417/.520 over the course of 8,128 plate appearances; in the history of the sport, the only guys with that many PAs to hit .300/.400/.500 and not make the Hall are Manny Ramirez, the most complicated PED case of them all, and Todd Helton, who accomplished the feat in the hitter's heaven that is Coor's Field. Yeah, Votto's ben bad this year, and he's dragged his BA down to .297, but still...

There are, however, a few knocks on Votto: 1) he's a sub-par defender, his 2011 Gold Glove not withstanding, with a career dWAR of -6.0; 2) he's a terrible baserunner, like, historically bad, having cost his teams 32 runs over the course of his career, the fifth-worst total of all time among non-catchers--even if you include catchers, he only "falls" to tenth-worst; 3) his playoff resume is mighty thin, as his teams went 2-9 in the postseason, while he hit just .244/.319/.244 with zero extra-base hits in 47 plate appearances.

But back to the case for him! His 5.2 WAR/162 is better than Hall-of-Fame first basemen Frank Thomas (5.1), Jim Thome (4.7), Willie McCovey (4.0), Harmon Killebrew (4.0) Orlando Cepeda (3.8), Eddie Murray (3.7) and Gil Hodges (3.4). He's fifteenth in WAR among 1Bs, and everybody eligible player ahead of him is in the Hall except for Rafael Palmeiero, who, let's be honest, probably belongs in the Hall (yeah, I don't like him either). His JAWS score (WAR * WAR from his seven best seasons) of 55.6 is twelfth; he's eighth all time with six top ten finishes in MVP balloting; his six top ten finishes in WAR is ninth. The dude has been historically great, easily exceeding the standards for HoF first basemen.

And then there's Joey Votto the man, who is the most entertaining personality in the game by a far stretch:

  • He loves to fake throwing balls to the fans, which at first seems dickish until you realize it's hilarious. He once actually scampered after a groundball foul so fans leaning over the wall wouldn't get it.
  • In response to a kid sitting in the front row who asked him for his batting gloves, he once said "You're sitting in the front row, you're elite. This isn't a 'Make A Wish' situation."
  • He once was interfered with by a fan wearing a Reds t-shirt while trying to catch a foul ball. When the ball fell to the ground, he grabbed the guys jersey and gave him a WTF sneer. The following inning he presented the fan with an apology written on a baseball.

We could go on, or you could just watch this amazing video that spans his career, and does a deep dive into how he changed as a person after suffering debilitating anxiety following the death of his father. Really, watch it, the dude's amazing.


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