Let's talk about Joey Votto. Not about his salary. Not about whether the Reds would be better off either trading him somewhere else (with his approval, of course), or using some of Bob Castellini's money to build a time machine to go back and not sign him to a contract extension. Not about whether he walks too much, or why its either funny or not funny when he's a dick to paying customers.
Let's talk about his Hall of Fame candidacy.
Yes, Joey Votto, who's still an active player, with no end to his career in sight, and whose talents are criminally underappreciated by some and downright mocked by others. Let's talk about his chances of getting into the Hall of Fame.
Not the Reds Hall of Fame. Not the Canadian Baseball Hall of Fame. Not the Losing Your Shit At Umpires Hall of Fame. THE Hall of Fame.
Because I think Joey Votto is going to be a Hall of Famer.
But first, let me be clear.
Joey Votto is not a Hall of Famer right now. If his career ended today, we wouldn't be making reservations for those quaint overpriced bed and breakfasts they have in Cooperstown. His body of work, while very impressive, is also very unfinished.
What got me thinking of this was this year's Hall of Fame class, specifically Tim Raines and Jeff Bagwell, for a couple of different reasons.
First off, when you look at their considerable statistical totals, you see some impressive bodies of work. Raines was arguably the second-best leadoff hitter of all-time, a base-stealing menace who, for an awesome seven-year stretch, reached base almost 40 percent of the time during an era when - even for table-setters - a high on-base percentage wasn't nearly valued as it is today. Bagwell was among the premiere offensive forces in the game for a decade, and during his prime, he was a lock to play nearly every game Astros teams that were usually pretty good - and sometimes, much better than that.
What you don't see are the milestones that we traditionally look for when assessing a player's Hall worthiness. Neither finished their careers with 3,000 hits. Bagwell's slugging prowess didn't get him to the 500 home run mark. While we've had players recently go into the Hall based, in part at least, on their ability to reach certain marks - Craig Biggio's case seemed to be largely built on him accumulating 3,000 hits, it feels like there's a shift away from certain automatic statistical qualifiers and more toward a deeper, more nuanced look into how good a player was, and how their numbers reflect how good they were.
Joey Votto is not a good bet to reach the 3,000 hit mark, and unless they move the Moon Deck at GABP to right behind the infield dirt, he ain't hitting 500 home runs, but without getting too geeky and projecting what his year-by-year numbers will be for the remainder of his career, I'll say that there's a good chance he ends up with somewhere between 2500 and 2750 hits, and, I don't know, somewhere between 350 and 375 homers.
More on those unscientific estimates in a bit. Those totals, though, should matter, and they always will. But what Joey Votto does best is get on base. His career OBP is .425 is good enough for 12th-highest of all-time. Of the 11 players who reached base more frequently, nine have plaques in Cooperstown, another - Barry Bonds - will have his soon (sorry, he's going to be a Hall of Famer, as he should be), and the other is a guy named Billy Joyce who played in the 1890s , and who probably would be in the Hall of Fame if he didn't quit playing baseball to go into the hotel business after playing just eight seasons (don't ask me how I know that).
But what does that have to do with Tim Raines?
Well, I was reading this piece done by Jayson Stark of ESPN about Raines' election to the Hall, and a couple of things stood out that made me think of Joey Votto. Stark sums up how good Raines was at reaching base....
Among players who started their career after World War II and got at least 4,000 plate appearances as a leadoff man, Raines is one of just four players with an OBP of .385 or better. The others: Wade Boggs, Henderson and Richie Ashburn -- all Hall of Famers.
Over the seven seasons from 1981 to 1987, Raines led the National League in singles, doubles, triples and walks. In other words, he was so good at reaching base, he led his league in pretty much every way it's possible to "reach base."
And what seals it for many voters is the list of slam-dunk Hall of Famers who got on base fewer times than Raines did: Lou Brock, Roberto Clemente, Roberto Alomar, Ernie Banks, Mike Schmidt and Tony Gwynn. Just to name a half-dozen.
You get the point. Tim Raines was a complete offensive player (and a below-average defender), a very good hitter who was exceptionally proficient at swiping bags, but his most definable trait was his ability to get on base, and that ability is appreciated more than ever, both within the game and by people who watch it.
And especially by people who cover it.
Which takes us to the important part.
The Hall of Fame's electorate is changing. It's newest voters are mostly younger voters, people who've covered the game as advanced analytics have gone from the domain of a few geeky stat-heads to an every day part of how baseball is played, managed, covered, broadcast, written about, and discussed. On-base-percentage has been a part of players' statistical portfolio for decades, but it's value and worth have never been truly appreciated to the extent that it is now, especially by younger fans and younger baseball writers.
You know, the kind of baseball writers who helped Tim Raines go from getting just 22.6 percent of the vote in 2009 to more than 85 percent this year. From Jayson Stark....
You know what changed most dramatically during Raines' 10 years on the ballot? Not the player being voted on, obviously. It was the makeup of the group doing the voting.
As the electorate got younger, Raines' support got bigger. Go figure.
"You'd think the older voters would have been more inclined to vote for Tim Raines," Keri said. "But what ended up happening was, he has the youthful demographic behind him."
The truth is, the makeup of both the BBWAA and the pool of eligible voters has undergone a profound makeover in recent years: Fewer old-school newspaper writers, more new-age writers from the web and sabermetric community. And most significantly of all, more than 100 writers lost their right to vote because of another Hall rule change that lopped off older writers who hadn't "actively covered" baseball in more than a decade.
So what has that meant for Raines in particular? Turned out he was the ultimate new-school kind of guy.
It was writers from that old school who looked at a candidate like him and didn't see those good old magic numbers that had fueled so many of their votes. But as those voters were replaced by that "youthful demographic," Raines' credentials were suddenly viewed through a whole different, Moneyball-era lens.
"Growing up, I loved Rickey Henderson and always admired Raines as sort of Rickey Lite," said ESPN's Scott Lauber, who cast his first Hall of Fame vote just last year and began voting for Raines immediately. "Then, when I became a Hall voter, I dug deeper into his numbers and discovered he was much, much more than that. In particular, the .385 career OBP stood out to me."
Is there any doubt that this sport and the people who cover it value on-base skills much more reverently now than they did a decade ago?
Joey Votto's production has been a big topic of radio show's I've hosted for years now. Aside from talking about Andy Dalton and AJ McCarron, there probably hasn't been a more talked-about Cincinnati sports figure over the past four or five years that's moved the meter, and generated good, solid debates than Joey. When I think about all the calls I've taken about Joey over the years, I think about how opinions of him are split among a generational line. There are exceptions, of course, but it feels like those who call me to yell and scream about Joey skew a little older while those who rush to defend him tend to be younger.
A lot has been written about the things that Marty Brennaman says about Joey Votto. Marty has forgotten more about baseball than all of us, and when he talks about anything related to the Cincinnati Reds, he's speaking from an informed, knowledgeable place, but, well, he's also speaking from the perspective of someone who's in his mid-70s.
As the makeup of the Hall of Fame's electorate changes, there will be more and more people who look at Joey through a different lens than someone from Marty's generation.
Let's get back to Joey before I make Marty mad....
Logic and common sense dictate that Joey will soon enter the stage of his career that see a decline in both skills and production. He's going to be 34 years-old by the end of this upcoming season, and it's very fair to wonder if the best of Joey Votto is behind us. If his production does start to drop in 2017, we can at least look back on a seven-year stretch from 2010-2016 that saw Joey accumulate a slash line of .314/.435(!)/.536 while averaging 24 homers - 29.6 during the five years among those seven he was healthy - while winning an MVP, finishing in the top seven of the voting four other times, earning a Gold Glove, and being THE best in baseball at the increasingly-appreciated art of getting on base. What he's done to this point has been damn good.
Almost every Hall of Famer has a peak stretch run where they put up big numbers, but nearly all of them then had a run when they were past their prime but were still able to compile totals, and a few of them stuck around too long for the sake of achieving some sort of individual milestone even though their skills had diminished to the point where they were truly bad players. One such guy has more hits than anyone.
I don't know how long Joey will play for - he's currently under contact to the Reds until 2023 - when he'll turn 40 - with a team option for 2024. He'll make $25 million annually for the remainder of the guaranteed years of his deal starting in 2018. Assuming he's still at least somewhat productive - remember, he did say last year that he'd rather quit than struggle - and barring any sort of injury that would prematurely end his career, I'll guess that Joey won't leave that kind of cash on the table.
He has the time - and the talent - to compile. He's coming off a 2016 that saw him endure the worst two-month stretch of his career, and he still post remarkable numbers, including the second-highest single-season totals for both hits and home runs, and even though he was around .200 in late-May, he still posted his second-highest batting average for a season. Even if he's not quite as good this coming season, chances are good that he'll put up numbers that don't represent that steep a departure from what he did last season, and even if age does start to takes its toll soon, it seems like we're a long way away from Joey Votto not being one of the better hitters in the game.
About a year ago, after the announcement of Ken Griffey Junior's Hall of Fame election Grant Freking of Redleg Nation blogged about the possibility of Joey Votto eventually being worth of a call from the Hall, and he compared Votto's pre-2016 stats to those of the average Hall of Famer, and he also took a look at where Joey ranked all-time in a number of categories, as well as how he stacked out compared to other first basemen who had at least 4,500 plate appearances. A year later, he's in better standing among both groups, inching closer in the categories where totals are accumulated (home runs, hits, etc.) and moving up in the categories where percentage and frequency are tallied (OPS, on-base-percentage, etc.).
Now, let's say he plays out the remaining years on his contract. He'd have credit for 18 seasons - which right now is the career length of the average Hall of Famer. Can Joey - who's averaged 178 hits a season in every non-injury-shortened season since 2010 - average of 150 per year between now and the end of 2024?
Can he hit 20 homers per season for those remaining eight years?
Can he drive in an average of 75 runs (I'm being conservative on purpose) through 2024?
I think so.
Can average 80 runs scored per season?
Can he post an average annual WAR of 3.0 over the next eight years? I mean, I have no idea how that's calculated, so I'm not completely comfortable saying yes, but, uh, yeah, sure.
If he can attain each of those statistical averages for the next eight seasons, Joey Votto will have 200 more hits, nearly 160 more homers, more than 100 more RBI, and almost 80 more runs scored than the average Hall of Fame player. He'd have a higher WAR than all but two first baseman since World War II, more home runs than Tony Perez, more RBI than Orlando Cepeda, and he'd have 2,607 career hits, which on the all-time list would put him just ahead of....
Would he have achieved the kind of accumulative milestones we've typically used as barometers of greatness? No. But if what's going to make voters possibly put a check next to Joey's name in 203? is how immensely good he was in areas that are becoming more and more appreciated, then I doubt that what he was merely really, really good at will offset the things he excelled at.
Injuries could screw all of this up - they've already basically robbed him of one full season of his prime - and I've seen more than a few guys who I thought could hold off Father Time for a long time succumb to him sooner than expected. But Joey's best attributes - the ability to work counts, patience at the plate, a genius-level understanding of the strike zone - age pretty very well. He doesn't play a very physically demanding position, and say whatever you want about him, but he does take his craft very seriously, and I'll bet that he becomes even more studious, ensuring that he makes up mentally for whatever he loses physically.
It's easy to look at a player's Hall of Fame potential solely through the filter of "what's he done so far", or even "what did he do." Minds change. Opinions evolve. Priorities shift. We've seen players get in on their final appearance on the ballot, and the way that guys like Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens have had their vote totals increase is just one indication of the transformation of the Hall of Fame electorate, both among voters who've done an about-face, and those who are just now getting their say.
For years now, Joey Votto has often been described as being in the center of baseball's ongoing push-pull between "old school" and "new school" ways of thinking. That debate is probably not going away any time soon, but whether it's good for the game or not (and by the way, it is), newer ways of thinking are really becoming not so new anymore. Joey Votto is going to make an induction speech in upstate New York years from now, in large part because by the time he's up for election, we will have shifted even more toward the direction that baseball, and those who cover it, are going in now.
I just hope he mentions Marty in his speech.