This is part one of my attempt to find a true “It” factor on the Cincinnati Reds 40 man roster. Each article in the series will be posted on Sunday nights during the off-season, starting with the most ‘secure’ players as to avoid writing an article about a potential trade victim, retiree, or free agent.
Those of us who hold the Cincinnati Reds near and dear to our hearts are very fortunate to have a player like Joey Votto gracing our infield nearly every game. As most everyone reading this article knows, the Canadian born superstar hits the cover off of any slightly misplaced pitch. He’s a doubles machine, and in my opinion, has the best batter’s eye in the game today, shown by the ridiculous amount of walks he’s amassed in his career. And he gets on base with league-leading consistency. He’s gone from being an infamous recluse (that last article, by the way, is one of my favorites for all the wrong reasons. Terrible interview), to being as close as you can be to a true Cincinnatian. Not to mention he won the MVP award, which means not only is he good, but the people “in charge” think he’s good as well, which is no easy feat coming from the Queen City. The fans love him. His teammates love him. And, judging from the fat paycheck he’ll be receiving for the next decade and some change, the Cincinnati Reds love him.
And that’s all fine and good, but as I mentioned in my last article, I don’t believe it’s enough. I know he’s only 28. I know he’ll have plenty of more chances to win a ring, and I know he’ll have a very good shot at wrapping up a couple of more NL MVP awards, but I’m a huge believer in the “it” factor. And Joey Votto just doesn’t have “it”.
Don’t get me wrong. I’m very grateful that quite possibly the best hitter in baseball (with apologies to Miguel Cabrera) will probably be wearing the ‘C’ on his chest for the rest of his career. I thank my lucky stars every day that I get to watch him hit on a near daily basis during the season, and for his never quit attitude. But those numbers I mentioned earlier – doubles, walks, OBP – they aren’t sexy. They’ll win you ball games, as he’s shown on numerous occasions, but people aren’t going to be talking about his walk numbers ten years from now. The last time I remember people getting excited by a walk was when Barry Bonds was getting walked every other time he stepped to the plate. He doesn’t really hit Home Runs at an alarming rate, isn’t fast enough to set the field on fire, and doesn’t drive in a lot of runs. Okay, so that last one probably isn’t his fault.
So what sort of intangible assets does Mr. Votto deliver to the Reds? Despite not having the “it” factor, there are plenty.
While he isn’t exactly known for his health, Votto is in the lineup for a sneakily high percentage of games (through 2008 he’s been in the lineup 87% of the time, including a 2011 season in which he only missed one game.) That statistic isn’t mind-blowing by any means, but it’s just dependable enough for Reds fans to seriously miss him when he’s gone. 2012 was the first season the Reds were without Joey Votto for a significant chunk of the season. A lot of us would be willing to admit that if at the beginning of 2012 someone told us Joey Votto was to miss 50 games, we’d have lost all hope. But, as all Reds fans know, this happened. In my opinion, a lot of what happened in those 50 games was luck. I still think Votto puts up good enough numbers that, 9 seasons out of 10, the Reds falter in his absence. To go on a 10 game-winning streak without the best player on your team (and when the identity of the next best hitter in the lineup is up in the air) is nothing short of amazing. The truth is, if his knee gets better, he’ll probably (knock on wood) be around for 90% of the next ten years worth of games.
If you were to ask me two seasons ago who the Leader of the Cincinnati Reds is, I wouldn’t have had an answer for you. Sure, the 2010 team went to the Playoffs and the man of the hour won the MVP award, but in all honesty, I don’t think Joey Votto was a leader in that clubhouse. As any sports fan knows, just because you put up the stats doesn’t mean you’re a leader. I don’t think Votto contributed negatively to the locker room, but the fact that the man just didn’t speak really until 2011-2012 seasons meant he lead by example. And when you’re playing 162 games in a season, leading exclusively by example probably won’t get you very far.
The Joey Votto we see today is completely different. I think I saw him smile once this past season.
Jokes aside, I really do believe that Joey Votto is now a leader of this team. Is he the absolute top dog? Probably not yet. But you can tell he cares about his teammates, his fans, and most importantly, about winning.
I mentioned his consistency above. While the statistical categories in which he leads (or almost leads) year in and year out might not generate whispers in the streets, there’s something to be said about a guy who gets on base almost half of the time. If you step back and truly appreciate this guy’s OBP (which, lets face it, a lot of people don’t), its truly awe inspiring. Not just for us, but for the players in the farm system and on the big league squad.
He was in their shoes at one point. I remember watching a much younger Votto with the Dayton Dragons, wearing the same uniform as Donald Lutz and Billy Hamilton have worn lately. At the time you didn’t think much about him. Sure, he was a good prospect, but so many good prospects don’t pan out. Joey Votto didn’t HAVE to be anyone. Should he have wasted his time in the minors, relying solely on his physical gifts instead of the tiny nuances in his repertoire today we wouldn’t be having this discussion. Joey Votto never swings at a bad pitch. Joey Votto never pops out. Joey Votto takes every decent, outside pitch into opposite field. Joey Votto routinely picks errant throws to first base. These are things that the average baseball fan takes for granted. He might get a small cheer from the crowd for his success, but if he fails in any of those scenarios, the boos he generates are a lot louder. Just ask Drew Stubbs. Joey Votto works hard and wins a lot. If that isn’t inspiration to those young kids, I don’t know what is.
I realize now looking back on this article that maybe I was a bit harsh on number 19. When looking to point fingers at this team, there aren’t a lot of places to start, and first base certainly isn’t one of them. The truth is, Joey Votto is the best first baseman in the National League right now. Had he been healthy throughout 2012, he might have been the best in the MLB. He might not have the “it” factor that championship teams all seem to have, but he does have the consistency. And a little bit of consistency never hurt anyone.
As a side note, Billy Hamilton is fast. Real fast.