Cincinatti Reds first baseman Joey Votto made some enemies in Philadelphia in May of 2016 when he pretended to throw a ball to a fan at the conclusion of an inning. Instead of throwing the ball to a young fan, Votto, who had been heckled for much of the game, kept the ball. Ultimately, Hall of Fame third baseman Mike Schmidt signed a ball for the young fan, and Votto admitted after the game that he enjoyed playing in front of an “energized bunch” at Citizens Bank Park and was just messing around.
Regardless of where you fall on Votto as a character, if you exclude Hall of Famer Barry Larkin, Votto is almost certainly the best Red since the Big Red Machine, which included Hall of Famers Joe Morgan, Johnny Bench and Tony Perez, along with Pete Rose, who would be a statistical lock for Cooperstown if not for extenuating circumstances. That gives you a pretty good idea of how dominant of a career that Votto, 35, has had.
Votto is still owed $107 million after 2019, so it’s not as though his career is close to concluding. But after finishing runner-up in the National League MVP race in 2017, Votto regressed to hitting just 12 home runs in 2018, the least he had hit in any season in his career other than 2012, when he was limited to just 111 games. Votto still managed to hit .284 and post a 3.5 fWAR in 2018, but it was a rather swift decline after he slashed .320/.454/.578 with 36 home runs, 100 RBIs and a 6.5 fWAR in 2017.
In 2019, Votto’s offensive production has continued to dip. Votto did hit a first inning home run in Friday night’s Phillies victory over the Reds, but he’s hitting just north of .250 with only five home runs and 12 RBIs. It’s safe to say that whatever Hall of Fame case Votto may have when his career concludes, a bulk of it has already been written. And what’s been written thus far speaks very well to the former second-round pick at least being worthy of serious consideration.
In 1,632 career games, Votto is slashing .309/.424/.524 with 274 home runs, 909 RBIs and a .948 OPS. Votto is a six-time All-Star that has led the league in doubles and slugging percentage once, OPS and OPS+ twice, walks five times and on-base percentage seven times. In 2010, Votto won the National League MVP while slashing .324/.424/.600 with 37 home runs, 113 RBIs, 91 walks, a 1.024 OPS and a 6.9 fWAR. 2010 was one of three times in Votto’s career that he’s finished in the top three in National League MVP voting, with six finishes in the top 10 in his career.
If Votto’s career ended today, some of his advanced metrics would be on par or above the average Hall of Fame first baseman. Votto has a 58.9 career bWAR, which puts him on track to match or top the 66.8 bWAR that the average Hall of Fame first baseman has. His WAR7, which takes a player’s top seven individual WAR totals, is 46.0, which already tops the 42.7 average WAR7 of a Hall of Fame first baseman. Votto has a 52.4 JAWS – if you don’t know, here’s a full explanation of what JAWS encompasses – which is just shy of the 54.8 average fWAR of a Hall of Fame first baseman.
What will work against Votto’s Hall of Fame case? At least right now, he falls considerably short in the Hall of Fame career standards test and the black ink test, which some voters value in evaluating Hall of Fame cases because they are on the bottom of each player’s Baseball Reference page.
Probably more importantly, Todd Helton, who has a similar Hall of Fame case to Votto, received just 16.5 percent of the vote in 2019, his first year on the Hall of Fame ballot. Votto, who currently has 1,782 career hits, stands very little chance of matching Helton’s 2,519 career hits, and will probably finish in the neighborhood of Helton’s 369 career home runs. The difference, perhaps, is that Helton often hit in the shadow of other stars – at least in the minds of some – like Larry Walker, Vinny Castilla, Dante Bichette, Matt Holliday and Troy Tulowitzki. Votto has unquestionably been the most notable Red during his time with the team. Also, silly as it may be given how much of a hitter’s park Great American Ball Park is, Votto doesn’t have the Coors Field stigma working against him that Helton does.
Assuming he plays out the rest of his contract, it will be around a decade until Votto first appears on the Hall of Fame ballot. It may be another decade until his fate is decided. Sunday afternoon, though, Votto will take the field at Citizens Bank Park and likely be serenaded with boos. But as Hall of Famer Reggie Jackson once said, “they don’t boo nobodies.” And Hall of Famers? Fans go out of their way to boo them.
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