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May 24, 2013

BP Unfiltered

Votto v. Phillips, The People's Case

by Colin Wyers

So, about Joey Votto. Cincinnati.com's Paul Daugherty isn't sure he endorses how Joey Votto goes about hitting baseballs:

I was going to write something today for SI.com re Votto. Specifically, that Votto represented one of the clearest cases of Old-v-New schools of thought, re hitting production. The idea was discussed when The Technician was sitting on 4 HR/20 BI. Now, he’s up to 7 and 22. Both #s are subpar for him and, in fact, for a No. 3 hitter. The obvious question being, can a guy who ranks 11th among NL 1Bs in BI be seen as having a typically good year?
 
Obviously, his new-school metrics are through the roof... OB, OPS, WAR, FBI, CIA, REM, DEA etc. He leads this world — and quite possibly, others — in walks. He’s top three last I checked, in runs.
 
Before he drove in 2 yesterday, he ranked 87th in MLB in that category. I’m not sure why, exactly, some savants consider RBI to be somewhat irrelevant these days. But, whatever.
 
The question remains, and it’s getting weaker every day: Do Votto’s new-age numbers so highly overshadow his old-school shortcomings as to make the SI piece irrelevant? I’m guessing you’ll say yes indeedy, OG.
 
So, the question is if Joey Votto's high FBI and CIA (acronym jokes never go out of style) can be justified in light of his lower RBI total. Is there a counterpoint to Votto's high-walk, low-RBI ways? There is, and Daugherty says you don't have to look far to find him!
 
INTERESTING HOW SAVANTS also so easily dismiss BP as team MVP after six weeks. They live in the world of numbers. What number measures the runs he saves? The hits he takes away, practically nightly? The outs he creates? Is there a SABRE-fact for that?
 
What’s the number for his versatility as a hitter? We know he’s money in the clutch. There is a number for that. What about his ability to bat anywhere in the top six in the lineup? Would Choo be Choo if he had to hit cleanup? Maybe. We don’t know. He hasnt been asked. Phillips has. He has aaved this team’s rear, the way he has hit. He has us asking Ryan Who?
 
If you’re going to laud the ability of Choo and Votto to score runs and get on base, why no love for BP’s ability to drive them in? Votto’s had as many chances to drive in Choo as Phillips has. More, in fact, given that he hits ahead of Phillips. Doesnt BP’s RBI prowess make Votto and Choo look good, same as their ability to get aboard makes BP’s RBI total look impressive?
 
Okay, let's talk about this.
 
Brandon Phillips has had 38 RBI batting immediately after Joey Votto in an inning (his other two RBIs were home runs to lead off an inning). This is what Joey Votto did in the previous at-bat:
 
Event Num RBI
NIBB 7 10
Out 7 8
1B 6 7
IBB 5 6
2B 3 4
K 2 3
Total 30 38

Sixteen of Brandon Phillips' RBI came immediately after a Joey Votto walk. Now let's look at times when Brandon Phillips has driven in Joey Votto himself:

Event Num RBI
NIBB 4 6
2B 2 3
1B 1 2
Total 7 11

Yep, that's right, four of the seven times Phillips has driven in Votto, it's been after a Votto walk. Twenty of his RBI have been of Zack Cozart and Shin-Soo Choo. Let's see what Votto did immediately before those RBI:

Event Num RBI Runner Adv.
1B 6 7 6
IBB 4 5 0
NIBB 3 4 5
Out 4 4 2
2B 2 3 2
Total 19 23 15

Votto is advancing the runners ahead of him when he bats, even on his walks. So why isn't Joey Votto driving in Choo and Cozart as often as Phillips is? Because Votto doesn't have Votto batting in front of him to advance those runners.

It's silly to compare RBI totals of hitters who bat behind each other in the same lineup, as one isn't independent of the other. And it's silly to treat driving in runners as a binary choice (either up or down). You can advance the runners ahead of you. You can simply avoid making outs and keep the inning alive longer for the batters behind you. You can provide baserunners yourself. Votto is doing those things, and it's making Phillips' RBI totals look better.

The other thing to note about Votto is that in order to walk, you need to see four pitches outside of the strike zone. In order to walk less, he'd have to swing at more pitches in plate appearances where he saw mostly balls. The whole reason they're balls is because they're not good pitches to hit—that's why the strike zone is where it is, to define the pitches that are good to hit. So in order to walk less, he'd have to start swinging at more bad pitches. And if he starts swinging at more bad pitches, pitchers are more likely to throw him bad pitches. It's not like he can make the pitcher forget that he's pitching to one of the best hitters in the National League and force him to throw the same number of strikes he throws to every other hitter.

I could be silly and propose something like the "sacrifice walk" where a batter refuses to swing at bad pitches to pad his RBI totals and instead sacrifices his at-bat to keep the inning going and give the batters after him a chance to drive in those runners, but I'm afraid someone would take me seriously. Instead, I just want to note that run scoring is a team effort, and the reason we savants have such low regard for the RBI is that it doesn't do a good job of recognizing the totality of a hitter's contributions to his team's run scoring, focusing on runners driven in to the exclusion of things like runners advanced and out avoidance. Joey Votto's bat is more valuable to the Reds than Brandon Phillips', and if you find a metric that says otherwise, the trouble isn't with Votto, but with the metric.

Colin Wyers is an author of Baseball Prospectus. 
Click here to see Colin's other articles. You can contact Colin by clicking here

Related Content:  Joey Votto,  Brandon Phillips,  Reds,  OBP,  Rbi

11 comments have been left for this article. (Click to hide comments)

BP Comment Quick Links

Lou Doench

You will never convince Doc of that Colin. He's heavily invested (and substantially rewarded) in his position as an old school nincompoop.

May 24, 2013 16:16 PM
rating: 1
 
RedsManRick

What amazes me is:
1) Bagging on new metrics and their abbreviations in an article essentially extolling the virtues of an acronym, RBI.
2) The assumption that RBI, because it has been used up to now, must have intrinsic value.

At no point will most writers seem to simply approach the topic from the "why should we care about RBI" perspective -- always playing defense.

May 24, 2013 17:24 PM
rating: 1
 
BP staff member Andrew Koo
BP staff

> "The idea was discussed when The Technician was sitting on 4 HR/20 BI. Now, he’s up to 7 and 22."

Votto struggles so much to accumulate RBIs that he can hit 3 home runs and only be given 2 RBIs for it.

May 24, 2013 19:37 PM
 
danteswitness

Aside from the stats, another great argument by Daugherty is that Votto doesn't produce enough for a #3 hitter. Of course, that's a Dusty Baker decision, not a Joey Votto decision. If Baker penciled him in as the #2 hitter everyday, do the complaints go away since clearly in Daugherty's mind, a player's value is calculated against the imaginary value of a spot in the lineup?

May 24, 2013 20:45 PM
rating: 0
 
OonBoon

In an FJM-less world, there was this piece, and it gave them hope

May 24, 2013 22:09 PM
rating: 3
 
dejavu78

He needs to swing at more pitches IN THE ZONE, that he lets pass while-st actively trying to draw a BB once he's ahead in the count. He's seen the 3rd most pitches in MLB. That means he's also taking a lot of strikes too. He doesn't need to start swinging at bad pitches. He would drive in more runs if, while ahead in the count, he swung at the borderline pitches that he's also taking.

May 24, 2013 22:13 PM
rating: -3
 
BP staff member Colin Wyers
BP staff

He's also first in PAs, so maybe batting in the top of the lineup and not taking a day off yet has more to do with his high rank in pitches seen than anything about his approach at the plate.

May 25, 2013 13:11 PM
 
kasgard

Aren't borderline pitches pitcher's pitches? When ahead in the count hitters should be shrinking their strike zone unless you're a Vlad Guerrero. Take, until you get something you can rake- especially when ahead in the count

May 26, 2013 10:16 AM
rating: 1
 
gweedoh565

He's one of the best hitters in baseball! He doesn't "need" to do anything at all differently!

May 26, 2013 12:42 PM
rating: 1
 
jeremydneezy

awesome article

May 25, 2013 09:43 AM
rating: 1
 
RedsManRick

The article is based on the premise that Phillips not only had more opportunities to drive in runs but that his opportunities were better because Votto was advancing his peers.

It seems logical to me to look at each type of OBI opportunity separately.

What we find is that, on average, players come to bat with a runner on 1st base 30% of the time, 2nd base 20% of the time, and 3rd base 10% of the time. Those runners are converted to runs, 6%, 16% and 36% of the time (on average) respectively.

In 2013, Phillips stands at:

On 1st: 42% | 4%, 1.6 R1_BI below average
On 2nd: 26% | 26%, 5.6 R2_BI above average
On 3rd: 12% | 63%, 7.2 R3_BI above average
Total: 11 OBI above average (145 wOBI index)

Meanwhile, for Votto:
On 1st: 30% | 1%, 3.3 R1_BI below average
On 2nd: 22% | 11%, 2.6 R2_BI belowaverage
On 3rd: 10% | 42%, 1.3 R3_BI above average
Total: 5 OBI below average (79 wOBI index)

So while we can certainly talk about the value Votto brings setting the table, both through his own being on base and improving the quality of Phillips' opportunities, we should have no problem recognizing that Phillips has certainly done a better job at converting his RBI opportunities in to RBI.

Of course, that is not to imply anything about the value of RBI, merely to suggest that Phillips has been both "lucky" and "very good" when it comes to RBI in 2013.

May 29, 2013 12:47 PM
rating: 0
 
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