By Joe Sparacio
It's time for your yearly reminder that Joey Votto is more machine than man.
Well, the human side of him is revealed by his uncanny ability to troll fans of opposing teams.
Oh, and machines can't play defense this well, either.
But, at the plate, he is still a baseball-seeking robot. When discussing the top first baseman in the game, people often throw out names like Paul Goldschmidt, Miguel Cabrera and Anthony Rizzo, yet Votto has the most RBIs, home runs and second-highest batting average and OBP through one-third of the season than any of those guys. Last season, he was top-10 in homers and RBIs at the position, tops in average and tops in OBP. How about 2015? More of the same.
In fact, of all active first basemen, Votto has the highest career OBP and OPS. And to put matters into a historical perspective, Cincinnati's eighth wonder of the world is 13th all-time in OBP, right below some guys that you may have heard of like Ty Cobb, Jimmie Foxx and Tris Speaker.
How is he keeping it up? According to Statcast™, he has barreled 18 balls this season, a mark which ties him with Giancarlo Stanton and Manny Machado, and he sits just under Miguel Cabrera and Nelson Cruz in barreled-balls per plate appearance. That being said, he's not a power-first guy (in fact, his average exit velocity is rather low, down in the range of Addison Russell, Elvis Andrus and Jean Segura rather than around MLB's top sluggers). No, what Joey Votto does is make contact and own the strike zone by exercising what is undoubtedly the best eye in baseball (and possibly the best eye of all time).
Look at Votto's swing rate.
On the right is 2016 and on the left is 2017 -- his eye has arguably gotten even better! Votto has just 26 strikeouts this season compared to 36 walks and is on pace for the lowest number of K's for his career (Jeff Sullivan does a great job of getting into this even more over at Fangraphs … for some perspective, Goldschmidt and Miggy are already in the mid-30s). Could it be the case that at age 33, Votto is still peaking?
It's worth noting that Votto continues to be just as good behind in the count as he is when he is ahead.
#Reds Joey Votto is batting .364/.481/.591 after falling behind 0-2 in the count this season.- Ryan M. Spaeder (@theaceofspaeder) May 26, 2017
The Major League average in the same situation: .164/.194/.253.
No, Votto didn't always have impeccable plate discipline nor his insane confidence -- all you have to do is take a look at some of his high school footage to find proof. Yet nowadays, there is no better player at recognizing what pitches are good to hit and what pitches aren't, and you can't quite teach that. This superstar is as unique and consistent as they come ... and it doesn't look like his batteries are close to running out.
Joe Sparacio is an associate producer for Sports on Earth. Follow him on Twitter @joetsparacio.