OBP is life. Life is OBP. It has been a fundamental tenet -- maybe the fundamental tenet -- of the statistical revolution that has taken over baseball over the past two decades, the easiest thing for even the most RBI-obsessed "traditionalist" to understand. To win games, you have to score runs. To score runs, you have to get on base. Simple. The battle between pitcher and batter is the most elemental aspect of the game. The hitter is trying to get on base. The pitcher is trying to get him out. Who wins? Getting on base is the most valuable thing a hitter can do. It's what makes the sport work.
Giancarlo Stanton hits home runs like no one in a decade, maybe ever. Clayton Kershaw is Sandy Koufax. Mike Trout may be the best all-around baseball player since Mickey Mantle. But no one is as good at getting on base -- the most baseball-y thing there is -- than Joey Votto.
On Wednesday night against the Cubs, Votto had the chance to tie a Ted Williams record that's so impressive it's a little strange most baseball fans have never heard of it. If Votto got on base twice, it would have been the 21st consecutive game he had done that, which hasn't been done since Williams did it in 1948. (Two other players, Barry Bonds in 2004 and Pete Rose in 1979, stopped at 20.) Votto ended up going 1-for-4 with no walks, so he just missed tying up Williams. Which is a shame, because Votto deserves a record to call his own. He is one of the greatest players of the past decade, better at the most important part of the sport than anyone else, and he has basically been ignored. Votto jersey isn't one of the top 20 best-selling ones. He finished fifth in National League All-Star voting this year.
We are sleeping on one of the best baseball players we have ever seen. Maybe getting Votto a record to call his own one day will help us stop.
So let's go through some Joey Votto facts.
- Votto not only leads the Majors in on-base percentage this year (.448) and walks (98), but also OPS (1.048).
- Since July 26, when the streak started, he has an OBP of .611.
- Votto hasn't missed a game all season.
- He's six homers away from his all-time high.
- Votto's MLB-leading .448 OBP? That's only the third highest of his career.
- He is first among active hitters in OBP, at .427. You know this great year Bryce Harper is having? His OBP is lower than Votto's career OBP.
Votto is, in fact, on an all-time OBP pace. He is currently 12th all-time in career OBP, and if you ignore people who played before the year 1900, he's ninth. Mantle, Stan Musial, Wade Boggs … all behind Votto. And the number is climbing. A .611 OBP over one month will do that.
Also, remember those other three players with 20-game streaks of reaching base? Williams, Rose and Bonds. All great players, but also perhaps three of the most polarizing players in the history of the sport. People hated those guys. Many still do.
But nobody hates Votto. He's so fun!
Here's Votto on Monday night, continuing his tradition of goofing around with Cubs fans by throwing souvenirs all the way out of Wrigley Field.
Joey: Let's find a Reds fan to give this to.- Cincinnati Reds (@Reds) August 15, 2017
Inner Joey: THROW IT OUT OF THE STADIUM pic.twitter.com/HUnDw7owHI
There's Votto fulfilling his promise to buy teammate Zack Cosart a donkey as a reward for making the All-Star team.
And, of course, there is his amusing Players Weekend jersey, "Tokki 2," which is a years-long joke between him and Shin-Soo Choo.
Votto is an all-time great. He has a super fun personality. He plays every day. Votto gets teams so scared they add an outfielder against him and he still gets a double. Why don't we love him more?
The answer probably lies, alas, in Votto's team. The Cincinnati Reds have had some success since he came up in 2007, making the playoffs in '10, '12 and '13. But they never won a series -- and it's worth noting that Votto struggled in all three postseasons -- and they haven't been a contending MLB franchise in several years now. Votto signed a 12-year, $251 million contract before the 2012 season (there's actually a club option for '24), which has locked him into a small market for his entire career. (He has of course overperformed his salary every year of the contract so far.) If you aren't specifically trying to pay attention to the Reds -- and why would you? -- you have had little reason to notice Votto.
Votto is also the sort of player whose skills, even in a statistically enlightened age, tend to get overlooked. He doesn't hit 480-foot homers or make acrobatic diving catches. Votto just plays every day, gets on base all the time and does his job. Walking may help your team win, but it is not the most exciting thing to watch. This has even led, more in the past than now, for Reds fans (and, oddly, Reds broadcasters) to criticize Votto for walking too much rather than "being aggressive," as if swinging at bad pitches is somehow a smarter, more "manly" thing to do. That has abated as Votto has become the team's only star, but then again, it has also happened at the time when it is least urgent to watch Cincinnati.
The Reds still have a long way to go to be competitive in the NL Central -- they're the only team not in the race right now -- but they have made it clear that he's not going anywhere. (Votto could veto a trade anyway.) So if we're going to appreciate Mr. Votto, we're not going to be able to wait until some big October moment to do it. One of the greatest baseball players of our generation is out there, playing every day, being goofy and having fun, and we're looking right past him. We cannot celebrate him enough.
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