Votto's MVP prospects, season analysis

Joey Votto’s 2015 Season Analysis and His MVP Prospects

By Neil Munro
Canadian Baseball Network

Now that the World Series has wrapped up, it is time to consider who the likely MVP winners will be from among the many deserving candidates. First, let’s see a quick review of the rules and guidelines provided by the BBWAA for the sportswriters who are casting ballots in the selection of the Most Valuable Players.

Voting BBWAA members assigned to the league Most Valuable Player committees are instructed, “There is no clear-cut definition of what Most Valuable means. It is up to the individual voter to decide who was the Most Valuable Player in each league to his team. The MVP need not come from a division winner or other playoff qualifier.”

“The rules of the voting remain the same as they were written on the first ballot in 1931: (1) actual value of a player to his team, that is, strength of offense and defense; (2) number of games played; (3) general character, disposition, loyalty and effort; (4) former winners are eligible; and (5) members of the committee may vote for more than one member of a team.”

The MVP committee members are also urged, “to give serious consideration to all your selections, from 1 to 10. The voters understand that a 10th-place vote can influence the outcome of an election.” They must fill in all 10 places on the ballot and they are to consider only regular-season performances. The writers must also, “Keep in mind that all players are eligible for MVP, including pitchers and designated hitters.”

Voters submit their ballots before the start of the postseason. In determining the final winner, there is a point system that is weighted by the spot on the ballot. For the MVP, a first-place vote is worth 14 points. From second to 10th, the ballot spots are worth 9-8-7-6-5-4-3-2-1 points, respectively. 

The American League winner is sure to be either the Toronto’s Josh Donaldson or Mike Trout of the Angels. It is almost guaranteed that every ballot cast will have these two players ranked first and second, and it will come down to which player receives the most all-important first place votes (and the accompanying 14 points that goes to that spot as opposed to 9 points for second). 

In the tables that follow, I have listed the most important statistical rankings to help support with the final determination. Trout has superior numbers in the more recent sophisticated analysis formulas (some of which require a computer spreadsheet to calculate). Donaldson played a very significant part in his team’s division championship while Trout’s team failed to make the playoffs. However, the writers must choose from among several deserving candidates from the Blue Jays (Jose Bautista, Edwin Encarnacion and David Price are sure to garner some support in the vote) while Trout is the only serious candidate for the award from among his Los Angeles teammates.

Donaldson had superior stats in the traditional categories of runs scored and RBIs. If the vote had taken place for these two candidates 50 years ago, Donaldson might have been a unanimous winner. Today’s more “complex” analysis statistics are supposed designed to shed a deeper light on the true merits of a player’s offensive and defensive contributions. My prediction is that Donaldson will be the MVP award winner for the AL by a narrow margin. If I were able to cast a ballot, I would vote for Trout ahead of Donaldson but it almost comes down to a coin flip here. 

On the other hand, there are several strong candidates in contention for the nod as the ultimate National League MVP winner, including Canada’s own Joey Votto of the Cincinnati Reds. I predict that the first four places in the NL vote will go to Washington’s Bryce Harper, Zack Greinke of the Dodgers, Jake Arrieta of the north side Cubs and Arizona’s Paul Goldschmidt (and probably in that order). Greinke and Arrieta were instrumental in leading their respective teams to post-season play while Harper’s and Goldschmidt’s clubs were deemed to be major disappointments in 2015. As well, there seems to be an unwritten rule adopted by some voters that a pitcher is not as valuable as an everyday performer (and besides, they have their own award – the Cy Young Memorial Award). In any case, it is very likely that Bryce Harper will be the eventual winner regardless of his team’s standing. I would personally tend to support Arrieta as the most deserving candidate from among these four.

There is no doubt in my mind that Joey Votto ought to place fifth in the vote from a purely statistical consideration. However, my guess is that the Pirates’ Andrew McCutchen will actually end up fifth in the final MVP vote. The next six or seven players to receive consideration will likely come from among Votto, L.A.’s Clayton Kershaw, Anthony Rizzo of the Cubs, Nolan Arenado of the Rockies, the Cards’ Matt Carpenter, Curtis Granderson of the Mets and the Dodgers’ Clayton Kershaw. Interestingly enough, neither the Cardinals (possessing the best regular season record among all major league clubs) nor the Mets (the NL’s World Series aspirant) have a leading MVP candidate. Yoenis Cespedes had a terrific second half with the Mets but he only appeared in 57 games for that club.

Baseball statistical analysts have struggled to determine one all-encompassing formula which definitively describes the “best” player in the league. Perhaps the current favorite among our many numerical machinations is Wins Above Replacement (or WAR). Clearly no formula actually represents the final say on the matter (which helps to keep these kinds of debate lively and speculative). For that matter, there are a couple of different WAR formulas available for this analysis. The tables below use the most frequently used of these – the one employed by Baseball-reference.com. Even this WAR fails to take several important factors that contribute to winning baseball games and truly uncovering superior batting and pitching statistics into account. The weather is one major factor that receives no consideration. Wind speed and direction, temperature and humidity have a significant impact on runs scored. Different umpires have a history of consistently making close calls in favour of either the batter or the pitcher. Batters reaching base on errors or hitting behind the runner to advance fellow teammates on the base paths are not reflected in the computations either. 

Besides the WAR, the two most respected statistics in determining batting proficiency are OPS (on-base plus slugging averages) and runs created (which is also calculated in many different ways). These are also presented in the tables that follow. The truth is probably that Harper, Goldschmidt and Votto all had superior batting performances during the 2015 season than did either Donaldson or Trout.

Four lesser-known formulas that I could have employed are base-out runs added (the ranking here, in order is Harper, Votto, Goldschmidt, Rizzo, Donaldson, Trout), Win probability added (Rizzo, Votto, Donaldson, Goldschmidt, Harper in that order), Situation wins added (Harper, Votto, Goldschmidt, Trout, Donaldson) and Offensive win percentage (Harper, Votto, Goldschmidt, Trout). As stated earlier, there is not (as yet anyway) a definitive stat that adequately considers all factors in assessing the true value of a player. The best we should do is to consider a large number of different statistics to try to form an aggregate picture. You can take your pick and select your own MVP ranking here and your list has as much merit as the official winners that will be announced in a few weeks.

As a firm believer in the maxim that you can’t have too many mathematical baseball formulas, I will add one of my own that I have been using for more than 50 years now to select my own MVP choices. I call it Total Bases Produced (or TBP). Essentially, a batter can contribute to a team’s scoring potential by having one of the following outcomes in his time at bat: a base hit (better yet if it is a double, triple or home run), a walk, a hit by pitch, a stolen base or a sacrifice (sac fly or sac bunt). I simply add all of these instances together to obtain my formula TBP = TB + BB + SB + HBP + SH + SF (where TB represents total base accumulated).

The tables below list the best TBP accumulated by players in each league in 2015, the all-time season leaders for the NL and AL, as well as the best performances every amassed by Canadian born major leaguers. The first table records the highest number of times players have led their league in TBP in MLB history. You can see that this list comprises a who’s who or the greatest batters of all-time. All are clearly top ranked Hall of Famers except Rodriguez and Pujols (still active) and Barry Bonds (whose suspected PED use has prevented his election to date). The one exception would appear to be Harry Stovey, a star player of the American Association from the 1880’s. You may want to check out his statistical profile to see what a great (and perhaps unrecognized) player he actually was.

Total Bases Produced Leaders:   TBP = TB + BB + SB + HBP + SH + SF

Number of Times Leading In Total Bases Produced (Career)
Barry Bonds 9
Ted Williams, Ty Cobb 8
Babe Ruth, Rickey Henderson 7
Hank Aaron, Honus Wagner, Lou Gehrig, Mickey Mantle 6
Willie Mays, Stan Musial, Mike Schmidt, Harry Stovey, Alex Rodriguez 5
Mel Ott, Albert Pujols 4
14 players 3

2015 AL TBP Leaders
Rank Player Team TB BB SB HBP SH SF TBP

1 Trout, M LAA 339 92 11 10 0 5 457
2. Donaldson, J TOR 352 73 6 6 2 10 449
3. Bautista, J TOR 291 110 8 5 0 8 422
4. Davis, C BAL 322 84 2 8 0 5 421
5. Machado, M BAL 318 70 20 4 2 4 418
6. Cruz, N SEA 334 59 3 5 0 1 402
7. Encarnacion, E TOR 294 77 3 9 0 10 393
8. Martinez, J DET 319 53 3 5 0 3 383
9. Altuve, J HOU 293 33 38 9 3 6 382
10. Ortiz, D BOS 292 77 0 0 0 9 378

11. Dozier, B MIN 279 61 12 7 0 8 367
12. Betts, M BOS 286 46 21 2 3 6 364
12. Fielder, P TEX 284 64 0 11 0 5 364
14. Abreu, J CWS 308 39 0 15 0 1 363
15. Eaton, A CWS 263 58 18 14 5 2 360
16. Choo, S TEX 257 76 4 15 2 5 359
17. Pujols, A LAA 289 50 5 6 0 3 353
18. Seager, K SEA 281 54 6 5 0 4 350
18. Hosmer, E KC 275 61 7 3 1 3 350
20. Morales, K KC 276 58 0 8 0 4 346
21. Cain, L KC 263 37 28 12 0 4 344

2015 NL TBP Leaders
Rank Player Team TB BB SB HBP SH SF TBP

1. Harper, B WSH 338 124 6 5 0 4 477
2. Goldschmidt, P ARI 323 118 21 2 0 7 471
3. Votto, J CIN 295 143 11 5 0 2 456
4. Rizzo, A CHC 300 78 17 30 0 7 432
5. Pollock, A ARI 303 53 39 2 0 9 406
5. McCutchen, A PIT 276 98 11 12 0 9 406
7. Arenado, N COL 354 34 2 4 0 11 405
8. Blackmon, C COL 276 46 43 13 5 4 387
9. Carpenter, M STL 290 81 4 6 0 4 385
10. Frazier, T CIN 308 44 13 7 1 7 380

11. Granderson, C NYM 265 91 11 7 0 4 378
12. Bryant, K CHC 273 77 13 9 0 5 377
13. Fowler, D CHC 245 84 20 5 2 3 359
14. Gonzalez, C COL 299 46 2 1 1 6 355
15. Gordon, D MIA 257 25 58 2 6 5 353
16. Gonzalez, A LAD 274 62 0 6 0 3 345
17. Upton, J SD 246 68 19 4 0 5 342
18. Marte, S PIT 257 27 30 19 3 5 341
19. Braun, R MIL 252 54 24 4 0 3 337
20. Posey, B SF 262 56 2 3 0 7 330
20 Bruce, J CIN 252 58 9 2 0 9 330

Played in both leagues:
Player Team TB BB SB HBP SH SF TBP

Cespedes, Y Det-NY 343 33 7 5 0 5 393

A.L. Single Season TBP Leaders
Rank Player Team TB BB SB HBP SH SF TBP

1. Babe Ruth 1921 457 145 17 4 4 NR 627
2. Babe Ruth 1923 399 170 17 4 3 NR 593
3. Lou Gehrig 1927 447 109 10 3 21 NR 590
4. Babe Ruth 1927 417 137 7 0 14 NR 575
5. Babe Ruth 1920 388 150 14 3 5 NR 560
6. Jimmie Foxx 1932 438 116 3 0 0 NR 557
7. Lou Gehrig 1930 419 101 12 3 18 NR 553
8. Babe Ruth 1924 391 142 9 4 6 NR 552
9. Babe Ruth 1930 379 136 10 1 21 NR 547
10. Lou Gehrig 1931 410 117 17 0 2 NR 546
10. Lou Gehrig 1936 403 130 3 7 3 NR 546

12. Babe Ruth 1926 365 144 11 3 10 NR 533
12. Ted Williams 1949 368 162 1 2 0 NR 533
14. Babe Ruth 1928 380 137 4 3 8 NR 532
15. Lou Gehrig 1934 409 109 9 2 0 NR 529
16. Alex Rodriguez 2007 376 95 24 21 0 9 525
17. Jimmie Foxx 1938 398 119 5 0 1 NR 523
19. Carlos Delgado 2000 378 123 0 15 0 4 520
18. Ty Cobb 1911 367 44 83 8 11 NR 513
20. Hank Greenberg 1937 397 102 8 3 2 NR 512
20 Hank Greenberg 1938 380 119 7 3 3 NR 512

(Different rules have been used to record SH and SF over the years)

N.L. Single Season TBP Leaders
Rank Player Team TB BB SB HBP HS SF TBP

1. Barry Bonds 2001 411 177 13 9 0 2 612
2. Sammy Sosa 2001 425 116 0 6 0 12 559
3. Mark McGwire 1998 383 162 1 6 0 4 556
4. Barry Bonds 2004 303 232 6 9 0 3 553
5. Hack Wilson 1930 423 105 3 1 18 NR 550
6. Rogers Hornsby 1922 450 65 17 1 15 NR 548
7. Barry Bonds 2002 322 198 9 9 0 2 540
8. Larry Walker 1997 409 78 33 14 0 4 538
9. Billy Hamilton 1894 292 128 100 9 7 NR 536
10. Barry Bonds 1993 365 126 29 2 0 7 529
10. Jeff Bagwell 1999 332 149 30 11 0 7 529

12. Todd Helton 2000 405 103 5 4 0 10 527
13. Albert Pujols 2009 374 115 16 9 0 8 522
14. Rogers Hornsby 1929 409 87 2 1 22 NR 521
15. Chuck Klein 1930 445 54 4 4 13 NR 520
16. Stan Musial 1948 429 79 7 3 1 NR 519
17. Todd Helton 2001 402 98 7 5 1 5 518
17. Chipper Jones 1999 359 126 25 2 0 6 518
19. Jeff Bagwell 1997 335 127 31 16 0 8 517
20. Barry Bonds 1996 318 151 40 1 0 6 516
21. Sammy Sosa 1998 416 73 18 1 0 5 513

Canadian Single Season Best TBP Performances
Rank Player Team TB BB SB HBP HS SF TBP

1. Larry Walker 1997 409 78 33 14 0 4 538
2. Jason Bay 2005 335 95 21 6 0 7 464
3. Joey Votto 2015 295 143 11 5 0 2 456
4. Larry Walker 2001 329 82 14 14 0 8 447
5. Joey Votto 2011 318 110 8 4 0 6 446
6. Joey Votto 2010 328 91 16 7 0 3 445
7. Tip O’Neill 1887 357 50 30 5 NR NR 442
8. Joey Votto 2013 285 135 6 4 0 6 436
9. Jason Bay 2006 303 102 11 8 0 9 433
10. Jeff Heath 1941 343 50 18 4 4 NR 419

11. Jason Bay 2009 285 94 13 9 0 4 405
12. Jason Bay 2008 301 81 10 4 0 8 404
13. Justin Morneau 2006 331 53 3 5 0 11 403
14. Justin Morneau 2008 311 76 0 3 0 10 400
15. Larry Walker 1999 311 57 11 12 0 6 397
16. Corey Koskie 2001 274 68 27 12 0 7 388
17. Larry Walker 1995 300 49 16 14 0 5 384
18. Matt Stairs 1999 283 89 2 2 0 1 377
19. Larry Walker 1998 286 64 14 4 0 2 370
20. Larry Walker 2002 287 65 6 7 0 4 369
20. Justin Morneau 2007 290 64 1 5 0 9 369

The next charts delineate the 2015 best performances in WAR, OPS and Runs Created.

2015 Wins Above Replacement (WAR) Leaders (all players including pitchers)
Rank Player Team WAR

1. Bryce Harper Washington 9.9
2. Zack Greinke Los Angeles (NL) 9.9
3. Mike Trout Los Angeles (AL) 9.4
4. Jake Arrieta Chicago (NL) 8.9
5. Josh Donaldson Toronto 8.8
6. Paul Goldschmidt Arizona 8.8
7. Joey Votto Cincinnati 7.6
8. Clayton Kershaw Los Angeles (NL) 7.6
9. Max Scherzer Washington 7.5
10. A.J. Pollock Arizona 7.4

2015 On-Base plus Slugging (OPS) Leaders (all major league batters)
Rank Player Team OPS

1. Bryce Harper Washington 1.109
2. Paul Goldschmidt Arizona 1.005
3. Joey Votto Cincinnati 1.000
4. Mike Trout Los Angeles (AL) .991
5. Miguel Cabrera Detroit .974
6. Josh Donaldson Toronto .939
7. Nelson Cruz Seattle .936
8. Edwin Encarnacion Toronto .929
9. Chris Davis Baltimore .923
10. David Ortiz Boston .913

2015 Runs Created Leaders (all major league batters)
Rank Player Team Runs Created

1. Bryce Harper Washington 161
2. Joey Votto Cincinnati 148
3. Paul Goldschmidt Arizona 146
4. Mike Trout Los Angeles (AL) 139
5. Josh Donaldson Toronto 133
6. Nelson Cruz Seattle 125
7. Anthony Rizzo Chicago (NL) 124
8. Chris Davis Baltimore 121
9. Andrew McCutchen Pittsburgh 119
10. Jose Bautista Toronto 114

Another fact in lending support to Votto’s fine 2015 campaign was his ratio of walks to strikeouts. The number of times a batter strikes out per at bat has risen dramatically over recent decades. In fact, if you look at all of the players who walked more times than struck out in 2015 (among the 142 who qualified for the  batting awards by having 502 or more plate appearances), you will see that just four make the grade. The four are listed below:

Fewer strikeouts than walks among the 142 qualifyers
Player            Team             BB     SO

Joey Votto        Cincinnati        143    135
Jose Bautista        Toronto        110    106
Michael Brantley    Cleveland          60      51
Ben Zobrist        Kansas City          62      56

Another aspect of Votto’s fine play during the 2015 season was his defensive work at first base. Votto led the NL (and all major league first basemen) in assists. This marks the fifth time that he has led the league in that fielding category. He is gradually moving up on the all-time list of first sackers in times leading in assists and the number of seasons with 100 or more assists (shown in the charts below).

If you determine the number of assists per game for first basemen, you will note that Votto has the best ratio in that category in the history of major league baseball. Indeed, he has quite a healthy lead over the runner-up, Bill Buckner by a margin of .9401 to .8688). Barring a serious injury, it is quite likely that Joey Votto will wind up as the career leader in assists for his position.

Career First Basemen Milestones - Assists
Most Times Leading In Assists
Rank Player Years Number

1. Fred Tenney 1894-1911 8
2. Cap Anson 1876-1897 7
3. Elbie Fletcher 1934-1949 6
3. George Sisler 1915-1930 6
3. Rafael Palmeiro 1986-2005 6
6. Joey Votto 2007-2015 5
6. Adrian Gonzalez 2004-2015 5
6. Vic Power 1954-1965 5
6. Bill Terry 1923-1936 5
6. Jeff Bagwell 1991-2005 5
6. Keith Hernandez 1974-1990 5
6. Fred Luderus 1909-1920 5


13. Bill Buckner 1969-1990 4
13. Jake Beckley 1888-1907 4
13. Ed Konetchy 1907-1921 4
13. Ferris Fain 1947-1955 4
13. George Stoval 1904-1915 4

 

Most Times 100 or More Assists
Rank Player Years Number

1. Jeff Bagwell 1991-2005 13
2. Eddie Murphy 1977-1997 11
3. Mark Grace 1988-2003 10
3. Keith Hernandez 1974-1990 10
3. Eric Karros 1991-2004 10
6. Adrian Gonzalez 2004-2015 9
6. George Sisler 1915-1930 9
6. Todd Helton 1997-2013 9
8. Rudy York 1934-1948 8
8. Derrek Lee 1997-2011 8

11. Joey Votto 2007-2015 7
11. Albert Pujols 2001-2015 7
11. Elbie Fletcher 1934-1949 7
11. Gil Hodges 1943-1963 7
11. Ferris Fain 1947-1955 7
11. John Olerud 1989-2005 7
11. Rafael Palmeiro 1986-2005 7

Career Assist Leaders
Games Rank Player Years Number at First

1. Eddie Murphy 1977-1997 1865 2413
2. Todd Helton 1997-2013 1726 2178
3. Jeff Bagwell 1991-2005 1704 2111
4. Keith Hernandez 1974-1990 1682 2014
5. Mark Grace 1988-2003 1665 2162
6. Rafael Palmeiro 1986-2005 1587 2139
7. George Sisler 1915-1930 1529 1971
8. Wally Joyner 1986-2001 1470 1913
9. Mickey Vernon 1939-1960 1448 2237
10. Fred McGriff 1986-2004 1447 2239
11. John Olerud 1989-2005 1418 2053

12. Albert Pujols 2001-2015 1413 1700
13. Andres Galarraga 1985-2004 1376 2106
14. Derrek Lee 1997-2011 1367 1901
15. Fred Tenney 1894-1911 1363 1810
16. Eric Karros 1991-2004 1359 1698
17. Bill Buckner 1969-1990 1351 1555
17. Chris Chambliss 1971-1988 1351 1962
19. Norm Cash 1958-1974 1317 1943
20. Jake Beckley 1888-1907 1316 2380
21. Joe Judge 1915-1934 1301 2084
22. Will Clark 1986-2000 1294 1889
23. Ed Konetchy 1907-1921 1292 2073
24. Gil Hodges 1943-1963 1281 1908
25. Adrian Gonzalez 2004-2015 1241 1577
50. Joey Votto 2007-2015 1021 1086

(Among Players with 1000 or more Assists)
Career Assists/Game Leaders
Rank Player Years per Game

1. Joey Votto 2007-2015 .9401
2. Bill Buckner 1969-1990 .8688
3. Keith Hernandez 1974-1990 .8352
4. Albert Pujols 2001-2015 .8312
5. Vic Power 1954-1965 .8267
6. Jeff Bagwell 1991-2005 .8072
7. Eric Karros 1991-2004 .8004
8. Todd Helton 1997-2013 .7925
9. Adrian Gonzalez 2004-2015 .7869
10. George Sisler 1915-1930 .7757

11. Eddie Murphy 1977-1997 .7729
12. Pete O’Brien 1982-1993 .7727
13. Mark Grace 1988-2003 .7701
14. Wally Joyner 1986-2001 .7684
15. Fred Tenney 1894-1911 .7530

Joey Votto certainly had one of his best years to date in 2015, regardless of what the final vote totals for the MVP should or will be. He just missed leading the league in on-base average (for the fifth time), losing out to Bryce Harper (.460 to .459). Votto made an incredible run at capturing this batting title as he was 72 points behind Harper at the All-Star break. He put together a 48-game streak of reaching base (via a hit or walk) between August 11th and October 2nd, during which he had an OBA of .528. Votto failed to reach base on October 3rd and thus fell just short of taking the OBA title. His .459 figure is actually better than the best mark ever posted by Larry Walker (the greatest Canadian slugger) even though Walker had the benefit of playing in Colorado at altitude. Votto’s league leading 143 walks and 319 times reaching base are new highs for all Canadian-born players and for Cincinnati players (both categories broke his respective former season bests).

Votto now ranks 14h on the all-time major league list of career OBA leaders (at .423), a figure which tops such former baseball greats like Mickey Mantle, Joe DiMaggio, Willie Mays and Stan Musial. He also leads all active players in career OBA (Miguel Cabrera is second, some 24 points behind him).

If he can avoid a serious injury, Votto should have 5 to 7 more outstanding seasons left and then wind down his career with another 3 to 5 “ordinary” years. Accordingly he should surpass Larry Walker’s best career batting marks for Canadians and possibly have a shot of election to the Baseball Hall of Fame.

Comment

Neil Munro

Neil is a retired secondary school mathematics teacher with a life-long passion for the collection and analysis of baseball statistics. A North Bay Ontario resident for almost 50 years, Neil has fuelled his interest by serving as a research consultant with STATS Inc. He was the former chair of the Records Committee of SABR – the Society for American Baseball Research. Neil assisted in the development of the complete statistical database of baseball records that is used by a number of pro and media organizations and formed the basis for the STATS Inc. All-time Major League Handbook. He has contributed innumerable essays and columns to a variety of publications including; the Bill James Baseball Abstract, Grandstand Baseball Annual and Innings, and Canada’s Baseball Newspaper. Neil’s special interest continues to be the maintenance of the records compiled by Canadians in the major league. In 1996, he authored the Canadian Players Encyclopedia, a full statistical record of all current and former major leaguers from Canada.