The Reds were awful in 2017; it wasn’t Joey Votto’s fault
Joey Votto is one of the most underrated players in baseball, and it’s due to the fact that he plays for the Cincinnati Reds. Consistently putting up .300/.400/.500 seasons like it’s nothing, it’s impossible to find a flaw in Votto’s offensive approach.
The 33-year-old finished the 2017 season with a tremendous .320/.454/.578 slash line, good for a wRC+ 65 percent above league average. He walked 19% of the time while keeping his strikeout rate below 12%. Most impressively in my opinion, Joey Votto reached base in 150 games this season.
However, just reaching base once doesn’t necessarily define a “productive game.” I define a productive game as a game in which a player had a positive WPA, or Win Probability Added.
WPA is unlike most stats like batting average, home runs, and strikeouts in that it takes into account the situation of the game for every individual PA. For example, plate appearances in 10–0 games are not weighted as much as those in a 2–2 tie, as they are less important in deciding the outcome of the game.
For example, if it’s the bottom of the ninth, with nobody on and nobody out in a tie game, a player’s team has about a 53.9% chance of winning. A single or a walk puts their odds at 56.9%, a double puts their odds at at 61.3%, and an out puts their odds at 50%. WPA looks at the difference in win probability between the end and beginning of a PA, so a player would get +.030 for a single, +.074 for a double, and -.039 for an out. These can be added like any other stat, over a game, a series, or an entire season.
So, back to a productive game. Pretty much, a productive game is a game in which a player helped his team’s chances at winning that game while on offense.
Joey Votto had 103 productive games in the 2017 season.
Play by play data became 100% available in 1969 on baseball-reference.com, and 99% available in 1958; since then we can retroactively calculate a player’s WPA in basically every single game.
Here are the leaders for productive games in a season, since 1969:
117 Barry Bonds in 2004 (MVP)
113 Barry Bonds in 2001 (MVP)
108 Jason Giambi in 2001 (MVP runner-up)
104 Barry Bonds in 2002 (MVP)
103 Wade Boggs in 1985 (fourth in MVP)
103 Joey Votto in 2017 (?)
Only four players since 1969, and likely further, have had as many games in a season in which they helped their team’s chances of winning than Joey Votto did in 2017. No one else in baseball cracked 95 this year.
My take is that Joey Votto did as much as he could, and much more, to keep the Reds in contention in 2017; the rest of the team just couldn’t help out nearly enough leading to the team’s last place finish.