Joey Votto and the Mystery of the Silver Slugger

A warm welcome to ‘Baseball Brit’, Joey Mellows…

With the 2017 season now in the books, fans of baseball have an agonising wait before Thursday March 29th when all 30 teams start their hopeful 2018 campaigns. In the mean-time there is still plenty to whet the appetite of the earnest supporter as a buffet of awards are served up in November with the Hall of Fame winners to be announced in January.

Thus far we have already been treated to two entrées that reward outstanding play at each position in both the American and National League:

  • The Rawlings Gold Glove award for outstanding defensive performance
  • The Silver Slugger Award for best offensive player

The focus for this article will be the Silver Slugger Award and particularly on the controversy surrounding the decision to overlook NL MVP candidate Joey Votto in favour of Paul Goldschmidt at first base in the National League. I present the case for Votto, who has never won the award, below:

Who were the Silver Slugger Award winners for 2017? The Paul Goldschmidt Conundrum.

American League Position National League
Gary Sanchez (Yankees) CATCHER Buster Posey (Giants)
Eric Hosmer (Royals) FIRST BASE Paul Goldschmidt (D’backs)
Jose Altuve (Astros) SECOND BASE Daniel Murphy (Nationals)
Jose Ramirez (Indians) THIRD BASE Nolan Arenado (Rockies)
Francesco Lindor (Indians) SHORTSTOP Corey Seager (Dodgers)
Aaron Judge (Yankees) OUTFIELD Giancarlo Stanton (Marlins)
Justin Upton (Angels) OUTFIELD Marcell Ozuna (Marlins)
George Springer (Astros) OUTFIELD Charlie Blackmon (Rockies)
Nelson Cruz (Mariners) DH (AL) / PITCHER (NL) Adam Wainwright (Cardinals)

Analysis: A quick flick over the names listed above shouldn’t raise too many eyebrows. Many of MLB’s best hitters are listed including all three of the AL MVP candidates in Jose Altuve, Aaron Judge and Jose Ramirez. However, on closer inspection, only two of the NL MVP candidates are included with Giancarlo Stanton and Paul Goldschmidt. Votto is nowhere to be seen. Is he simply guilty of playing at first base – a position that is stacked with power hitters? Or is there something more to this?

What is the statistical case for Joey Votto? The 6-2-1 argument.

BA OBP SLUG OPS SB RBI HR OPS+ WAR
Goldschmidt .297 .404 .563 .966 18 120 36 140 5.8
Votto .320 .454 .578 1.032 5 100 36 168 7.5

Analysis: The statistics are taken from Baseball Reference and show the main offensive categories for the 2017 season. I have highlighted the winner of each category match-up and Votto beats Goldschmidt by 6-2 with 1 tied. Unless stolen bases and RBIs are valued much more highly than all other categories there appears little here to support the case for Goldschmidt. So who exactly is deciding that the Diamondbacks hitter is more deserving?

Who votes for the Silver Slugger Award? The ‘Old Baseball’ argument for Goldschmidt

The coaches and managers of Major League Baseball (MLB) have voted for the award at each position since 1980, although they are not allowed to vote for players on their own team.

Analysis: The coaches and managers are clearly valuing something about Goldschmidt that is not clear from the summarised statistical evidence. Perhaps their day to day work at MLB ballparks has led to a more subjective analysis of his intangibles. Maybe he is a better team-mate, a ‘good club house’ guy in comparison to Votto. However, this seems unlikely. Votto appears to be held in high esteem from those within Reds organisation and even went so far as to buy team-mate Zack Cozart a donkey when he made the all-star team this past season. Has Goldschmidt ever done this? Neigh.

‘I saw that gif of Koufax and Mister Ed, figured it couldn’t be that hard.’
AB SB RBI HR
Goldschmidt 558 18 120 36
Votto 559 5 100 36

Perhaps the counting statistics are still being preferred to the advanced sabermetrics of OPS+ and WAR. Goldschmidt did beat Votto in stolen bases (18 vs 5), runs batted in (120 vs 100), and achieved the same number of homeruns (36 each) despite having one less at bat (558 to Votto’s 559).

The ‘Tougher Division = Tougher At-Bats’ argument for Goldschmidt

There are still a number of baseball managers, journalists and fans who believe that pressurised at-bats, when a player’s team is chasing a play-off berth, equate to a greater achievement when the batter is consistently able to get hits. Certainly Paul Goldschmidt’s Arizona Diamondbacks played in a division of the National League (West) that had three strong teams compared to Votto and the 94-loss Cincinnati Reds (Central). Goldschmidt may well have faced a stronger average tier of pitchers from within his division than Votto and contributed more to his team’s success.

Analysis: The Silver Slugger Award recognises individual offensive performance. Team position or win-loss record should not be a contributing factor, although strength of schedule and quality of pitcher faced may help distinguish one hitter over another if batting statistics are very similar.

The Joey Votto is not an American argument

This has been mentioned as a possible contributing factor on Twitter. Votto is Canadian and Goldschmidt is American. Would the MLB and the managers/coaches want to reward one of their own more than a foreigner?

Analysis: I would think not. This is the weakest argument outlined thus far – but the decision to award Goldschmidt with his third award has led to this type of thinking among some fans. Votto has never won the award despite leading the league in OBP in six of his eleven MLB seasons.

Conclusion:

  • Joey Votto should have won the NL Silver Slugger Award for 1B over Paul Goldschmidt – although both had excellent seasons.
    • Votto’s higher BA, OBP, SLUG, OPS, OPS+ and WAR are more significant than Goldschmidt’s higher SB and RBIs.
  • Greater clarity is needed to outline what the award actually celebrates.
    • ‘Silver Slugger’ suggests slugging is important – Votto’s .578 beats Goldschmidt’s .563
  • More transparency is needed in how votes are collected
    • The MLB needs to explain to fans the methodology and voting process that takes place along with the number of managers and coaches who have voted
  • Using Votto vs Goldschmidt as an example, it appears that managers and coaches prefer simple counting statistics and intangibles to more advanced statistics such as OPS+ and WAR

What are your thoughts?

Feel free to disagree and join the discussion with @batflips_nerds on Twitter

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