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Cabrera vs. Votto as a No. 3 hitter

Updated on August 27, 2013

Sometimes announcers – many who are former Major League players – make statements that mystify. The other night, listening to the ESPN broadcast of the Cardinals-Reds game, the announcers discussed Joey Votto and whether he should swing at more pitches to try to drive in more runs.

The reason for the discussion is that Votto takes a lot of pitches and draws a lot of walks. In fact, he leads the majors through Aug. 26 with 101 walks.

Off the wall argument

As you probably know if you’ve followed any of the sabermetrics discussions the past few years, walks and on base percentage are the gold standard for many people. They’ve been undervalued for years, they claim, in favor of such arbitrary statistics as RBIs and batting average.

I will leave that for another discussion. I am not opposed to batters drawing walks or sabermetrics. But sometimes the arguments can become a bit off the wall.

During the discussion of Votto one of the broadcast team – I believe it was Rick Sutcliffe – said, “Votto’s been on base more than Miguel Cabrera.”

The rest of the broadcast team let that hang without a challenge, the implication being that this made Votto as valuable or perhaps more valuable than Cabrera. After all, he’s getting on base more.

Comparing Votto and Cabrera

The statement that Votto has been on base more than Cabrera is true, but barely. Through Aug. 26, Votto had reached base via hit, walk and hit by pitch 255 times. Cabrera had reached base 250 times. That is not a great difference and is no difference at all when you consider that Votto has played in nine more games and has 34 more plate appearances. In fact, Cabrera’s on base percentage of .450 is significantly higher than Votto’s .418.

But times on base is the only place where there’s even the slightest bit of comparison between the two. While Votto has walked 25 more times than Cabrera, he has also struck out 33 more times. Both make contact 79 percent of the time when they swing, but Votto has more than twice as many called third strikes (33 to 16).

Cabrera has 20 more hits and scored eight more runs than Votto. He has more than twice as many homers (43 to 20) and RBIs (130 to 61).

Of course, the Reds and Tigers are two different types of teams. Perhaps Cabrera’s big RBI numbers are more a result of luck than skill. But it’s not. While it’s true that Cabrera has come to the plate with more runners on base than Votto has, 387 to 348, he’s also been far superior at getting those runners across the plate.

With Cabrera at the plate, nearly a quarter of the runners have scored (88, or 23 percent). Meanwhile, barely an eighth of the runners scored with Votto at the plate (45 or 13 percent).

The value of Cabrera's swings

Could Cabrera walk more? Of course, although his 76 walks are hardly the sign of a free swinger (it ranks fifth in the majors). But he is such a good hitter that he can do a lot of damage with pitches out of the strike zone. In one recent series against the Yankees, he hit two home runs on pitches that I’m sure Votto would not have offered on.

One, from Mariano Rivera, was low on the outside part of the plate and Cabrera crushed it over the centerfield wall for a homer that tied the game. The other, a pitch from Phil Hughes, was a good six inches inside but Cabrera whipped the bat through and lined a homer to left.

Could he taken those pitches and maybe drawn a walk? Probably. Was it more valuable to Detroit that he swing at those pitches? Absolutely.

Walks don't equate to driving in runs

The broadcasters, after their brief discussion, decided it was better to leave Votto alone in his approach. Perhaps that is best, but it seems they are batting him in the wrong spot in the order if that’s the case. Votto is an excellent player, and his batting eye is marvelous. But for anyone to imply - especially people who are supposed to be knowledgeable about the game - that Votto’s walks are on par with the contributions of Cabrera is asinine.

Walks are great, but from the No. 3 hitter in the order, I’ll take the three-run homer any day.

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    • Richard Rowell profile image

      Richard Rowell 

      5 years ago from Brockton, Massachusetts

      Joey Votto is an excellent ballplayer, but Cabrera as a hitter is in a league all to himself. Votto does draw tons of walks, but Cabrera hits for a lot more power. Votto is just fine the way he is - and I think trying to compare him to Cabrera is just silly... Then again, we're talking about ESPN announcers... Great article!

    • lions44 profile image

      CJ Kelly 

      5 years ago from Auburn, WA

      Great article. Voted up.

      I'd take Cabrera. While I acknowledge that he is helped by hitting in front of Fielder, Miguel is still the better hitter. He faces tougher pitching than Votto. High quality starters go deeper in the AL.

      The ESPN "analysts" are a joke. I know they want to keep their jobs, but say something of value. I even had high hopes for Hershiser, and he's let me down. Forget about Sutcliffe and Kruk. Maybe Schilling will actually be honest and analyze, but don't hold your breath.

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