Cincinnati Reds first baseman Joey Votto is just 30 years old, a former National League MVP, and owner of one of the longest and richest contracts in Major League Baseball history. Despite his accolades and relative youth, though, Votto is already running out of time to put together the kind of career numbers that will someday land him in the Hall of Fame. Don’t believe it? Let’s take a stroll through the statistics to see what the future might hold for the Reds’ slugger.
According to Baseball-Reference.com, Votto’s career through age 29 most closely matches that of Matt Holliday, followed by Mo Vaughn, Jason Giambi, David Ortiz, and Lance Berkman. Those guys are, or were, all superstar players in their primes, but only Big Papi looks to have much of a Hall of Fame chance at this point. More troubling for Votto and Reds fans is the type of player this list represents: heavy, lead-footed sluggers who tend to drop off the table quickly. It may be surprising to find the cerebral and fit Votto in this company until you look at his recent trends.
Counting his MVP award year in 2010, Votto has played in 150, 161, 110, 162, and 61 (out of 85) games over the past five seasons, a camel-back pattern that further suggests he won’t hold up well physically as he ages. He continues to battle left knee and quad issues this season that leave his day-to-day status up in the air. Beyond mere games played, Votto’s power has diminished steadily over that same span, with his slugging percentage plummeting from .600 in 2010 to .438 so far in 2014. His stolen bases have similarly evaporated, leaving on-base ability and the ever-nebulous leadership qualities as his only hedges against the ravages of time.
At this moment, Joey Votto has 1055 hits, 163 home runs, and a contract that runs through 2023. Only that long-term noose around the organization’s neck is likely to keep the Reds running Votto out to first base as he enters his decline phase in earnest over the next few years, and even regular playing time won’t be enough to get him into the Hall if he doesn’t turn his fortunes around soon.
As a slugging first baseman, Votto probably needs at least another 240 homers to merit serious Cooperstown consideration. As a singles hitter, he’s still 2000 hits shy of any meaningful plateau. The calendar tells us that neither milestone is likely, and Votto’s best days are almost surely behind him. His one hope at stanching the bloodletting we’re witnessing in his stat line might be a trade to the AL, where he could settle in to a DH role, a la Ortiz.
For Joey Votto and the Cincinnati Reds, though, and for their fans, it’s already later than we might have thought.