It’s a fun time for basketball. The 2016 Major League Baseball season, for example, has elements that both feel like yesterday and that have long since faded from memory.
The Chicago Cubs won the world championship that year, for example, and it’s still hard to go a day without running in comparison to it every day. On the other hand, Mark Trumbo led the game with 47 homers that season, and that name is somewhere between Wally Joyner and Corey Koskie in my brain archives.
Cincinnati Reds fans, 2016 bridges both ends of that spectrum. It was a miserable season overall, where the team was stuck in a rebuild and gradually losing game after game. They ended up losing 94 of them, finished last in their division, lost the last 51 big league games of their PA career to Jordan Pacheco, and started the sizzle-fizzle clock on Robert Stephenson’s prospect. Ross Ohlendorf has many saves, Homer Bailey returned from one of his injuries to log a huge 65 ERA+ in 23.0 IP, and Tyler Holt – Tyler Holt! – set up camp.
It was the most extensive oblivion. Joey Votto, thank God, was not.
For the freedom around him to be spat and undermined (at first) Votto’s excellence burned itself into all memories. His second-half save remains one of baseball’s greatest stretches of his generation, and it led to him finally finishing the season with an NL-best 160 OPS+.
How much more worthy is that kind of Cincinnati lore?
He didn’t make the all-star game, you know. He was hitting just .252/.386/.446 with 14 doubles at the break, the kind of numbers that paled in comparison to the great Marco Trumbo. And in the first game back from a five-day layoff, he struck out one, scored a run, and hit for 1 in 4 days against the Milwaukee Brewers.
Ho-humity Votto’s season ended right there, however. Said one kick-off 17 game hitting streak in which he bonked 29 hits in total, one that featured 4 home runs and a Vottonian 17/10 BB/K ratio. While this streak went into a 7-0 hole in the first August Cardinals win over St. Louis, Votto’s power was just that, and August wrapped up a 1.107 OPS for the month.
September was somehow even better, as he put up an absurd 1.108 OPS on that page of the calendar. When the dust settled, 72 games of the second “half” of 2016 saw him lead all MLB hitters in average, OBP, SLG, wOBA, and wRC+, all while having a 15.0% walk rate against a paltry 10.2% K-rate. Hey only swished 15 homers, instead functioning as the top gap-to-gap doubles hitter that has long been the dream of hitting coaches.
Batting average was long ago tied to stats that told more about the overall story, but when it starts with a “4”, it tells enough of the story to be worth mentioning. Votto’s made it through that second half, which is an absurd .408/.490/.668 in 314 PA. His .478 wOBA had given Freddie Freeman (.439, second best), while his 201 wRC+ left Miguel Cabrera (180, second best) well in his rearview mirror. His 107 hits were the most in all of post-season baseball, beating Trea Turner’s 102.
At 32 years old, he had mastered the art of hitting, so much so that he was left with a knee injury that had derailed his career a long time ago.
Thanks for that, Joey. I will try to talk about it more often.