By the Numbers: Joey Votto’s historic streak puts him in elite company

Watch as Chicago Cubs manager Joe Maddon uses a four man outfield to try and thwart Joey Votto.

An impressive run by Joey Votto has left him one game away from a place in modern baseball history. How he’s gotten there — and what it’s meant to his season overall — has been nothing shy of amazing.

After walking three times against the Chicago Cubs on Tuesday, the 33-year-old from Etobicoke, Ont., has now reached base at least twice in 20 consecutive games. He’s only the fourth major-leaguer since 1900 to do that and on Wednesday he can tie the standard set by Ted Williams during his 1949 American League MVP season.

Opponents have been nearly powerless to stop him. Even the use of a recreational softball defensive alignment (see the video above) hasn’t held the Cincinnati Reds first baseman back.

“Votto right now is ungodly. Whatever you do, you’re taking chances anyhow,” Cubs manager Joe Maddon told reporters after shifting Kris Bryant to left-centre field from third base and using three infielders once on Monday. Votto snuffed out those plans by doubling down the right-field line.

Votto has now reached base 54 times in 20 games, good for a .614 on-base percentage during that stretch. He has improved his slash line to .316/.448/.600, up from .295/.415/.575 before the streak began.

As a result, Votto has a chance to have a career year. And that’s saying something for someone who hit .408 in the second half of 2016, hasn’t had an OBP of less than .400 over a full season since he was a rookie, has OPSed more than 1.000 in a season three times and won the 2010 National League MVP.

His .448 OBP, 1.048 OPS, and 235 times on base lead the majors. He’s even hitting for more power, with 31 home runs good for eighth place overall and six away from the career high he set in his MVP campaign. He has hit five homers during the last 20 games.

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Put it all together and Votto may be the best offensive player and toughest out in the sport. Baseball Reference ranks him first in baseball in runs created (117), adjusted batting runs (50), adjusted batting wins (4.7), offensive win percentage (.797).

How has he done it? Incredible plate discipline is a major factor.

According to FanGraphs, Votto swings at just 15.7 per cent of pitches outside the strike zone, a career best that’s basically half the average MLB rate of 29.9 per cent. His 11.6 per cent strikeout rate ranks 13th in baseball and no one ahead of him on the list has more than 20 home runs.

Votto’s 98 bases on balls rank first as does his 18.7 per cent walk rate. Second in both categories is New York Yankees slugger Aaron Judge (88 and 17.7 per cent). The two players have near identical OPS marks, with Judge fourth at 1.029. The difference between the two players, aside from Judge having five more home runs, is that the Yankee has struck out nearly three times more often both in rate and quantity.

The numbers suggest Votto deserves consideration for another NL MVP award despite playing for the 50-70 Reds. He’ll have competition from Giancarlo Stanton, Paul Goldschmidt, Nolan Arenado and any number of Los Angeles Dodgers, but Votto’s recent stretch can only help his chances.

It’s been 13 years since someone reached base twice in 20 straight games. (Barry Bonds accomplished the feat in a 2004 season in which he hit .362/.609/.812 and walked 232 times – 120 of which were intentional – en route to his seventh and final MVP nod.)

The sample size for Votto’s latest hot streak is fairly small. But it’s been enough to turn a very good season into an outstanding one.

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