KAP: The Bold Story of Gabriel Kapler

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Written by: Mike Duffy


Cover Art by Paine Proffitthttp://www.paineproffitt.com
Exclusive Interviews with
Chase De Jong, Greg Venger, John Stolnis, & Chase Kaper

Last offseason, one of the biggest surprises was the hire of Gabe Kapler to be the new manager of the Philadelphia Phillies. It was a move on the bolder side, for general manager Matt Klentak, who was given the green light to make his first managerial hire. Kapler was the runner-up for the Dodger gig two seasons before in 2016, having been their Director of Player development.

Kapler has a more bold and analytical approach to the game. This, on top of a few more characteristics, made him a unique choice for a Phillies organization that is familiar to more of a traditional approach to baseball. He has had a rollercoaster first year as manager, and a very interesting journey into baseball which I was just excited to find more about.


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August 7: Nick Williams celebrates with manager Gabe Kapler after homering in the third inning. Jennifer Stewart/Getty Images

So one Thursday during lunch I swung by the main office at my school (Cleveland High School) to speak to the Athletic Director, Greg Venger. He noticed that I had a Phillies shirt on and mentioned that he had gone to Taft High School with Gabe Kapler. In ‘93 while Greg was the JV shortstop his sophomore year, Kapler was the varsity shortstop. During the playoffs Greg was brought up to Varsity, allowing for some memorable moments for Greg, where he was able to watch and model after someone who was soon to become a major leaguer.


“Gabe was a great teammate great guy. Well liked by everybody very popular in high school,” said Greg. “He was a gym rat always working hard to stay in shape. His group friends were a nice good circle of friends, they are lawyers or stockbrokers, they’re all doing successful so yeah you know they all figured out their niche in life.” 


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Photo: 1993 Taft Yearbook / Gabriel Kapler (left) in his Senior year.                                    (photo found by Mike Duffy)

Greg was telling me about how “people liked to be around him,” and the positive bolt of energy people would get when he walked into a room. He also recalled some memories from their times on the field: 

“We won the game against Kennedy High School, but ended playing in the semifinals against Chatsworth and we got blown out like 17 to 1. His leadership with that group of guys pretty special group he had his senior year. Gabe was definitely the catalyst to my team. ” 

Also, we talked about how currently while managing he stresses the idea of drawing a lot of walks and telling them to take pitches. I asked Greg if Gabe took a lot of pitches, and Greg laughed and said: 

“He was an aggressive guy. He never saw more than a few pitches when he was hitting. He was always up there to hit he did not wanna walk, he had a lot of pop. Back in the day, Taft high school fence in left field was like 330ft and like 408ft to straightaway center. Now they have a different fence up there. If Gabe played there right now, he would’ve broke the state record for home run, guaranteed.”


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After graduating from Taft High School he attended a Division 1 school, Cal State Fullerton. It didn’t work out there for Gabe, so he ended up going back to Moorpark College. He got noticed there and he got drafted by the Detroit Tigers in the 57th round in the 1995 Draft.

“He just peaked at the right time,” Venger said. “And that was the big thing.”


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Gabe played fifteen seasons of professional baseball and has the highest career WAR of anyone drafted in the 57th round. During the twelve seasons in the MLB, he played for the Detroit Tigers, Texas Rangers, Colorado Rockies, Boston Red Sox, Milwaukee Brewers, and the Tampa Bay Rays in. In 2004 he won the World Series with the Boston Red Sox.


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After winning the World Series with Boston, he went to Japan to play some baseball where he ruptured his Achilles. The Red Sox organization offered him his first and only managerial job before coming to the Phillies with the Sox Low-A team, the Greenville Drive.  The team had a record of 58 – 81 in his two seasons with them before returning to playing baseball for three more years.


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Gabe Kapler accepting the job with the Greenville Drive

While he was working hard on his career, he always made time for his two sons. I spoke with his son Chase Kapler. Here’s what Chase had to say about his father:

“I have to credit him for how independent and self-starting I am, from a very young age he trusted me to make my own decisions and face my own consequences for those decisions. He also never pressured me to be anybody that he wanted me to be. He was very supportive of what I wanted and what I needed.” 


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Gabe Kapler (right) with his two sons Chase (center) and Dane (left).

When officially hanging up his glove he dabbled around in different forms of media. In 2013 he was an analyst for Fox Sports 1. Then using his love for “the importance of training outdoors and clean eating. To that end, he took to sharing information in 2013 and started a health and well-being blog at Kaplifestyle.com. ” 


He used his knowledge of fitness and health to land him the job of Director of Player Development with the Los Angeles Dodgers in November of 2014. The press told two stories of how he was doing at that post, one that we see now, with all the amazing prospects that have come through that system like Corey Seager, Cody Bellinger, Walker Buehler, Austin Barnes, and so many more. This shows that Gabe was doing something right with that system. The other narrative was one that talked about how he just came into the system and took out all the unhealthy food in all the clubhouses of the system and made them follow strict diets. We never really heard what the players thought of that, but obviously Dodgers President of Baseball Operations Andrew Friedman liked what he was doing and made him a frontrunner for the manager position. Gabe lost it to Dave Roberts in the end.


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Gabe Kapler, seen here during spring training in 2015 with Dodgers president of baseball operations Andrew Friedman. Photo credit: Jon SooHoo | LA Dodgers

I was curious to hear what some of the players thought about Gabe when he was Director of Player development. I followed up with, Major League pitcher for the Minnesota Twins, Chase De Jong, who I originally interviewed back in 2017.

De Jong, who was originally a Dodger prospect, said he “enjoyed being under his leadership. Our minor league organization thrived under it.” 

I asked him if he mentioned any of his goals for his future in baseball, and if he was preaching about being bold in Los Angeles like he is now doing in Philadelphia:

“Yes Gabe was always clear about being bold.  We all knew that he had aspirations to be a major league manager. He’s a leader in whatever he does. He was very passionate about what he believed in he always entertained other points of view and I think that’s an incredible quality to have. Gabe I believe desires knowledge and wisdom above everything else. He’s a learner.” 


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This passion of learning and determination to be as knowledgeable about every player and the game is what caught the eye of GM Matt Klentak. Before the 2018 season, Kapler was signed to a 3 year managerial deal.


“They needed a new culture,” suggest Greg Venger on why Klentak hired Kapler. “But some of the old school Phillies fans might not like that so much. I think that his young energy and his intensity is what that organization needed. It’s maybe for some of them an acquired taste. But as a coach winning cures everything. You win everyone’s gonna love you.”  


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AP Images

For Kapler, his first week was really rough. He pulled Aaron Nola early on Opening Day, and then the bullpen blew the game that was filled with miscommunications. He was also greeted with boos at the home opener. During all of this, Kapler stayed positive and said they would definitely go to the playoffs.  Most people thought he was on something but Greg Venger suggested that “there is a little bit of arrogance about him, because he is confident. So the players, they like the confidence, they relate to that because that’s how the players are too.”


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Sept. 25: The skipper! Matthew Stockman/Getty Images

I reached out to Writer & Podcaster for SB Nation’s The Good Phight, John Stolnis, where he focuses on covering the current Phillies. He falls in the middle on the Kapler spectrum like most other writers but I challenged him to put away the criticism and just focus on the positives of his rookie season. 

“I think my favorite thing about Kapler this year was how he was at least willing to try things that were different. I didn’t agree with all of what he did, and late in the season I thought he tried to do too much. But I liked that he wasn’t afraid, and I think he has shown a willingness to take criticism and to learn,” Stolnis said.

Greg Venger agreed with Stolnis and had this to say about Gabe’s first year of managing:

“I’m sure he would be the first to tell you the game part he’s still learning it. The game is different from it used to be. And it’s evolved. So when he came up as a player it was more of a small ball steal bases and now it’s more of strikeouts and guys hitting home runs.”  – Greg Venger


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April 5: The Phillies line the base path for pre-game festivities at the Phillies Home Opener. Philadelphia Phillies

After that first rough week, the Phillies turned it all around. They were in first place for over a month. At one point they even were 63- 48! It looked like Kapler would win Manager of the Year. The Phillies were in first place, had a really good division lead, and the Nationals were falling off a cliff.  Gabe’s son, Chase said his favorite moments of this successful part of the season were “either the Maikel Franco walk off or Nola out-dueling Scherzer twice.”


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July 31: Maikel Franco returns to the dugout after scoring in the fourth inning. Adam Glanzman/Getty Images

But then the bad skid happened, the really bad skid. The Phillies went 8-20 for the rest of the season in September and they were not able to get that postseason chance they were hoping for.  The pitching staff looked tired and bats were not coming alive.


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August 19: The Phillies line up for the national anthem before the MLB Little League Classic game. Alex Trautwig/MLB Photos

Although the Phillies finished 2 wins below .500, they showed improvement from the year before. The ride has just begun for Gabe Kapler and he is ready to get back out there next season with something to prove to the city of brotherly love. Gabe wants to make sure he can be the manager of the next Phillies World Series team rather than finding himself on the hot seat.


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Thank you Paine Proffitt, Chase De Jong, Greg Venger, John Stolnis, & Chase Kapler, and everyone else who helped out on this article.


Additional Sources:

https://www.phillymag.com/news/2018/03/24/gabe-kapler-phillies-manager/

https://theathletic.com/141869/2017/10/30/phillies-bold-pick-of-gabe-kapler-as-manager-shows-clubs-focus-on-analytics/

https://www.phillyvoice.com/who-gabe-kapler-dozen-fun-facts-about-new-phillies-manager/

http://www2.philly.com/philly/sports/phillies/gabe-kapler-phillies-moorpark-college-cal-state-fullerton-detroit-tigers-fitness-journey-20180525.html

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gabe_Kapler


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2018 Photo Review #3 – What an awesome display of sportsmanship! Both the Phillies and Mets lined up for handshakes after the 2018 MLB Little League Classic. Alex Trautwig/MLB Photos.            “If you get those guys to believe that they can do it. Then they can do it, and they’re young and they’re talented and they’re going to go through their ups and downs during a 162 games and you’re going to have your slumps you’re going to go through your hot streak. Everything is fantastic at that time. But when things aren’t going well. It’s about how  you respond to that.”           – Greg Venger

 

Ross Stripling Interview: Being A Part of a Special Team

The K Zone

April 14th 2018

Ross Stripling

Interviewed By Mike Duffy


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Ross Stripling is a part of one of the most historic franchises, the Dodgers. When Stripling made a move to the bullpen, his versatility made him a cornerstone of the Dodgers who would go to the World Series in 2017. This year the Dodgers look to win it all, and with their young talent, they will be a dominant team for years to come.


Mike Duffy: You made a big step last year when you became more versatile, moving to the bullpen to adapt to the Dodgers’ depth. Was it a tough process or were you surprised at how well it worked out?

Ross Stripling: I struggled when I first went to the bullpen. I had a hard time finding a routine that kept me fresh both mentally and physically. I didn’t know when to lift, how hard to condition, how much preparation and scouting I needed to do. Once I found a consistent routine, which wasn’t until a few months into the season, I was able to relax and really enjoy the bullpen role. It’s always different and way more intense so it’s a lot of fun.


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Mike Duffy: There is no doubt that the Dodgers have all the pieces to bring home a ring to Los Angeles. What has it been like to be one of those pieces along with other young guys like Corey, Cody, and Chris, and the wise mentors like Kershaw and Chase?

Ross Stripling: I’ve been totally spoiled so far in my big league career. A lot of wins and 2 deep playoff runs. It’s pretty special to be apart of a team like this, to think one day I’ll be able to tell my grandkids I played with Kersh, Seager, Bellinger, Kenley, etc. At first I just felt like such a small piece, but as you get more experience and more comfortable, you start to feel like you belong around guys like that. Especially since they’re all such great guys and teammates, friends I’ll have for life.


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Mike Duffy: What is your favorite baseball memory?

Ross Stripling: I have a few favorite baseball memories. I would say the no hitter I threw in college the day I was supposed to walk across the stage to graduate, with all my family in town, is maybe my favorite. My debut was obviously another one that I’ll remember forever.


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Mike Duffy: Who was your favorite player and role model growing up?

Ross Stripling: My favorite player growing up was probably Ken Griffey Jr. I was also a huge A-Rod fan when he was on the Rangers. A baseball role model was always Cal Ripken Jr., he was my older brothers favorite player and just a guy that played the game the right way.


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Mike Duffy: In what ways has playing in a World Series changed your life?

Ross Stripling: For one, I think the World Series kinda puts your baseball career into perspective. Nothing else will ever be as high pressured or as intense as those games. I pitched in those games and survived so I should be able to handle anything moving forward in my career. Also I was able to pitch in Houston in front of dozens of friends and family, something we’ll be able to remember and talk about for the rest of our lives which is pretty special.


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Mike Duffy: What’s your favorite movie?

Ross Stripling: My favorite Movie is Good Will Hunting.


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Mike Duffy: What’s your favorite TV show?

Ross Stripling: My favorite Tv show is Entourage.


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Mike Duffy: Who’s your favorite musician?

Ross Stripling: My favorite Musician is Garth Brooks.


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Mike Duffy: What is your favorite hobby besides baseball?

Ross Stripling: My favorite hobby is trading on the stock market.


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Mike Duffy: Bucket-list item?

Ross Stripling: A Bucket list item would be to take a vacation with my wife/family every year.


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Mike Duffy: Do you have any advice for young kids playing the game?

Ross Stripling: I would just tell kids to play the game hard and have fun. It’s taken so serious these days with travel ball and baseball year round. Play the game with passion  and get better every time you take the field, and let the rest take care of itself. Everyone matures at different rates and ages, so just control what you can control and play the game because you love it.


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Jon Duplantier; Fishing & Pitching

 

-The K Zone-

September 29th  2017

Jon Duplantier

Interview by Mike Duffy



Mike Duffy: I was wondering when you go from high school, minor leagues, what was the biggest challenge when you reach each stage?

Jon Duplantier: The biggest challenge is being on your own. You have to grow up a lot and be a grown man when maybe some guys aren’t ready for the responsibility.


Mike Duffy: What’s your favorite thing about being apart of the Diamondbacks?

Jon Duplantier: My favorite part about being with the dbacks is I get to play the game I love for and organization that is respectful and supportive.


 


Mike Duffy: What’s your favorite hobby besides baseball?

Jon Duplantier: I like to fish on my off days. Just relax and let my mind wander.



Mike Duffy: Who was your favorite baseball player growing up?

Jon Duplantier: My favorite player growing up was Roger Clemens.



Mike Duffy: What was your favorite team growing up?

Jon Duplantier: My favorite team was the Astros or Rangers. Anyone in Texas.



Mike Duffy: What was your favorite memory of this season?

Jon Duplantier: My favorite memory this season was being in the Futures Game.



Mike Duffy: What was it like knowing you were recognized for your great year on the MLB Pipeline team of the year?

Jon Duplantier: Being recognized for the team was awesome, because it brings attention to the dbacks farm system and all the work we’ve put in.


Mike Duffy: What’s your favorite stadium?

Jon Duplantier: My favorite stadium is Minute Maid.



Mike Duffy: What’s your favorite movie?

Jon Duplantier: My favorite movie is Space Jam.



Mike Duffy: Do you have a motto or a thing to do to get you out of a rough time?

Jon Duplantier: Just think about positive energy and count my blessings.


Mike Duffy: When did you know you wanted to play professional baseball?

Jon Duplantier: My mom said I first told her when I was young like 6 or 7.



Mike Duffy: What is your favorite thing about being a pitcher? Hardest thing about pitching? When did you start getting good at it?

Jon Duplantier: My favorite thing, is the one on one battle, the hardest thing, getting out of a bad streak, when I turned 20 I guess.


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Tyler Watson; How I Met My New Team

The K Zone

August 31st 2017

Tyler Watson

Interviewed By Mike Duffy

 


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Mike Duffy: I was wondering  when you go from high school, minor leagues, what was the biggest challenge when you reach each stage?

Tyler Watson: The biggest obstacle even moving one level to the next is to understand that you got there for a reason and changing anything will not help. Be yourself.


Mike Duffy: What is your favorite thing about being a Twin?

Tyler Watson: I’ve met a lot of great teammates so far being a Twin.


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Mike Duffy: What is your favorite hobby besides baseball?

Tyler Watson: I love to read, I guess the best thing I can do while playing baseball is try to educate myself anyway I can.


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Mike Duffy: Who was your favorite baseball player growing up?

Tyler Watson: I will always be a Big Papi fan.


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Mike Duffy: What was your favorite team growing up?

Tyler Watson: My dad is from Boston so I grew up a Red Sox fan.


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Mike Duffy: Goals for this season?

Tyler Watson: This season I just want to learn from my mistakes and my successes. Never forget what got you there and never forget what didn’t work.


Mike Duffy: What is your favorite stadium?

Tyler Watson: My favorite stadium is probably Chase field because I grew up there!


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Mike Duffy: What is your favorite movie? What is your favorite tv show? 

Tyler Watson: My favorite movie is it’s a wonderful life! My favorite show is how I met your mother! 


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Mike Duffy: Do you have a motto or a thing to do to get you out of a rough time?

Tyler Watson: Lord we know what we are but know not what we may be.


Mike Duffy: When did you know you wanted to play professional baseball?

Tyler Watson: I’ve always wanted to be a professional baseball player from day one.


Mike Duffy: What do you enjoy most about staying with host families during the season?

Tyler Watson: Staying with host families have given me connections and experiences that I’m extremely thankful for.  


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Mike Duffy: For a shout out to your old teammates lol! What do you miss most about your time in the nationals organization?

Tyler Watson: Wow haha I think about my boys all the time. Still hasn’t sunk in that I won’t see them very often anymore but I’m so thankful that my best friend Blake Perkins lives in Arizona so I can still see him!


 

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Mike Duffy: What is your favorite thing about being a pitcher? Hardest thing about pitching? When did you start getting good at it?

Tyler Watson: I love being a pitcher because it’s so strategic, hardest thing about pitching and almost anything is not letting your head get in the way even though it’s a mental craft. I started getting good my senior year of high school once I realized I wasn’t as good as I thought I was!


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Statistical Analysis: The Most Underrated MVP Candidate

-The K Zone-

December 5th 2016

MLB: St. Louis Cardinals at Cincinnati Reds

Statistical Analysis: The Most Underrated MVP Candidate, By Ian Joffe

         When voting for awards like the MVP, the writers like stories of talented young players who break out in one year, like Corey Seager, or other new stars that propel their teams to the world championships, like Kris Bryant. However, sometimes the most valuable player in baseball comes from a less glamorous ballclub, one that has fallen from previous stardom. The Cincinnati Reds made the playoffs three out of four years, concluding in a painful one-game wildcard playoff against the Pirates in 2013, where then Reds’ ace Johnny Cueto dropped the ball in the big game. After that painful loss, the team lost multiple players to free agency, traded away some others, and the rest, for the most part, experienced sharp regression in the coming year. For the 2014 season, this included the man that signed a 10 year, $225MM extension in that off season. The 2014 season ruined Joey Votto’s great reputation, but Votto would come back in the next two season and produce at extraordinary levels, and while he got some attention in 2015, his 2016 was far underrated. Votto did not receive a single first, second, third, or even fourth place MVP vote. When compared to the MVP candidates that did far better than him, Votto deserved more than a few votes; he deserved strong consideration for the whole prize.

Joey’s greatness starts at a very basic level. He hit .326, but more impressively went for a .434 on base percentage, an astronomical clip. That OBP led the national league, and was only second in baseball to AL MVP Mike Trout. The next closest hitter was DJ LaMaheui, breakout second baseman of the Rockies, who was still nearly 20 points below Votto in the category The Canadian has always had a good sense of the strike zone, and it is clearly not fading, as demonstrated by the walk rate and 17.7% strikeout rate, which is actually below his career average. His low, 20.8% O-Swing means that he rarely swings at a pitch outside of the strike zone. Votto hit for respectable power, with 29 home runs, but more importantly a .550 slugging percentage, only .004 behind the man who actually won the NL MVP, Kris Bryant. Votto’s on base and power skills combine to form an excellent of OPS (on-base plus slugging) .985, tied for the best in the National League. His OPS+ was 160, meaning that according to the metric, he was 60% better than the average major leaguer.

Digging into the more raw statistics, the 33-year-old made soft contact only 11.7% of the time over the course of the entire season, white making hard contact a whopping 38.7% of the time. Joey also hit 27.3% line drives, a great number for any hitter. Votto’s 22% HR/FB ratio shows that he is still slamming the ball, and that he has not lost his touch with age. It would be more than fair to say that Votto struggled in the first half of the 2016 season, but he showed an incredible ability to bounce back post-all star game, hitting a Ted Williams-esque .408/.490/.668. wRC+, a measure of overall hitting ability, puts Votto at 158, meaning he is a whole 58% better than the average player. Votto lead the national league in wRC+, what sabermatricians today consider the best offenseive statistic. That puts him as a better offensive player than any of the three NL MVP finalists (Bryant, Murphy, and Seager). The on-base machine also put together an unheard-of 201 wRC+ after the all star break, when his true skills were just starting to kick in.

There is a legitimate and illegitimate case to not consider Votto for the award. The one major argument that should not ever be used against Votto is his team, the Reds. The Reds were a losing team last year, tying for the NL’s worst record (68-94). Many hold this against Votto, saying he should not be the most valuable player if his team did not get close to making the playoffs. I completely, wholeheartedly disagree. Baseball is a team sport. One player cannot make a team good or bad! If I were to put Kris Bryant, the MVP winner, on the Reds, instead of Votto, the team would still be terrible. If I put Votto on the Cubs, instead of Bryant, the team would still be excellent. The point is, it’s not Votto’s fault he got put on a terrible team, so why should he be blamed for it in awards voting? Some say that it would be impossible for Votto to be the most “valuable” player while on a losing team. I once again highly question this point of view. Votto has the same “value” no matter what team he is on. Say his value were 5 wins (which it is, according to WAR). That five wins would be the same if it turned the Reds from a 63 to a 68 win team or if it changed the Cubs from a 103 to 108 win team. The value is still the same, whether it makes a team less worse or more better. If one does want to make an argument against Votto, it better be related to his defense (or baserunning, which was also a slight negative this year). Whether it is an aging pattern, or just one off year, Votto suffered a major drop in defense this year, form a gold-glove caliber first baseman to one with negative value, as according his horrific -14 DRS (defensive runs saved) at first base. And, as modern statistics show, defense really matters. However, Votto managed to put together an amazing season even with the laughable glovework. His aforementioned 5.0 WAR is very good, and includes defense, possibly even overvaluing defense. Despite his terrible defense, Votto put together a great overall season.

So, did Votto deserve the MVP award? Well, looking at the hitting stats, he deserved strong consideration. He had an outstanding slash line (AVG/OBP/SLG) and ranked #1 in his league for wRC+, the best overall measure of hitting. Sure, his defense was bad, but there are 30 votes for 1st place, 30 for 2nd, and 30 3rd. Votto deserved way more of these top three votes than the zero he was given. Defense or no defense, Votto’s contact, power, and eye should have propelled him towards a finalist spot. I know I am not the only one that feels Joey Votto is one of the greatest hitters of the generation. The other, day, I watched Brian Kenny of MLB Network find a strike-zone recognition category that Fowler beat Votto in, when he exclaimed Fowler had defeated “Joey Votto himself!!!” The BBWAA (Baseball Writers Association of America) was given the MVP vote in the 1930’s, when newspaper was by far the top form communication. I am not saying they should lose the vote, but maybe it is time to diversify the polls just a little bit, adding in parts of, say, the statistics community. After all, the whole point of stats is to make unbiased comparisons between players. To me, in our changing game of baseball, for awards like MVP that go down in history, sabermatricians should have somewhat of a say.

Briefly, one of my favorite stories (which I have admittedly not fact checked, but still really like) from last year is about another personality that agrees with me on Votto. Naturally, that would be “Joey Votto himself.” After struggling for half the 2016 season, Votto recalls checking the world-renowned similarity scores, to see if any other all-time greats went through similar struggles to himself. Votto knows his statistics stack up to other MVP candidates, and next year, his bat will come out with a vengeance.

Sources:

fangraphs.com

baseballreference.com

si.com

Images attributed to:

https://kservera1.wordpress.com/category/mlb/

With 2 Months Left, Who Are the NL MVP Candidates?