Monday, June 25, 2012

Can Joey Votto honestly break the all-time single-season doubles record?


Joey Votto is entering baseball territory that hasn't been journeyed upon in over 80 years. The 2010 NL MVP is smacking doubles at an alarming rate and is well on his way in threatening to rewrite the record books. He leads all major league hitters with 30 doubles in 2012 and is on pace to shatter the single-season record set by Earl Webb, who slapped 67 two-baggers for the Boston Red Sox back in 1931. Votto is on par to hit 71. But the question that remains to be seen is this: can he?

As Dave Cameron of FanGraphs and ESPN Insider estutley points out, Votto may have the best shot of any modern day hitter for several reasons. Here are the factors presented by Cameron that play into the likelihood that Votto can indeed break the record:

+ His propensity to hit line drives. Doubles usually require that the batter stroke the ball either into the gaps or down the lines, and this is mostly achieved through liners. Votto is boasting an astronomical 33.0% line-drive rate this season and a 24.8% rate throughout his whole career. Only two hitters with at least 2,000 plate apperances since 2002 own higher rates (Mark Loretta and Todd Helton).
+ Avoiding infield popouts. Votto has popped out in the infield just ONE time since the beginning of the 2010 season. That's absolutely incredible.
+ His ability to go opposite field. Votto has put 170 balls into play this year -- 60 to left, 63 to center, 49 to right. His knack for spraying the ball around the diamond bodes well in his pursuit of drilling gaps and such.
+ Not stretching the extra base. Votto runs well for a first basemen, but has average speed at best. He's not likely to try and turn a double into a triple. In addition to this, the risk of injury is too great for the financial investment the team has in him to be doing such. He'll settle for doubles most of the time, and I got to believe the Reds are okay with that.
+ No current player specializes in the combination of these more than Votto.

And here are some factors that may inhibit Votto from breaking Webb's record:

- Great American Ball Park. Historically, GABP is a below-average venue for doubles due to its shorter fences and reputation for being one of the more homer-friendly parks in the league. Balls that would normally stay in the yard for doubles in other stadiums may go for homers in Cincinnati.
- History. Only two Reds hitters have hit more than just 40 doubles in a season since GABP opened -- Sean Casey in 2004 and Votto in 2011. Furthermore, only six hitters in MLB history have hit more than 60 in a season and six of them did it between 1926-1936 -- that's an era when outfield fences were much farther away from home plate than they are now.
- Injury. God forbid it happen, but there's always a chance of injury...even for a guy seemingly as invincible as Votto.

All in all, the Canadian slugger still has a long way to go in his pursuit of chasing down the record. However, if there's anyone in the modern day era that can accomplish 70 or more doubles it's Joseph Daniel Votto.

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