You read that headline right. Joey Votto has been good for the Cubs. Let me take you back a bit. It was 2008 and the Cubs were coming off a playoff season. There was hope for a good year, at least for the 15-year-old version of me. I had grown attached to a young catcher the Cubs called up in late 2007 and wanted him to be the Rookie of the Year pretty dang badly. But there was competition. The Cincinnati Reds had their own youngster in Votto and he was a huge thorn at my side. I hated Votto.
We all know how the season played out. Geovany Soto won the award and Votto got a big “Hah! In your face!” from me. Then Soto had his career halted to injuries and ineffectiveness and Votto continued to be an MVP candidate, winning the award in 2011. I freaking hated Votto even more.
So why has Votto been good to the Cubs? Certainly his .281/.392/.526 line has been more than damaging, but in the long run his influence has helped the Cubs become what they are today—and maybe even more in the future. The Canadian first baseman has received a lot of criticism for his propensity to avoid outs with a patient approach, and it’s exactly that which has helped Anthony Rizzo become the offensive threat he is today.
In the offseason prior to Rizzo’s 2014, it was documented that the two NL Central sluggers trained together in Florida. Our wonderful editor, Sahadev Sharma from his ESPN days, quotes Votto as saying “I think he can do a lot of different, good things,” Votto said. “I think that he’s starting to spread the ball out over the ballpark, which is something that he was working on and is finally starting to see it executed in a game, which could benefit him in the long run.”
That Votto guy is a smart cookie. Since the beginning of the 2014 season, Anthony Rizzo has totaled 103 extra-base hits—including 48 home runs—a slash line of .290/.396/.528, and an 11.9 percent walk rate. The most ridiculous part of Rizzo’s performance has to be that he’s done it while limiting his strikeouts to a 16.2 percent rate, however.
But we already knew that Rizzo was a player who’s mindful of his approach. We saw him learn from a disappointing 2011 debut season with the Padres and retool his swing during his first season with the Cubs. Who’s to say he wasn’t doing this on his own? These are all valid points, and surely Rizzo’s own work ethic had a lot to do with his breakout into superstar status. But Rizzo isn’t the only Cubs player Votto has influenced.
Growing up in Middletown, Ohio, Kyle Schwarber would travel the hour to Cincinnati to catch Reds games and study his favorite player: Joey Votto. While other Reds fans were mocking Votto for his patient approach, the young Schwarber would emulate it.
This All-Star Break, Jerry Crasnick of ESPN profiled Schwarber, the MVP of the 2015 Futures Game. It’s a great read. In it, Schwarber’s quoted with this beauty, “I love watching Joey Votto hit,” Schwarber said. “He has this awesome approach at the plate, and I tried to make it into my own when I was in college. He just wants to get his pitch, and when he gets his pitch, he doesn’t miss it. That’s what I took from it. I tried to make it my own and I kind of hound myself on it.”
It sure as heck has worked. Schwarber hit his way to the fourth overall selection in the 2014 draft, and then he hit some more in the minors. Over 621 plate appearances in the Cubs’ farm system, Schwarber clubbed 34 homers, hit .333/.429/.613, all while walking 14 percent of the time and limiting strikeouts to a 20 percent rate.
Bless your soul, Joseph Daniel Votto.
Rizzo and Schwarber could potentially be two lefties that the Cubs rely on offensively for the foreseeable future. Once Joey Votto hurts the Cubs this series, try not to get too upset about it. That man has done a lot for Chicago. Keep doing you, big guy.
Lead photo courtesy of Tommy Gilligan-USA TODAY Sports