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Sep 21, 2021; Cincinnati, Ohio, USA; Cincinnati Reds first baseman Joey Votto (19) during the sixth inning against the Pittsburgh Pirates at Great American Ball Park. Mandatory Credit: Katie Stratman-USA TODAY Sports

It happened again. Or didn’t happen again, if you are Cincinnati Reds first baseman Joey Votto.

When MLB handed out Silver Slugger Awards to the best hitters at their respective positions this past week, Votto got ignored. It’s an annual occurrence. Votto has played 14 full seasons in the majors and yet, somehow, he has never won a Silver Slugger. Votto does have an MVP to his credit, in 2010, plus six All-Star appearances, so the rest of the league knows he is there. It's just when it comes to recognizing who the best hitter is at first base every year, there seems to be a memory hole among the coaches and managers of the National League who vote for the Silver Sluggers.

Occasional oversights are understandable, given the steep competition for awards like this since Votto came into the league full time in 2008. Since then, Albert Pujols has won it three times, Paul Goldschmidt has won it four times and, for the past three years, Freddie Freeman has been the winner. Soloists include Anthony Rizzo, Adrián González, Adam LaRoche and Prince Fielder.

But no sign of Votto, who has been the most productive first baseman in the NL — both in bulk and on average, aside from Pujols — since he became a starter in 2008. No fewer than five times since 2010, Votto has been the best slugging first baseman in the NL, yet someone else always comes away with the Silver Slugger hardware. Sometimes the statistical margin has been narrow but never has Votto been given the benefit of any doubt.

Why is this important? When it comes time to count the achievements for the Hall of Fame, and the voters ask questions like: “Was he ever considered the best hitter of his generation? Was he ever considered the best first baseman of his generation?” — they’re going to see a cupboard empty of Silver Sluggers. “Well, how could Votto be one of the best of all time if his contemporaries didn’t think enough of him at the time?” Votto is a long shot to accumulate 3,000 career hits (too many walks) or 400 home runs. Cooperstown voters will have to look a little harder at his candidacy. Votto should have enough WAR and other stats to get in, but it’s not a sure thing.

Plus, it’s just wrong. He should have earned at least one Silver Slugger. Let’s work backward to see how he’s been overlooked:

A vote for Freeman isn’t unfounded. He played in 30 more games, scored 47 more runs, stole seven more bases and had 18 more points on his on-base percentage. Votto conversely had five more home runs, 16 more RBIs and 60 more points on his slugging percentage. He also comes out 12 points better in weighted on-base average (which the voters obviously ignore). But wOBA acts as an enhanced combination of on-base percentage and slugging percentage. It improves on OPS by assigning a value to each method of reaching base and measures their impact on scoring runs. It’s a way to make more sense of a slash line. Not that it’s been helping Votto win. Let’s check out 2017:

This was egregious. Votto played in every game so it’s not a matter of that. Voters apparently saw the runs and RBIs and perhaps the stolen bases and gave the nod to Goldschmidt. But the percentages aren’t even close. A wOBA nearly 30 points higher for Votto. No hardware though.

This was closer. Votto had a big edge in on-base percentage, Freeman hit for more power, but Votto came out ahead in wOBA by 11 points. Freeman won because he had five more home runs and 19 more points in slugging.

It’s easy to see why Goldschmidt won: crossing the 30-homer threshold, having 30 more RBIs and 10 more stolen bases, plus a 29-point edge in slugging. And still, Votto was more valuable in his entirety.

It appears to be about as close as two players can get. Pujols had a few more home runs, a few more runs scored, and a few more RBIs. Votto had a few more points in the averages and came out 19 points ahead in wOBA (somehow).

In two additional seasons, Votto did nearly as well as the Silver Slugger winner statistically, but came up on the short end with wOBA and didn't get the call. He's really unlucky, or the voters just aren't seeing him, or both.

What can we do about this? Going backward, nothing — unless Goldy would be willing to give Joey his 2017 Silver Slugger, perhaps in a small, private ceremony over tea. What else? The Louisville Slugger people could act like the Academy Awards and create an award for Votto that acknowledges the kind of hitter he has been since coming into the league. A lifetime achievement award. An Irving G. Thalberg Award for MLB. Silver Slugger of the Decade at First Base. They could make the trophy using a mold from Votto’s own bat — he’s a Hillerich and Bradsby customer!

At 38 years old, Votto is not likely to have many more opportunities to win a Silver Slugger. And even if he produces enough to win the award, well, the electorate hasn’t paid close enough attention. We were blessed to have Votto perform the way he did in 2021 after he made some adjustments in his swing and approach. He could have two or three more great seasons and still fall short legitimately. The NL adding a DH next season could help. It’s no crime against humanity or anything that Votto has been ignored, but within the MLB award universe, it’s been a significant oversight for more than a decade.

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