Was reading some old posts in Dan Hennessey's Knuckleballs blog, and came across this:
Justin Morneau, Miguel Cabrera, Joey Votto, and Josh Hamilton are simply in another league in terms of ability to hit a baseball. Easily the most valuable offensive players so far in 2010.
In the actual post, there was a link to a FanGraphs page, but the link was broken and anyway it's a little outdated now. If today you rank major league hitters purely by batting runs above replacement, Morneau's (obviously) fallen far down the list. Hamilton's in first place, followed by Cabrera, Votto, and Jose Bautista.
Anyway, that's not the point. The point is the single paragraph that came next:
Votto has yet to hit a pop up on the infield.
That struck me as nearly impossible.
So I checked.
Mind you, Hennessey's post was six weeks ago. Well, I checked today and Votto still doesn't have an infield pop-up. He's got 558 plate appearances, 382 of which have resulted in a batted ball, and somehow not one of those 382 balls have been a fly ball caught within 140 feet of the plate (the definition of Infield Fly Ball by FanGraphs, and measured by Baseball Info Solutions).
Gotta be a fluke, right?
Well, yeah. To some degree.
Except you know how many IFFB Votto hit last year?
The year before that?
Maybe (I thought) I just don't have any idea how many infield pops are hit by strong hitters. Over the last three seasons (2008-2010), Votto's IFFB percentage -- Infield Fly Balls / Batted Balls -- is ... actually, the percentage is so low that it looks ridiculous: 0.6 percent.
Instead, let's look at the Batted Balls per Infield Fly for Votto and a few other great power hitters (again, 2008-2010):
Albert Pujols: 19 Batted Balls / IFFB
Prince Fielder: 21
Miguel Cabrera: 25
Adrian Gonzalez: 38
Joey Votto: 167
Votto's completely off the charts.
But I've compared him to the greatest hitters in the majors. Maybe there are other hitters, not as great as Votto, who very rarely hit infield pop-ups?
Yeah, there are.
This season, there are five other players with IFFB% lower than two percent (as measured by FanGraphs, a different measure than I've been using; they compute infield flies as a percentage of all fly balls rather than batted balls). Here's a similar list as before, but this time including Votto and those five other players, with their Batted Balls per Infield Fly over the last three seasons:
Derrek Lee: 67 Batted Balls / IFFB
Matt Kemp: 77
Michael Bourn: 81
Skip Schumaker: 109
Joey Votto: 167
Ryan Howard: 202
We have a new champion. Ryan Howard has hit 15 infield flies in his career.
I've also discovered that while players rarely hit zero infield flies in a (full) season, it's not terribly uncommon for players to hit a very small number of them. Skip Schumaker's hit just one this season. Howard hit one last season, two this season. Michael Bourn -- granted, he's a slap hitter -- has just one this season. Matt Kemp hit two last year, and Derrek Lee has only two this year.
I don't know if any player in recent memory has made it through a whole season without hitting a single infield fly, but these numbers suggest that it probably has happened.
So what does all this say about Joey Votto? All I'm willing to suggest is that he might be unique among today's best hitters. But he's not the only guy who almost never pops out to an infielder.