MLB.com Columnist

Roger Schlueter

MLB Notebook: Choo-Votto pair historic for OBP

MLB Notebook: Choo-Votto pair historic for OBP

In their 18th game last season, the Reds came to bat in the bottom of the 13th with about as good a recipe for plating a run as any team could offer: a "due up" statement that included Shin-Soo Choo and Joey Votto. Leading off, Choo -- 2-for-3 with three walks -- doubled and then moved to third on a fly ball. Votto -- 4-for-6 with a homer and two RBIs -- was then walked intentionally, setting up a sac fly for the game's winning run. In this 3-2 victory, the Reds had seen two of their players each reach base safely at least five times, something that had happened for the team only 38 times in the previous 97 seasons. Although Choo and Votto would not both match such a volume in the same game again in 2013, their respective season totals of times on base made them a pair that deserves celebration.

In his first season with the Reds, outfielder Choo provided Cincinnati with a leadoff spark that had been absent in such wattage for a number of years. When batting first in the lineup, Choo accounted for 157 hits (56 for extra bases), 107 walks, 24 hit-by-pitches and a .432 on-base percentage in 669 plate appearances (his overall numbers are a bit different, as he accumulated 43 plate appearances elsewhere). They were the kind of numbers that aren't often produced by any lineup's first hitter.

• The 288 times on base out of the leadoff spot tied Choo for the 29th-highest total in the Majors since 1916, and was the highest for the Reds since Pete Rose reached safely 304 times in 1976.

• Choo became the seventh player since 1916 (and the only member of the Reds) to have at least 50 extra-base hits and 100 walks out of the leadoff spot.

• Choo's .432 on-base percentage out of the leadoff spot was tied for the 13th highest since 1916 for a player with at least 500 plate appearances in the slot. Previously, the highest mark for the Reds was Rose's .428 in 1969.

Overall, Choo finished second in the National League in both on-base percentage (.423) and most germane to the topic of this piece, times on base, having reached safely on 300 occasions. In both categories, his numbers were only surpassed by his partner in crime, Votto, the Reds' first baseman.

With 316 times on base and a .435 on-base percentage, Votto set a historical footprint that came less from the particulars of his 2013 numbers and more from what they meant when stacked against what he had done in previous seasons. Specifically, Votto's 177 hits, four hit-by-pitches and league-leading 135 bases on balls helped make him a four-time defending NL on-base champ and three-time defending NL walks king. In the former case, he joined five others to top a league in at least four straight seasons in OBP, with Rogers Hornsby, Lou Gehrig, Ted Williams, Wade Boggs and Barry Bonds being the others.

On-Base masters
Teammates to reach base safely 300 times in a season from 1871-2013
Team Players (Times on Base)
1923 Indians Tris Speaker (315), Charlie Jamieson (308), Joe Sewell (300)
1930 Cubs Woody English (320), Hack Wilson (314), Kiki Cuyler (310)
1927 Yankees Lou Gehrig (330), Babe Ruth (329)
1928 Yankees Babe Ruth (313), Lou Gehrig (309)
1930 Yankees Lou Gehrig (324), Babe Ruth (323)
1931 Yankees Babe Ruth (328), Lou Gehrig (328)
1937 Tigers Hank Greenberg (305), Charlie Gehringer (300)
1997 Astros Craig Biggio (309), Jeff Bagwell (305)
1999 Yankees Derek Jeter (322), Bernie Williams (303)
2013 Reds Joey Votto (316), Shin-Soo Choo (300)

As for leading a league in walks for three straight seasons, Votto became the 17th player to achieve that feat. The ability to get on base at such an exceptional rate has long been part of the narrative for the four-time All-Star. His career .419 on-base percentage is the 21st highest in history for all players through their first seven seasons (min. 3,000 plate appearances); he also fares pretty well in the other rate stats, as Votto is one of 23 players to hold a .300/.400/.500 line through his first seven campaigns (same minimum for plate appearances). But back to all of those times on base for Choo and Votto in 2013, for their twin-plateaus made them something of an historic duo.

In all of baseball history, there have been 148 players to have reached base safely at least 300 times in a season, with the Angels' Mike Trout joining Votto and Choo in this most recent campaign. The single-season record is held by Babe Ruth, who reached 379 times in 1923. It was one of nine times in his career Ruth reached or surpassed 300. And those nine campaigns with at least 300 are tied for the most by any player, with Ruth's longtime teammate Lou Gehrig also having nine such seasons to his credit. In 1927, '28, '30, and '31, Ruth and Gehrig each attained 300 times on base, making them one of the very few sets of teammates to get there in the same season. Enter Votto and Choo.

During the 1997 season, no one -- not Frank Thomas, Bonds or Larry Walker -- reached safely more often than Astros second baseman Craig Biggio, who tied the Mariners' Edgar Martinez for first in the Majors. And the number -- for both defensive position and batting order spot -- also stands out as something special.

In reaching safely 309 times, Biggio posted the ninth-highest total for a second baseman in baseball history, and with 308 of them coming out of the leadoff spot, that number tied Biggio for the seventh-highest total since 1916 for that split. And while doing all of this work in front of Jeff Bagwell (who was batting third all season), Biggio scored 146 times -- the most for a NL player since Chuck Klein tallied 152 runs in 1932. As for that lucky guy hitting in the three-hole behind Biggio, Bagwell not only drove in 135 runs (with 46 of them coming in the person of Biggio), but also drew 127 walks as part of that 305 times reaching safely.

With his numbers in 1997 coming after he had 120 RBIs and 135 walks in '96, Bagwell joined Ruth, Gehrig, Williams and Willie McCovey as the only players to have at least 120 walks and 120 RBIs in consecutive seasons. And with his 305 times on base following the '96 season when he led the Majors with 324, Bagwell became the 15th player in history to reach safely at least 300 times in at least two straight seasons. If Biggio's '97 campaign was a season for the memory banks, Bagwell was putting together a run of them.

As the 2013 season wound down, Choo's pursuit of a 300th time on base was one of the quieter storylines being followed. But in getting there and doing his part to push himself and Votto onto the list headed by Ruth and Gehrig, Choo helped the Reds duo aligned itself with some premium teammate combinations, including another NL pair that occupied the first and third spots in the batting order and gave its team a fantastic recipe for producing runs.

Roger Schlueter is senior researcher for MLB Productions. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.