CINCINNATTI -- Knowing Matt Carpenter's secret salsa is reserved for teammates, Joey Votto got creative this week when trying to get a taste of Carpenter's white-hot stretch.Votto's chance came Monday, when Carpenter met him at first base after singling in the third of an eventual 2-1 Cardinals loss. The jovial
CINCINNATTI -- Knowing Matt Carpenter's secret salsa is reserved for teammates, Joey Votto got creative this week when trying to get a taste of Carpenter's white-hot stretch.
Votto's chance came Monday, when Carpenter met him at first base after singling in the third of an eventual 2-1 Cardinals loss. The jovial reunion of two of the National League's most kindred hitters then turned mischievous: Votto tried to snatch Carpenter's shin guard before he could hand it to first base coach Oliver Marmol.
"I tried to rub it all over me to get something out of it," Votto told MLB Network. "But he wouldn't give it to me."
"You can't have this," said Marmol, who in good spirits, yanked the shin guard out of Votto's reach. "Not this series."
The episode was the latest chapter in a friendship that's budded for years between Votto and Carpenter, their relationship rooted in respect of what both cite as a shared approach at the plate. Both on the field and off, Votto and Carpenter talk hitting. They talk about the benefits and pitfalls of their similar skillsets, which revolve around patience and plate discipline.
"We bounce ideas off each other," said Carpenter. "We're similar in a sense that when we're at our best, we're extremely aggressive in the strike zone. When we're not as good, our patience almost becomes a weakness. We're almost too patient. We talked about that."
But the short conference also marked a reversal of sorts. Carpenter has long looked up to Votto, who he calls "the best hitter in the NL since Jose Pujols left." This year, Votto is referencing Carpenter when pressed to describe his odd season, during which he's significantly underperformed his batted-ball metrics.
Votto leads the Majors with a .416 on-base percentage, his eye as sharp as ever. But his average (.282) and slugging (.428) are down precipitously, while the 58-point gap between his expected wOBA and actual wOBA ranks the second largest for a Reds hitter since 2015, when Statcast™ first devised of the metric.
Carpenter began the season in a similarly disjointed reality. He was one of baseball's unluckiest hitters through the middle of May. Now he's in the midst of a career year, and on the heels of a historic eight-homer week, he paces all NL hitters in doubles, homers, fWAR and OPS+. Votto is the NL's two-time reigning OPS+ champ.
Votto called Carpenter "a perfect example," saying: "[Earlier in the season] I asked him, 'How do you think you've been swinging?' And [Carpenter] said, 'I think I've been swinging well, but it hasn't come to fruition.' And over the last 40 games or so [Carpenter's] been outstanding … I really feel good and I think it's going to [turn around]."
Making the comparison easier is less about Carpenter's results, but how he gets them. Only one NL player has come closer to drawing as many walks as Votto (643) as Carpenter (498) since 2013; Carpenter routinely slots in just behind Votto atop MLB's chase rate leaderboards. Both have heard the outside criticisms and reaped the industry respect that comes from their painstaking, not-afraid-to-pass-the-baton approach.
"I've always tried to compare myself to him because I think we're very similar," Carpenter said. "He respects how I go about it and what I've been able to accomplish. I told him the last time we were here, he's my favorite player I've been able to play against, just because of the way he takes an at-bat."
Joe Trezza is a reporter for MLB.com. Follow him on Twitter at @joetrezz.