CHICAGO -- A year ago when he was disappointed with himself for letting parts of his game slip -- even after he batted over .400 in the second half -- Reds first baseman Joey Votto vowed to be better. Votto proved to be more than a man of his word in 2017.
To wrap up the season, Votto was 2-for-4 with two doubles and a run scored in the Reds' 3-1 victory over the Cubs on Sunday at Wrigley Field. The 34-year-old certainly deserves to be one of the leading contenders for the National League Most Valuable Player Award.
"I think, without question as you get older, you lose things," Votto said. "I don't hit the ball as hard or as far as I used to. I don't run as well as I used to. And certainly, recovery is difficult. On a daily basis, to be able to come out, compete and take advantage of things I probably took for granted in the past, that's where the experience comes in. I think as a complete package this is -- on a personal note -- the best year of my career."
Despite his playing for a last-place club, Votto likely gave MVP voters plenty to mull over about his season -- along with other top contenders like Paul Goldschmidt and Giancarlo Stanton.
Votto also has the respect of his opponents.
"He's a good fellow, he's a bright fellow, he's an interesting fellow and he's also one of the top two or three or five hitters in all of baseball," Cubs manager Joe Maddon said. "I love his enthusiasm for the game. I think [Saturday] he struck out and he was upset. He doesn't give away anything. He doesn't give away any at-bats at any time."
These are some of Votto's achievements in 2017:
• He batted .320/.454/.578 with 36 home runs, 100 RBIs and 106 runs. He led the Majors in walks (134) and on-base percentage and led the NL in OPS (1.032). Votto's OBP was about 40 points higher than the NL's second-ranked hitter, Justin Turner.
• Votto walked 134 times, compared to 83 strikeouts. He was the first player since Barry Bonds in 2004 to walk at least 133 times with fewer than 90 strikeouts.
• Votto led the Majors by reaching safely 321 times, which broke his 2015 franchise record of 319.
• In August, Votto tied the NL record by reaching safely at least twice in 20 straight games, which was one shy of Hall of Famer Ted Williams' modern Major League record.
• Votto started all 162 games, becoming the first Reds player to start every game of a non-strike season since Pete Rose in 1975. He considered it his most important achievement of the season.
• Of those 162 games, Votto reached base in 150 of them. That included each of the final 32 games of the season, his season high. He had on-base streaks of 27 and 29 games earlier in the year.
• There were only two three-strikeout games all season -- Aug. 18 at Atlanta and Saturday vs. the Cubs.
• He ranked at the top among NL first basemen defensively in multiple advanced statistics, including defensive runs saved.
"It's a highly subjective vote, and I say that with as much appreciation as I can because I've won one before," said Votto, the 2010 NL MVP. "As far as winning the award, I'm not sure, but I did everything I can to play as well as I could, to play every day, to improve facets of my game that I promised I would.
"I wanted this to be my piece de resistance. I wanted this to be my work of art. I felt like shrinking strikeouts, keeping the walks, competing on a daily basis, playing every day, improving my defense. I felt this was definitely the best year of my career."
Behind the scenes, Votto also had an influence that benefited his teammates. Zack Cozart and Eugenio Suarez had career years and credited watching and talking with Votto as part of the reason.
"I think there are a lot of deserving players out there, but I get the chance to have that front row seat to watch Joey play every day," Reds manager Bryan Price said. "I've seen how he impacts our ballclub. Without him, we are nothing more than a fraction of what we are simply because he provides not just the statistical performance, but the impact that he's had on our clubhouse and younger players is significant."