Joey Votto started the 2017 season unsure how his defensive game would stack up.
Now that it's over, the Cincinnati Reds first baseman and Canadian star says it was his defence that made him most proud over his MVP-calibre campaign.
Votto, a Gold Glove finalist this season, was named one of the three finalists for the National League MVP award on Monday for the third time in his career. The MVP will be announced Nov. 16 while the Gold Glove winners will be revealed on Tuesday.
Votto is hoping to add both to his trophy case.
"I think that going into this season I was really concerned ... I was very, very scared that I was starting the process of declining as a defensive player," Votto said on a conference call Monday night. "And the next subject would have been possible trades to an American League team, should he DH, those sort of things.
"It was the defence (he wanted to focus on), really shoring that up and making sure that I'm among the Gold Glove finalists this year. That was my goal, to really get back on track to being one of the best defensive players in my position in baseball."
Miami Marlins slugger Giancarlo Stanton and Arizona Diamondbacks first baseman Paul Goldschmidt are the other MVP finalists in the NL, while Aaron Judge of the New York Yankees, Jose Ramirez of the Cleveland Indians and Jose Altuve of the Houston Astros are the American League finalists.
Votto led MLB this season in on-base percentage, walks and intentional walks and tied Kansas City's Alcides Escobar for the Major League lead in games started (162).
The 34-year-old reached base an MLB-best 321 times in 2017, breaking his own club record of 319 set two seasons before. He also led the NL in walks for the fifth time, in on-base percentage for the sixth time and in both categories in the same season for the fourth time.
The Toronto native also joined Babe Ruth (1921, 1924, 1926, 1930) and Ted Williams (1941, 1942, 1949) as the only players in Major League history to produce at least 179 hits, 36 homers and 134 walks with 83 strikeouts or fewer in a single season.
Votto, who won the MVP award in 2010, said his 2017 campaign was even better than that year's "because I played every day."
"I think I'm a little short on a couple of the advanced numbers but I started maybe 15 more games than that year (2010)," Votto said. "I played 162 and I started every game. So offensively I think it may have been (his best year).
"Had I taken the time off and not faced certain starters I probably would have had my best OPS or weighted runs created plus, some of those all-encompassing numbers I think I would have done better. I know I came up short but that's a give-and-take sort of thing. I gave that up to make sure I played every day."
Stanton led the majors in homers with 59 and drove in 132 runs. He batted .281 with a .376 on-base percentage and .631 slugging percentage.
Goldschmidt hit 36 home runs and had 120 RBI's in 155 games. He finished the season with a .297 batting average.
Judge, also a finalist for the AL Rookie of the Year award, hit 52 home runs to help lead the Yankees to a playoff berth. The 25-year-old had 114 RBI's and 127 walks with 208 strikeouts.
Ramirez had 29 homers, 56 doubles, 83 RBI's and batted .318 over 152 games for Cleveland.
Altuve led the league in hits with 204 and won his third career batting title with a .346 average. He had 24 homers, 39 doubles and drove in 81 runs for the eventual World Series champion Astros.
The Baseball Writers' Association of America revealed finalists for all its major awards Monday night.
The NL champion Dodgers could take home three awards. Cody Bellinger could join Judge as a unanimous winner for Rookie of the Year, Clayton Kershaw is going for a fourth NL Cy Young Award and Dave Roberts is up for Manager of the Year.
Pittsburgh first baseman Josh Bell and St. Louis infielder Paul DeJong round out the field for NL Rookie of the Year, and Boston outfielder Andrew Benintendi and Baltimore slugger Trey Mancini also are up for the AL award.
Kershaw is competing against Washington aces Max Scherzer and Stephen Strasburg. Corey Kluber of Cleveland, Chris Sale of Boston and Luis Severino from the Yankees are up for the AL Cy Young Award.
The field for NL Manager of the Year also includes Colorado's Bud Black and Arizona's Torey Lovullo. A.J. Hinch from the Astros is a finalist for AL Manager of the Year alongside Terry Francona of the Indians and Paul Molitor of the Twins.
— With files from The Associated Press