CINCINNATI — Joey Votto ended up having an incredible year despite an awful start.
Going to the final game, he was cinch to hit .400 for the second half. He had his on-base plus slugging up to .988, best in the National League and third in the majors.
But Votto fell well short in one aspect of the game; he talked more about that than what he’s accomplished in what served as his season-exit interview.
“I felt like I went a couple of months where I played some really inconsistent defense,” he said. “Personally, until (Mike) Trout came in the league, I thought I’d be in the conversation for the best player in the game every year. He (messed) that up for everybody. Babe Ruth and Ted Williams included.
“You can’t be in the conversation unless you do every aspect of the game. I love competing against the best. It’s something I fell a little bit short on. Offensively, I felt like I could compete with anyone in baseball. Defensively, I feel like I have a way to go. It’s exciting to have a challenge to overcome.”
Votto’s WAR (Wins Above Replacement) reflects that: Despite leading the NL in OPS, he was 22nd in WAR.
The last time Votto spent an offseason concentrating on defense -- 2009 -- he won a Gold Glove the following year.
The thing Votto was most pleased with?
"Playing every day," said Votto, who missed just five games. “You don’t give yourself an opportunity to do good things if you don’t play every day. I missed a couple of games with the flu, a couple of games random rest or my neck. But if I could prevented those, I would have played 162, which is a point of pride for me.
Because he stayed healthy, he was able to turn around his season.
“I feel like I have faith in my ability,” Votto said. “I didn’t doubt that I’d come back from the start. I was frustrated and I was in disbelief. But physically I felt good. My mind didn’t waver. I really wanted to come back from it. I couldn’t do that if I didn’t play every day. It was a really important part of the process. If I had gotten hurt or taken time off - 40 games, I never would have finished like I did.
“It’s really, really important for me to play every day.”
Votto was hitting .252 with a .446 slugging percentage before the All-Star break. But he raised his average 74 points to .326 coming into Sunday's game. Compared to 2015, he had the same number of home runs (29), one more double (34), 17 more RBI (97) and 35 fewer walks. His average was 12 points higher than last year. (.314).
Votto didn’t make much of becoming the first player to hit over .400 in the second half since Ichiro Suzuki did it in 2004.
“It means the exact same thing as hitting .200 in the first two months,” he said. “It’s like, ‘Boy, that’s confusing.’ I don’t expect to hit .400. I don’t expect to hit .200.”
Votto was just the second Red since 1900 to hit .400 in two months of the season. Vada Pinson did it in 1961. Votto became the first Red to hit .400 in consecutive months (July and August), No big leaguer has done it since Josh Hamilton in June and July of 2010.
Manager Bryan Price said he was amazed by what Votto did consistently.
“Who doesn’t fluctuate and have periods of incredible success followed by periods of some struggle?” Price said. “There really hasn’t been a down cycle in the second half.
“There was a period where he wasn’t getting as many hits, but everything he hit was on the barrel. The consistency where he hits the ball on the barrel is like I haven’t seen before.”
John Fay is a freelance sports columnist; this column represents his opinion. Contact him at email@example.com.