Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Comeback Players of the Year

The Sporting News named Adam Dunn AL Comeback Player of the Year, but MLB selected Fernando Rodney. Both were deserving candidates; Dunn recovered from a historically awful season in 2011 to swar 41 home runs and lead the majors in walks this year, while Rodney saved 48 games and posted the lowest single season ERA (0.60) of any pitcher with at least 50 innings. Rodney was replaced by Jordan Walden as the Angels closer in 2011 and missed about six weeks in the from early June to mid-July that summer. Frustrated by his lack of playing time, he signed on with Tampa Bay at a one year, $2 million discount. Stepping in for Kyle Farnsworth, Rodney challenged Craig Kimbrel and Aroldis Chapman for the title of best closer in baseball. Personally, I think Dunn deserves the trophy because he was so brutal in 2011. It was probably the worst season any player ever had. But this year, he was back to being the Adam Dunn we know and love, the three-true-outcomes slugger in the truest sense of the phrase.

There was no disagreement over who deserved the award in the National League. Buster Posey had his season cut short by a brutal collision at the plate that broke his ankle, an injury that limited him to 45 games and devastated San Francisco's hopes to repeat as World Series champions. The injury couldn't have come at a worse time for Posey, who was riding a 13 game hitting streak and had found his groove at the plate after getting off to a slow start. Some worried how the 2010 NL Rookie of the Year would respond in 2012, but he silenced all doubters by putting together an MVP caliber season. Posey started the All-Star Game, paced the bigs in OPS+ and enjoyed one of the greatest second halves anybody has ever had by hitting .386/.458/.649 from July 8th onward. He also amassed 7.2 bWAR, most in the NL, and "won" the major league batting crown when teammate Melky Cabrera disqualified himself.

Here are some potential candidates for the 2013 award:

Jacoby Ellsbury
Boston's centerfielder won the award last year, and could win it next year if he is anything close to the player he was in 2011 when he finished second to Justin Verlander in the AL MVP voting. It will be interesting to see how the front office handles him this winter since he is just one year away from free agency; I don't want to see them sell low on him as they did with Kevin Youkilis.

Michael Pineda
Remember him? If the 23 year-old can recapture the form he showed as a rookie/All-Star in 2011, when he whiffed more than a batter per inning and posted a 1.10 WHIP, he will make the Yankees forget about Jesus Montero. Would be a perfect number 2 after C.C. Sabathia.

Mariano Rivera
It will be interesting to see how Rivera responds to the first serious injury of his major league career. Also he will be 43 next year. I have this sneaky feeling he might finally be done, but he pitched well prior to shredding his ACL.

Alex Rodriguez
After Joe Girardi benched him during the playoffs, Rodriguez promised to return with a vengeance in 2013. That seems like wishful thinking for a 37 year-old third baseman who has missed an average of 38 games per year since 2008 and has seen his OPS decline every season. If he plays a full slate of games he could still go .270-25-100 in that lineup.

Brett Gardner
Playoffs included, Gardner recorded just 45 plate appearances in 2012 thanks to an elbow injury that required surgery in the middle of the season. The 29 year-old speedster is still in his prime and should challenge Mike Trout for the title of the league's best basestealer.

Andrew Bailey
Jonathan Papelbon's replacement barely played last year and was horrible when he did pitch, getting abused to the tune of a 7.04 ERA in his 19 appearances. When healthy, the two-time All-Star is one of the game's top closers and could save upwards of 35 games next year.

Ricky Romero
Is he the ace who posted a 146 ERA+ and 6.2 bWAR in 2011, or is he the train wreck who led the major leagues in walks and had a 1.67 WHIP in 2012. The answer, as always, is probably somewhere in between. He just had elbow surgery.

Evan Longoria
His per game numbers were excellent in 2012; the only problem was that he missed 88 games thanks to a torn hamstring. 2013 will be his age-27 season, so expect big things from the perennial MVP candidate. Perhaps he will finally put up that monster season we've been expecting of him.

Eric Hosmer
Talk about a sophomore slump. Hosmer stunk up the joint in 2012 to the tune of .232/.304/.359, but on the bright side he improved his walk rate and stole 16 bases in 17 attempts. His GB/FB rate went in the wrong direction but it seems he was victimized by an unfortunate .255 BABiP. Don't expect the 23 year-old first sacker to hit his Joey Votto ceiling next year, but a 20/20 season with 80 RBI and a batting average close to .300 is well within reach.

Victor Martinez
V-Mart sat out the entire 2012 season after tearing his ACL in the offseason and turns 34 in December, but it doesn't take a rocket scientist to figure out the steady switch-hitter will be an RBI machine batting behind Miguel Cabrera and Prince Fielder.

Joakim Soria
Missed the entire season after having TJ surgery. Don't forget this All-Star closer averaged a 2.01 ERA and sub-one WHIP from 2007-'10. He probably won't be that good, but I don't think he'll be as bad as he was in 2011, either.

John Danks
Danks made only nine starts before needing season-ending shoulder surgery. He hasn't been the same these past two years, but won't turn 28 until the spring and could get back to being the plus starter he was from 2008-'10.

Roger Clemens
No explanation necessary for the 50 year-old with seven Cy Youngs.

Josh Beckett
Nightmare season in Boston ended when he was dealt to the Los Angeles Dodgers. After the trade, he posted a 2.93 ERA and his K/9 rate jumped from 6.6 to 8.0. He should continue to post similarly impressive numbers next year.

Roy Halladay
Doc spent time on the DL with a shoulder injury and posted the worst numbers of his career since becoming a full-time starter. His days of winning Cy Youngs may be in the past, but he's better than this.

Tim Lincecum
His World Series dominance gives me some hope he won't be a total mess next year. That, and his two Cy Young awards. It also bears mentioning that he posted a respectable 3.83 ERA in the second half.

Chris Carpenter
Made just three starts this season and will turn 38 next spring, but has a track record of rebounding following injury plagued seasons.

Troy Tulowitzki
Groin injury limited him to 47 games this year. Health is usually a concern for Tulo, who's missed an average of 49 games per year going back to 2008, but when he's in the lineup he puts up big numbers. I see the 28 year-old stud bouncing back to .300-30-100 figures next year.

Daniel Hudson
Rough year for Ian Kennedy's partner-in-crime, who made only nine starts (7.35 ERA) and underwent Tommy John surgery. I was high on him entering the season and believe he'll rebound next year to a 15 game winner with an ERA in the mid-threes.

Carl Crawford
It remains to be seen if he can ever come close to repeating his successful years with Tampa Bay, but his game is tailor-made for the NL and I'm not ready to write him off just yet, especially if he gets to bat in front of Matt Kemp, Andre Ethier and Hanley Ramirez.

Heath Bell
After three excellent seasons in San Diego, Bell signed a three year, $27 million deal with the Marlins and pitched terribly in his Miami debut. Was much better in the second half after losing his closer's gig with a 3.10 ERA post All-Star Break. Year 2 usually goes better for free agents, and Bell is getting paid too much money not to close.

Brian Wilson
"The Beard" pitched just two innings before going under the knife for Tommy John surgery. Had a down 2011 as well, but is still a top-notch closer when healthy.

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