Monday, January 12, 2015

2015 Comeback Candidates (AL)

New York re-signed Drew, who looked utterly lost in 2014 (Boston Herald)
Here's my team of American Leaguers who should enjoy more success in 2015 than they did last year.

C Brian McCann
Despite slugging 23 homers and appearing in 140 games, McCann was a significant disappointment in his Yankees debut. He hit only .232 with a career-low .286 OBP--well below his career .350 mark prior to last year. McCann hit considerably better down the stretch, however, with 12 home runs and a .500 slugging percentage from August 2nd onward. 31 next month, he's still young enough to bounce back some, especially in a ballpark well-suited to his strengths. Like Curtis Granderson and Alex Rodriguez, he should do much better in year two with the Yanks.

HM Matt Wieters

1B Prince Fielder
Fielder's first season in Texas was a nightmare, as he started slow, then got hurt just as his bat appeared to be warming up. A herniated disk in his back cost him the last four and a half months of 2014, preventing him from playing 157 games for the first time since 2005. Won't turn 31 until May 9th and will be fully healthy, so should still be capable of providing big numbers in that hitter's paradise.

HM Joe Mauer

2B Jason Kipnis
An All-Star and fringe MVP candidate in 2013, Kipnis was mediocre (85 OPS+) and barely above replacement level in 2014 (0.9 bWAR). His down season was a big reason why the Indians narrowly missed the playoffs. He missed most of May with an oblique strain and never really got back on track after that, hitting just .241/.299/.315 the rest of the way. Look for a big bounce back from Cleveland's keystone defender, who will be 28 this year.

HM Dustin Pedroia

3B Evan Longoria
2014 was easily the worst year of Longoria's career, as he hit only .253 with a career-worst .320 OBP and .404 slugging percentage. His once-sterling defense also took a hit, resulting in his first complete season where he failed to earn an MVP vote. Don't expect that to happen again next year, health permitting, as he's still in the heart of his prime at 29.

HM Chase Headley

SS Stephen Drew
Sure, he'll be another year older (32 in two months), but there's no way he hits .162/.237/.299 (51 OPS+) again.

HM Jed Lowrie
Choo could use a comeback (Kaplan Production)
LF Shin-Soo Choo
Choo was a huge bust in the first year of his seven-year, $130 million contract. Before sitting out September with a bone spur in his elbow, he'd been a far cry from the MVP candidate he was with the Reds in 2013, batting a mere .242/.340/.374 with just 13 home runs and 40 RBI in 123 games. Worse, a nagging ankle sprain hampered his wheels, limiting the perennial 20/20 threat to just seven stolen base attempts before it, too, required surgery. Fully recovered from both surgeries, 2015 Choo should be the guy Texas thought they were getting when they threw all that money at him last winter. I see a Jayson Werth-like resurgence coming here.

HM Alejandro De Aza

CF Austin Jackson
A-Jax struggled mightily after the deadline deal that sent him from Detroit to Seattle, where he batted .229/.267/.260 with just six extra base hits (no homers) in 54 games. Safeco's a much tougher place to hit than Detroit, but look for Jackson to adjust and get back to being a productive center fielder in his age-28 season.

HM Colby Rasmus

RF Shane Victorino
The Flyin' Hawaiian opened the season on the DL with a strained hamstring and was never right. He came back for a month, only to land on the Disabled List by re-injuring his hamstring. He made another brief appearance in July before shutting it down for the year for surgery on a bulging disc in his lower back. Here's to a healthier 2015 for the 34 year-old, who still considers himself Boston's starting right fielder.

HM Allen Craig

DH Billy Butler
Country Breakfast hit a career-low .271/.323/.379 with just nine home runs--his fewest since he hit eight in his abbreviated rookie season. It's also tough to bounce back in Oakland's offense-dampening park, but there was nothing wrong with him physically and he'll be 29 next year. I don't see him hitting .300 with 20 homers again, but .285 with 15 homers should be doable. If Billy Beane's banking on a bounce back, so am I.

HM Kendrys Morales
Nolasco needs a big turnaround (Zimbio)
SP Clay Buchholz
Boston's erstwhile ace was victimized by a lot of bad luck last year and will benefit from positive regression to the mean. Will he stay healthy, though? That's the question.

SP Justin Verlander
Was last year just a down year for Verlander, or is it the beginning of a Tim Lincecum-esque demise? We'll find out soon enough.

SP CC Sabathia
This one doesn't look promising, but the Yankees need him and he's been too good to write off just yet. One more bad year, though...

SP Ricky Nolasco
Nolasco was battered in his American League debut to the tune of a 5.38 ERA in 27 starts. His home run rate doubled, his strikeout rate plunged, and his hit rate soared. His walk rate stayed the same, though, and he somehow got raked for a .351 BABiP even though his line drive and ground ball rates decreased from the previous season. Given that his FIP was more than a run below his ERA, Nolasco is due for better luck this year.

SP Justin Masterson
Boston bought low on the former Red Sox and believe in his bounce back potential. So do I.

RP Daniel Bard.
This Boston Globe article says it all.

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