8 MLB Comeback Player of the Year Candidates for 2016
When you look at Fielder's numbers from 2014 and 2015, it's easy to see why he was the choice in the American League.
Of course, you could argue that Alex Rodriguez's incredible 2015 season (33 homers, 86 RBI, 2.7 fWAR) after missing all of 2014 due to a PED suspension as a 39-year-old was even more impressive, and it was. But voters did not seem inclined to award A-Rod for getting himself suspended for cheating.
So instead, they gave the award to Fielder, who finally got rid of the neck problem that was bothering him and allowed him to be more productive at the plate. He's not the 40-homer masher he once was, and after a hot first half in which he had a .924 OPS and hit 14 homers, he slowed down considerably in the second half, with a .742 OPS and 9 home runs.
In the NL, Harvey overcame Tommy John surgery to post a terrific bounce-back campaign in 2015.
After missing all of 2014, The Dark Knight returned in a big way this summer, posting a 2.71 ERA and 3.05 FIP and won 13 games for the NL champs.
The one thing these players have in common is that they missed either all of, or a major portion of, the previous season because of an injury. And while that's not always the reason a player wins Comeback Player of the Year, it's usually one of the big reasons why.
Below are eight players who are candidates to bounce back in 2016 and compete for the NL and AL Comeback Player of the Year Awards.
Texas is set up nicely for 2016, now with Cole Hamels in the fold and Yu Darvish expected to make his return from Tommy John surgery. In 2014 he struck out 11.35 batters per nine and had a 3.06 ERA and a FIP of 2.84. His lowest K/9 rate was in his rookie season, 2012, and it was 10.40.
Darvish is still young, entering his age 30 season, and should be fully healthy and ready for the start of next season as the ace of the staff. In my mind, he's the favorite in the American League.
We saw a little bit of Adam Wainwright in the playoffs as a relief pitcher following his rapid return from an Achilles injury that was supposed to sideline him for the entire season. In four starts before he got hurt, the 34-year-old went 2-1 with a 1.44 ERA and a 2.05 FIP, with a ground ball rate of 50%.
His ability to return quickly and pitch even a little bit out of the bullpen at the end of 2015 should put to rest any worries concerning his health, meaning Waino should be back to his usual, dominant self when the season opens next April.
It was a lost season for Dodgers outfielder Yasiel Puig. The 24-year-old Cuban star who had put up an fWAR of 4.1 and 5.3 the previous two seasons played in just 79 games this year thanks to a number of injuries, including one to his hamstring that forced him to miss all of September. As a result, Puig hit just .255/.322/.436 with 11 homers and 38 RBI this season and posted a meager fWAR of 1.5.
When healthy, Puig is a dynamic, if confounding player who gets on the nerves of teammates and coaches. If he can avoid the injury bug in 2016, he could very well have a Fielder-like resurgence for L.A.
Thank goodness Jose Fernandez is still just 23 years old, because if he was any older, we'd be worried we were missing out on his prime years of production. He burst onto the scene in 2013 at just 21, made 28 starts and posted a 2.19 ERA, 2.73 FIP and fWAR of 4.1. A perennial Cy Young candidate was in our midst.
Then came the injuries. After just eight starts in 2014, his season was over and Tommy John surgery followed. Fernandez returned in the middle of 2015 and made 11 starts and posted a 2.92 ERA and 2.24 FIP, striking out 10.99 batters per nine. However, a biceps strain after his return hurt him in his last few outings of the season. He wasn't himself.
But 2016 will give Fernandez a fresh start and, hopefully, a clean bill of health. And that makes him a prime Comeback Player candidate.
Seattle's second baseman, Robinson Cano, wasn't felled by injuries, or voodoo magic or anything like that in 2015. He just wasn't the old Robinson Cano.
After five straight seasons in which he was worth at least five wins above replacement, Cano was worth just 2.1 fWAR. He saw his wRC+ drop from 137 in 2014 to 116 in '15, his walk rate fell from 9.2% to 6.4%, and his strikeout rate jumped from 10.2% to 15.9%. He did hit 21 homers, and his 116 wRC+ indicates he was still an above average run producer, but he was a far cry from the dominant second baseman we had all come to know.
He'd have to put up some pretty ridiculous numbers to be considered a true Comeback Player of the Year, but he's done it before and can do it again.
Washington Nationals third baseman Anthony Rendon finished fifth in the NL MVP voting in 2014 and won the Silver Slugger Award thanks to a .287/.351/.473 slash line, 21 homers, 83 RBI, 17 stolen bases, 111 runs scored, 130 wRC+ and 6.5 fWAR. It was a heck of a sophomore season.
But right out of spring training, his 2015 season hit a major snag. He suffered knee and oblique injuries that limited him to just 80 games, and in those 80 games, he was very mediocre. He batted .264/.344/.363 with 5 homers, 43 runs scored, 25 RBI and a wRC+ of 97 that resulted in a 0.9 fWAR.
A return to health should mean a return to prominence as one of the best young players in the National League in 2016.
Hey, what do you know! Another young pitcher whose season was lost due to Tommy John surgery! Tampa's Alex Cobb was supposed to be the team's ace in 2015, but forearm troubles (often the sign a pitcher is going to need TJS) cropped up in the spring and took him out for the entire year. That was following a 2014 campaign in which he went 10-9 with a 2.87 ERA and a 3.23 FIP, striking out 8.06 batters per nine with an fWAR of 2.8.
He'll still be just 28 years old in 2016, and even though he will have missed a full year thanks to the surgery, he is a prime candidate for a big comeback in 2016.
Is Cincinnati's Homer Bailey the least-talked about starter who has thrown two career no-hitters? He had finally emerged as one of the best young starters in the National League, until a right elbow flexor injury ended his 2014 season prematurely. He then underwent TJS at the start of last year in a completely unrelated injury after just two starts.
When healthy, the 29-year-old can put up numbers like he did in 2013 when he went 11-12 with a 3.49 ERA, 3.31 FIP and fWAR of 4.1 in 209.0 innings. As well as all of the no-hitters.