Predicting MLB's Top Comeback Player of the Year Candidates

Ben ShapiroAnalyst IIIApril 17, 2012

Predicting MLB's Top Comeback Player of the Year Candidates

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    The Comeback Player of The Year Award is given out at the conclusion of every baseball season. As is the case with most awards, there's one for the National League and one for the American League. 

    The award is generally given to a very good baseball player; there's nothing unique about that. What sets the award apart is that the player was once good but for some reason—be it a season-long slump or an injury—the previous season was well below that player's normal level of production.

    Who are some players to watch in the American and National leagues this seasons?  

Carl Crawford: Boston Red Sox

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    Carl Crawford 2011: .255 BA / 11 HR / 56 RBI / 18 SB / .694 OPS

    Inked to a massive seven-year, $142 million contract before the start of the 2011 baseball season, Carl Crawford arrived in Boston with high hopes and high expectations. 

    He then spent the better part of 2011 lowering those expectations for the foreseeable future. It was by far the worst season of his career and it was of course magnified by the large contract, the constant scrutiny that nearly every member of the Red Sox is under and, of course, the team's terrible late-season collapse. 

    Crawford then sustained a wrist injury that required offseason surgery, which he is still recovering from. He may start to take live at-bats in extended spring training next week and could return to the Red Sox in May. 

    Once back in Boston, he will be counted on to produce. If he does and his numbers look anything like those of his 2010 season as a member of the Tampa Bay Rays, then he'll have an excellent chance to win the award. 

Joe Nathan: Texas Rangers

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    Joe Nathan 2011: 2-1 / 14 SV / 44.2 IP / 4.84 ERA / 1.164 WHIP

    Joe Nathan had an off 2011, but it was a lot better than his 2010. In 2010, he missed the entire season while recovering from Tommy John surgery. Last season was one of adjustment for Nathan. He pitched and was healthy but he was a mere shell of the player he was when he was closing games for the Twins in 2009. 

    That season he had 47 saves, an earned run average of 2.10 and a WHIP ratio of 0.932. 

    This season, he returns to the closer role where he used to excel. Rather than playing for the Minnesota Twins, he's now on the two-time defending American League Champion Texas Rangers. 

    You can't accumulate saves unless your team is ahead and the Texas Rangers will probably provide Nathan with plenty of leads for him to hold in the ninth inning. He's already racked up three saves this season and there could be plenty more in the future. 

Justin Morneau: Minnesota Twins

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    Justin Morneau 2011: .227 BA / 4 HR / 30 RBI / .618 OPS

    Justin Morneau won the 2006 American League MVP Award. He might have been well on his way to another in June of 2010, but then he sustained a concussion on a play at second base and unfortunately he hasn't been the same since. 

    Morneau would love to bounce back to the player he once was. He's battled post-concussion symptoms for over a full year and he now finally appears to have gotten over those. He's not the same player at the plate that he once was, though, and that's a shame.

    If Morneau were to somehow revert back to his MVP form, he'd be tough to vote against for this award.  

Adam Dunn: Chicago White Sox

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    Adam Dunn 2011: .159 BA / 11 HR / 42 RBI / .569 OPS / 177 K's

    For seven consecutive seasons, Adam Dunn quite simply smashed the baseball. He hit 38 or more home runs from 2004 through 2010—all in the National League. Dunn was never a high-average guy and he always strikes out a ton, but his prodigious power helped offset those issues. 

    Until 2011. 

    Last season, Dunn hit for a lower average than usual—in fact, it was historically low. His power dried up , as did his run production. Dunn's 2011 was everything that had ever been wrong with Dunn magnified; everything that had been right just vanished. 

    This season won't be as bad as 2011. That would be nearly impossible. Even if Dunn struggled to the point where he was on a pace to replicate 2011, it's unlikely that new manager Robin Ventura would allow Dunn the playing time to replicate the final stat line of 2011. 

    Then again, if Dunn racks up 35 to 40 home runs and over 100 RBI, he could take home an award. 

Shin-Soo Choo: Cleveland Indians

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    Shin-Soo Choo 2011: .259 BA / 8 HR / 36 EBI / .733 OPS

    The Indians had a surprisingly good season in 2011. It was even more surprising when one considers that their best all-around offensive player missed most of the season and during the limited time in which he was healthy, he was largely ineffective. 

    Their best player is Shin-Soo Choo. Now in his eighth season in the majors, Choo started out in Seattle but he was dealt to Cleveland in an ill-fated deal in July of 2006 in exchange for Ben Broussard. 

    It took him a few seasons to get acclimated in Cleveland, but in 2009 Choo broke out and hit .300 along with 20 home runs, 86 RBI and 21 stolen bases. 2010 was even better and he entered the 2011 season with high hopes. 

    Those hopes were dashed on June 24th when San Francisco Giants pitcher Jonathan Sanchez hit Choo in the hand and broke his thumb. Choo would miss the remainder of the season. 

    Choo enters 2012 looking to replicate his success from 2009 and 2010. If he can do that, then the Comeback Player of The Year Award might be his. 

Adam Wainwright: St. Louis Cardinals

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    Adam Wainwright 2011: Missed Entire Season

    When you talk about Adam Wainwright pre-2011, you're talking about a serious Cy Young Award contender. In 2009 and 2010, he placed third and second, respectively, in the National League voting.

    He hurt his elbow in spring training of the 2011 season and before he had a chance to even make a regular season start, Wainwright was gone for all of 2011 due to Tommy John surgery. 

    The success rate of returning to the majors after undergoing Tommy John surgery is high, but that doesn't mean that every player returns to the level of production they were at pre-surgery. Some players bounce right back; others take more than one season to adjust to their surgically-repaired elbows. 

    Wainwright is back and starting for the Cardinals, but it's not clear yet whether he will return to his standing as one of the National League's very best starting pitchers. If he does, then a Comeback Player of The Year award might not be the only award he takes home. 

Johan Santana: New York Mets

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    Johan Santana 2011 Season: Missed Entire Season

    When Johan Santana took the mound for the New York Mets on Opening Day 2012, it marked the first time he had started a big league game since September 10, 2010. 

    Santana is trying to come back from shoulder surgery, which is a much dicier subject than the aforementioned Tommy John surgery. 

    At one time, Santana was the dominant pitcher in Major League Baseball. It's unlikely that Santana will ever replicate his finest years from the middle of the past decade when he was with the Minnesota Twins, but a solid effort in 2012 might be enough to place him in the Comeback Player of The Year discussion. 

Jason Bay: New York Mets

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    Jason Bay 2011: .245 BA / 12 HR / 57 RBI / .703 OPS

    In 2009, Jason Bay was a member of the Boston Red Sox and he hit 36 home runs, drove in 119 runs and hit for a .267 average. He played in 151 games and had 531 at-bats. 

    In the offseason, he signed a four-year, $66 million contract with the New York Mets. It was expected he'd join players such as Jose Reyes, Carlos Beltran and David Wright to form a very potent Mets offense. It did not turn out that way, though. 

    Bay got off to an abysmal start to the 2010 season and then the injuries started to pile up. Bay only played in 95 games in 2010; it was hoped that 2011 would the year he'd bounce back. It wouldn't have been a big shock if he had won the Comeback Player of The Year award last year. 

    That didn't work out either. 2011 was another struggle, as Bay still seemed out of his element hitting in the spacious confines of Citi Field.

    This year, the Mets have moved the fences in. Reyes and Beltran are both gone, but the Mets are already looking like a more confident team and it's hoped that Bay will eventually rediscover the stroke that earned him that big contract back in December of 2009.  

Buster Posey: San Francisco Giants

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    Buster Posey 2011: .284 BA / 4 HR / 21 RBI / .756 OPS / 45 games 

    The 2010 season was the stuff that dreams are made of for Buster Posey. He burst onto the scene as a rookie catcher for the San Francisco Giants. He made his first appearance and start of the season on May 29th against the Arizona Diamondbacks and went on to play in 108 games.

    Along the way, he collected the National League Rookie of The Year Award and more importantly, a World Series ring. 

    The 2011 season was the opposite. Posey and the Giants started the season with high hopes, but the team struggled. On May 25th, he was involved in a violent home-plate collision with Florida (now Miami) Marlins outfielder Scott Cousins. 

    Cousins had been trying to score and Posey had blocked the plate. The resulting collision broke Posey's fibula bone and ended his 2011 season. It also seemed to end the Giants season as well, as the team's offense never got going and they faded from playoff contention. 

    This season, at the age of 25, Posey is trying to make a comeback. Expectations are high that he will and he just might be one of the best bets to win National League Comeback Player of The Year. 

Josh Johnson: Miami Marlins

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    Josh Johnson 2011: 3-1 / 1.64 ERA / 0.978 WHIP / 56 K / 60 IP

    As you can see from the stat line above, Johnson's performance was not the issue in 2011. In fact, he looked as sharp if not sharper than he ever had in the early part of the season. 

    A shoulder injury put the once promising season on ice, though. Johnson made his final appearance of 2011 on May 16th. 

    This season, he's back and he'd love to pick up where he left off. Johnson's career has always been an injury minefield. He underwent Tommy John surgery back in the summer of 2007. He's missed considerable time in two of the six seasons he was slated to pitch full-time. 

    Both Miami and Johnson would love to see what a healthy and effective Johnson could produce, especially now that he's in his prime at the age of 28.