Not all MLB free agents who disappointed in 2012 can be clumped together. Particular individuals have better odds of enjoying bounce-back seasons.
Predicting a turnaround begins with identifying the cause(s) of past struggles. Ballpark factors and injuries, for example, can cause year-to-year variance.
From there, determine whether their problems can be remedied with new mechanics, strategies and a clean bill of health.
These available players will come relatively cheaply. Seven in all—including Dan Haren—are bound to rebound next summer.
Huff just needs more playing time to fix his swing.
2012 stats: .192/.326/.282, 1 HR, 7 RBI in 95 PA.
Prior to last season, Aubrey Huff never had to answer questions about his durability.
He served just one stint on the disabled list from June 2002 through 2011.
But in 2012, Huff totaled three trips to the DL. An anxiety disorder forced him away from the San Francisco Giants in April and May, while knee injuries kept him out of action during the dog days.
The veteran slumped when healthy because his swing trajectory was all out of whack. Per Baseball-Reference.com, he hit more fly balls than in any other season of his MLB career. Also, his line drive rate was uncharacteristically low. Nearly half his plate appearances came at pitcher-friendly AT&T Park and Huff finished with brutal offensive numbers.
Finding everyday work as an AL designated hitter—perhaps with the Cleveland Indians or Houston Astros—could make him a great run producer again.
Even through chronic knee pain, Berkman will be intimidating.
2012 stats: .259/.381/.444, 2 HR, 7 RBI in 97 PA.
Compared to Aubrey Huff, signing Lance Berkman comes with more risk and potential reward.
The cartilage in his knees has deteriorated over the years, so he's constantly in pain. One wrong step could send him back to the surgeon.
On the other hand, he's much more disciplined at the plate.
Aging batters lose bat speed, struggle against pitchers of the same handedness and settle for platoon roles. Berkman won't deal with the same sharp regression because he's a switch-hitter. Do not bet against him replicating his 2011 production (.301/.412/.547 with 31 HR).
Though Berkman alluded to retirement during the summer, he has since taken a wait-and-see approach.
Hernandez never returned to the mound after injuring his ankle in August.
2012 stats: 0-3, 7.53 ERA, 1.40 WHIP, 2 SO in 14.1 IP.
Roberto Hernandez stayed away from Major League Baseball for a while following his identity crisis and didn't make his 2012 debut until August 15. Less than two weeks later, an ankle injury ended his campaign.
The hittable right-hander never had the opportunity to properly re-acclimate, so take his horrific stats with a grain of salt.
According to Paul Hoynes of The Plain Dealer, teams seem to be doing exactly that:
Roberto Hernandez, aka Fausto Carmona, said to be drawing "healthy' interest as a free agent. #Indians still interested. Right ankle fine.— paul hoynes (@hoynsie) November 15, 2012
The 32-year-old formerly known as Fausto Carmona certainly isn't a top-of-the-rotation option. In fact, he would fail to crack the starting five in many situations.
But put an agile infield behind Hernandez to gobble up ground balls and he could provide 200 competitive innings.
K-Rod can find success again...away from Miller Park.
2012 stats: 2-7, 4.38 ERA, 1.33 WHIP, 72 SO in 72.0 IP.
Just call him Dr. Jekyll.
Prior to a dominant month of September (1.20 ERA, 0.53 WHIP, 15 SO in 15.0 IP), Francisco Rodriguez was totally inconsistent. He surrendered multiple runs in 11 separate relief appearances.
Suitors shouldn't be deterred—K-Rod has plenty left in the tank.
FanGraphs shows that his fastball velocity jumped up after heading the opposite directions for two straight seasons.
Serving up eight home runs bloated his earned run average, but hitter-friendly Miller Park aided a pair of those blasts. Andre Ethier's go-ahead hit and this line drive off Roger Bernadina's bat barely cleared the left-center field fence (video courtesy of MLB.com). The ESPN Home Run Tracker insists that neither would have made it out of most other venues.
Rodriguez can re-establish himself as an elite, late-inning reliever next season.
Haren failed to finish off hitters, but still has exceptional control.
2012 stats: 12-13, 4.33 ERA, 1.29 WHIP, 142 SO in 176.2 IP.
Let's not overreact to one sloppy summer. After all, Dan Haren spent the previous few as an elite starting pitcher.
Combining all 2007-2011 performances, FanGraphs ranks the right-hander fourth among MLB pitchers with a value of 28.0 WAR. The only aces ahead of him? Roy Halladay, Justin Verlander and CC Sabathia.
Compared to past seasons, Haren struggled with pitch efficiency and averaged fewer than six innings per start. A lack of 0-2 counts meant opposing batters could be selective (rather than taking defensive hacks).
Home run rate fluctuates throughout a career and his is due to improve in 2013.
Tommy John surgery has an awesome success rate. Madson will be fine.
2012 stats: did not play.
Ryan Madson's ulnar collateral ligament tore from the bone in spring training, requiring Tommy John surgery. He underwent the procedure on April 11 and could miss Opening Day.
Joba Chamberlain and Joe Nathan are two prominent relievers who recently dealt with the same injury and rehab. Upon returning, both had issues with fastball command.
But that wouldn't be much of a detriment to Madson. He relies on the heater to set up his devastating changeup. Speed differential is more important than location and following elbow reconstruction, pitchers typically throw as hard as ever (if not harder).
Madson is on track for a 12-month recovery that could get him back in the big leagues by the second or third week of the season.
Rivera (knee) will reportedly be ready for Opening Day 2013.
2012 stats: 1-1, 2.16 ERA, 0.96 WHIP, 5 SV in 8.1 IP.
Mariano Rivera's 2012 campaign ended six months premature with a torn ACL. His fastball velocity was lower than ever (via FanGraphs).
Still, consistently terrific results point to continued success in his age-43 season. Even such a serious knee injury shouldn't affect his cutter's late, lateral movement.
Rivera is currently unsigned, but eager to return to the New York Yankees. GM Brian Cashman "fully expects to hammer out a new contract," Mark Feinsand of the Daily News reports.
He's poised for a bounce-back year of at least 60 innings, 35 saves and a microscopic earned run average.