Disappointing 2015 MLB Stars Poised for Huge 2016 Rebounds
In the case of MLB's star players, two important factors determine how they are expected to perform: past success and the value of their contracts.
Both serve to set an expectation for their on-field product. Each year, there are those whose stellar play increases their stardom and others whose poor play brings their status among the game's elite into question.
The 2015 season was no different.
For those star players who disappointed, this year allows them to start anew. A player may have recovered from injury this offseason. Another might have changed teams. Some could have fixed their mechanics.
Regardless, winter allows players to correct the wrongs from the previous year.
The 2016 season will provide redemption for a handful of players who used the offseason as a springboard to bounce back from their disheartening 2015 campaigns.They are poised to have bigger seasons than anyone thinks they will.
Starting Pitcher: Jeff Samardzija, Giants
It's difficult to envision Jeff Samardzija ever going back to the American League on his own accord.
Playing there seemed like learning a foreign language for the right-handed starting pitcher.
After the Chicago Cubs traded him to the Oakland A's in the middle of the 2014 season, Samardzija recorded a 3.14 ERA. But things got bad when he returned to the Windy City after being traded to the Chicago White Sox before last season. In 2015, Smardzija posted a 4.96 ERA, the worst in his career as a regular starter—and he looked nothing like the ace the Cubs had the season prior (when he posted a 2.83 ERA across 17 starts).
It's possible playing for a contract last season weighed too much on Samardzija. But more practical reasons for his poor play in 2015 were the terrible defense behind him and a lack of comfort in the American League.
After two full seasons as a starter in the National League, Samardzija's FIP decreased to 3.20 in 2014, per FanGraphs. It was 3.09 with the Cubs that season and only increased after the trade to Oakland.
So, signing with the San Francisco Giants should allow Samardzija to again look like a top-of-the-rotation pitcher. At least that's what the numbers say.
Outfielder: Yasiel Puig, Dodgers
Yasiel Puig will be one of baseball's elite hitters in 2016, but it's unknown where that may happen.
Trade rumors involving Puig emerged last season amid reports he had issues with being on time and had a poor work ethic. Couple that with hamstring problems that lingered throughout 2015 and limited Puig to only 79 games, and it becomes easier to explain his disappointing season, during which he hit .255 with a .322 on-base percentage.
There have been stories, such as one piece in the Los Angeles Times (via CBS Sports), that Puig reported to spring training with an entirely new attitude. While he will have to prove his remade approach isn't just a fad, it gives reason to believe Puig will return to stardom this season.
His talent is freakish.
After last season, it seems like it was ages ago when he hit .319/.391/.534 as a rookie in 2013 and followed that with a .296/.382/.480 season in 2014. That's likely what kept the Los Angeles Dodgers from trading him.
His potential is too great.
But his personality can perhaps be as damaging as his bat. With good health in 2016, Puig will again look like an All-Star. With the same attitude, though, it may just happen in a different city.
Starting Pitcher: Felix Hernandez, Mariners
Here's what you're thinking: Felix Hernandez was an All-Star last season! He finished seventh in American League Cy Young Award voting.
That's true. And it may serve to mark a great season for nearly every other pitcher in baseball.
But expectations were referenced earlier. For the Seattle Mariners' Hernandez, they are skyscraper-high.
He posted a 3.53 ERA in 2015, but he has proved to be a guy who consistently threatens to post an ERA in the 2.00s, which he has done thrice (and nearly two other times on top of that, when he notched ERAs of 3.06 and 3.04 in 2012 and 2013) since becoming a regular starter in 2006.
Hernandez's home run and walk numbers spiked last season, which hurt his run totals. He allowed one homer and 2.6 walks per nine innings, his worst marks since 2006 and 2011, respectively. Teams also hit 15.3 percent of their fly balls out of the park against Hernandez, per FanGraphs, who hadn't recorded a figure that high since his first full year as a starter.
Hernandez acknowledged in a Seattle Times report in February that he left balls up in the zone in 2015. This spring, he will try to correct that.
Hernandez is only 29. He will turn 30 in April. To suggest a decline seems a few years premature.
With better command, which he proved he had in previous seasons, his ERA should dip.
2nd Baseman: Starlin Castro, Yankees
Maybe the spotlight will dim with so many marquee names around him on the New York Yankees, but Starlin Castro should still be considered a star-type talent.
The trade that sent him from the Chicago Cubs to New York in December was my favorite of the offseason. Castro will benefit.
Castro's .265 average in a topsy-turvy 2015 was the second-worst of his career. The three-time All-Star was heavily criticized in Chicago—mainly because he was the best player on bad teams that had no intention of winning. The Cubs benched him last season in favor of Addison Russell, who became their everyday shortstop.
But Castro underwent a resurgence, working his way back into the lineup at second base, where he will play for the Yankees.
He will also hit at the bottom of the order, where he has had the most success. Castro is a career .319 hitter in the 8-slot, which is among the places he figures to fit in the New York lineup.
Count on Castro to make a push for his fourth All-Star appearance.
Outfielder: Jacoby Ellsbury, Yankees
When the New York Yankees signed Jacoby Ellsbury prior to the 2014 season, he was a sought-after, high-priced talent. In 2015, he just looked high-priced.
He hit only .257/.318/.345. But in fairness, he missed nearly two months with a right knee injury. Remember, that's the front leg for a left-handed hitter. So, it's understandable he didn't generate much power last season.
That said, Yankees manager Joe Girardi benched him for the Wild Card Game against left-hander Dallas Keuchel and the Houston Astros. But Ellsbury has likely recovered from whatever emotional toll that may have taken.
The Yankees are taking a gentle approach with Ellsbury this spring. That should help preserve him for the season.
Expect Ellsbury to at least drive the ball more consistently after having the winter to get healthy. If he finds his legs, he could also get back to the base-stealing machine he was in 2013. That would justify his salary, which is $21.1 million this year, per Spotrac.