MLB's Most Impressive Veteran Rebounds of 2022 So Far

Zachary D. RymerMay 16, 2022

Houston Astros pitcher Justin Verlander smiles as he heads to the dugout after completing eight innings and allowing the Minnesota Twins only one hit during the eighth inning of a baseball game, Tuesday, May 10, 2022, in Minneapolis. (AP Photo/Craig Lassig)
AP Photo/Craig Lassig

Major League Baseball's star power has shifted toward players in their early-to-mid 20s in recent years. There's only so much spotlight for veterans, and it just takes a couple of down seasons for even the most decorated stars to fade into relative obscurity.

The 2022 season, however, isn't short on veterans who are reclaiming their place in said spotlight.

We thought we'd focus on 10 who, because of injuries and/or ineffectiveness, seemed to fade out of their primes for a while. But now they're back and as good as ever. In some cases, arguably even better than ever.

This list is divided evenly between five pitchers and five hitters. We'll begin with the former.

Martin Perez Is Pitching Like an Ace

ARLINGTON, TEXAS - MAY 10: Martin Perez #54 of the Texas Rangers throws a pitch against the Kansas City Royals in the first inning at Globe Life Field on May 10, 2022 in Arlington, Texas. (Photo by Tim Heitman/Getty Images)
Tim Heitman/Getty Images

Key Stats: 7 GS, 40.1 IP, 30 H (0 HR), 33 K, 11 BB, 2.01 ERA, 185 ERA+, 1.0 rWAR

To be sure, whether Martin Perez was ever good before 2022 is subject to debate. 

The Texas Rangers lefty did crack American League Rookie of the Year voting in 2013, but that didn't prove to be the start of a reign as an ace. Perez, now 31, pitched to a below-average 95 ERA+ over his next eight seasons, culminating in a turn with the Boston Red Sox last year in which he had pitched his way out of the rotation by August.

Hence the big question: How, exactly, is Perez suddenly one of the best pitchers in baseball?

It helps that he's gone back to his roots as a sinkerballer, as the sinker is once again his primary pitch after he got away from it between 2019 and 2021. And it's working wonderfully in tandem with a changeup that's quietly among the game's nastiest pitches:

Rob Friedman @PitchingNinja

Martín Pérez, Filthy Changeups. 👌 <a href="https://t.co/7i3tpvHMxC">pic.twitter.com/7i3tpvHMxC</a>

Opposing hitters are just 4-for-40 against Perez's changeup, and both that pitch (64.5 GB%) and the sinker (61.2 GB%) have been about highly effective in inducing ground balls.

This is why Perez has an overall ground-ball rate of 53.3 percent, which, in turn, is a major reason he has yet to serve up any home runs.

Jose Quintana Hasn't Looked This Good in Years

DETROIT, MI -  MAY 4:  Jose Quintana #62 of the Pittsburgh Pirates pitches against the Detroit Tigers during the second inning of Game Two of a doubleheader at Comerica Park on May 4, 2022, in Detroit, Michigan. (Photo by Duane Burleson/Getty Images)
Duane Burleson/Getty Images

Key Stats: 7 GS, 37.0 IP, 26 H (2 HR), 30 K, 14 BB, 2.19 ERA, 184 ERA+, 1.3 rWAR

At the rate he's going, the second Jose Quintana trade will be much more favorable to his reputation than the first one.

It was in July 2017 that the Chicago White Sox traded Quintana, fresh off an All-Star season in 2016, to the crosstown Cubs for a package that included Eloy Jimenez and Dylan Cease. As those two blossomed into cornerstone players on the South Side, Quintana barely salvaged an above-average 102 ERA+ in three-and-a-half seasons on the North Side.

The 33-year-old lefty's fortunes did not improve in 2021, wherein he racked up a 6.43 ERA over 29 appearances with the Los Angeles Angels and San Francisco Giants. Thus was Quintana the definition of a reclamation project when the Pittsburgh Pirates added him on a $2 million contract last winter.

So far, so good.

The big change involves Quintana's changeup, which he's throwing more than twice as often as ever before. Much like Perez's, Quintana's change has been highly effective at getting ground balls (i.e., 70 GB%) and has held batters to seven hits in 35 at-bats accordingly.

Quintana's four-seam fastball, meanwhile, is also experiencing a revival in 2022. There's an inverse relationship between its average height and the batting average against it, with the former higher than ever and the latter lower than ever.

Given that the Pirates are rebuilding and that Quintana has significantly boosted his trade value, chances are he won't end his season in Pittsburgh. All the same, he's a big part of the most competitive team Pirates fans have gotten to watch in a while.

Ditto for Madison Bumgarner

PHOENIX, ARIZONA - MAY 10: Madison Bumgarner #40 of the Arizona Diamondbacks delivers a first inning pitch against the Miami Marlins at Chase Field on May 10, 2022 in Phoenix, Arizona. (Photo by Norm Hall/Getty Images)
Norm Hall/Getty Images

Key Stats: 7 GS, 30.1 IP, 22 H (4 HR), 20 K, 12 BB, 1.78 ERA, 230 ERA+, 0.9 rWAR

Just seven outings into his 2022 season, Madison Bumgarner is already 0.2 rWAR away from matching his total through his first two campaigns with the Arizona Diamondbacks.

Those weren't all bad, mind you. The 32-year-old had that seven-inning no-hitter last April, which some might still argue should count as the real deal. He was nonetheless limited to 35 starts by back and shoulder injuries, and he pitched to a 5.07 ERA.

Now in 2022, Bumgarner is back to looking more like the guy who was a four-time All-Star and legendary postseason performer with the San Francisco Giants. 

Call it the "Brent Strom Effect." Formerly the architect of outstanding pitching staffs with the Houston Astros, Strom has made an immediate difference since joining the D-backs as the pitching coach under manager Torey Lovullo. Among other things, it's partially to his credit that Bumgarner's fastball velocity is back up to a solid 91.1 mph.

"There were some different things he did mechanically when he was younger, things we do differently as we age," Strom told Nick Piecoro of the Arizona Republic. "I'm just trying to get him back to utilizing momentum a little bit and utilizing a kind of a slightly more uptempo [delivery]."

Crucially, Strom also has Bumgarner throwing his cutter more often. It accounts for 50 percent of his pitches, primarily as a sort of mediary between high fastballs and low breaking pitches.

Image courtesy of Baseball Savant

This is working. The .203 average against Bumgarner's cutter is the lowest since he made it a featured part of his repertoire in 2017.

A word of warning is that peripheral metrics like strikeout rate, walk rate and hard-hit rate all suggest Bumgarner's early excellence is unsustainable. Yet it's clearly not a case of getting suspiciously different results from the same approach that let him down in 2020 and 2021. As long as it lasts, the Diamondbacks will gladly take it.

Miles Mikolas Is Partying Like It's 2018

SAN FRANCISCO, CALIFORNIA - MAY 05: Miles Mikolas #39 of the St. Louis Cardinals pitches against the San Francisco Giants in the bottom of the first inning at Oracle Park on May 05, 2022 in San Francisco, California. (Photo by Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images)
Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images

Key Stats: 7 GS, 42.1 IP, 32 H (2 HR), 31 K, 8 BB, 1.49 ERA, 258 ERA+, 1.6 rWAR

Miles Mikolas was a sensation for the St. Louis Cardinals in 2018, returning from a spell in Japan to win 18 games with a 2.83 ERA. He finished sixth in National League Cy Young Award voting.

Then came the hard times. First, a step toward mediocrity in 2019. And then, flexor tendon surgery in 2020 and further forearm trouble in 2021. At 33 years old, he came into this season as a wild card.

Lo and behold, he looks like one of baseball's best pitchers again. And when we say "pitcher," we really mean that.

Mikolas was an unconventional hurler in 2018 and even more so now. The slider is the only pitch he throws more than 30 percent of the time, and just barely at 30.1 percent. He also throws 25.3 percent sinkers and 20.1 percent curveballs.

This makes the fact that he's walked only 1.7 batters per nine innings even more impressive. And unlike Bumgarner, he is stifling quality contact. His exit velocity is in the 82nd percentile, and his hard-hit rate is in the 92nd percentile.

What's more, it would feel like an oversight if we didn't point out how delightfully balanced Mikolas is keeping his platoon splits:

  • vs. RHB: 82 PA, 15 K, 2 BB, .510 OPS
  • vs. LHB: 84 PA, 16 K, 6 BB, .550 OPS

It's no wonder the right-hander has been so consistent. Only Mikolas and seven others have had as many as six starts in which they've pitched five innings and allowed two or fewer earned runs.

Justin Verlander Is Back to Being an Ageless Wonder

MINNEAPOLIS, MN - MAY 10: Justin Verlander #35 of the Houston Astros pitches against the Minnesota Twins on May 10, 2022 at Target Field in Minneapolis, Minnesota. (Photo by Brace Hemmelgarn/Minnesota Twins/Getty Images)
Brace Hemmelgarn/Minnesota Twins/Getty Images

Key Stats: 7 GS, 45.2 IP, 22 H (4 HR), 41 K, 9 BB, 1.38 ERA, 261 ERA+, 1.8 rWAR

And then there's Justin Verlander, who seems to really want what would be his third Cy Young Award.

Heck, the year is still young and yet he's come close to collecting his fourth no-hitter:

Typical Verlander stuff, perhaps, but it's OK to be surprised that he's doing it after what he went through the last two years.

At 37, he became one of the oldest pitchers to ever have Tommy John surgery when he went under the knife in 2020. His recovery cost him all of last season. By the time he showed up to spring training, he was 39 with all of one start to his name since 2019.

In some ways, though, it's like he never left. Of particular note is that he's still bringing the heat, posting an average fastball of 94.7 mph that ranks within the top 10 for qualified American League hurlers. He's also still snapping off nasty sliders and curveballs.

Should there nonetheless be any concern over the fact that Verlander has fewer strikeouts than innings pitched? To the extent that this is decidedly not like his vintage self, there is an argument.

It matters, though, that the rate of pulled balls against Verlander is the lowest it's ever been. Those are the most dangerous of all batted balls.

Ultimately, he's tracking toward leading the majors in WHIP for the third time in five seasons. That, of course, would make it three years in a row if you only count the seasons for which he's been healthy.

Max Kepler Is Breaking Out. Again.

MINNEAPOLIS, MN - MAY 15: Max Kepler #26 of the Minnesota Twins celebrates his RBI single against the Cleveland Guardians in the first inning of the game at Target Field on May 15, 2022 in Minneapolis, Minnesota. (Photo by David Berding/Getty Images)
David Berding/Getty Images

Key Stats: 34 G, 129 PA, 5 HR, 1 SB, .243 AVG, .341 OBP, .423 SLG, 130 OPS+, 1.2 rWAR

After threatening to break out in 2016, 2017 and 2018, Max Kepler finally did in 2019. He helped pace the Minnesota Twins' historic home run binge by blasting 36 long balls and also played standout defense.

This version of Kepler never showed up in 2020 or 2021. Injuries such as a hamstring strain in '21 were a contributing factor, yet no one thing caused his decline to a 101 OPS+ and 28 home runs over 169 games.

It makes for interesting symmetry, then, that no one thing explains why Kepler is having such a better year in 2022.

His underlying metrics are above average across the board. While it stands out that he's reestablished himself as a threat against left-handed pitching—his .808 OPS is his best since he mashed lefties with an .880 OPS in 2019—it's at least as big of a deal that he's finally conquering off-speed pitches:

Image courtesy of Baseball Savant

It bears noting that Kepler's bat has cooled off to a .583 OPS in May, but he's still doing his part for the Twins on defense. The only other right fielder with as many as four outs above average is Brett Phillips, who's more of a roving outfielder for the Tampa Bay Rays.

He's Cold Now, but Anthony Rizzo Has Still Turned Back the Clock

NEW YORK, NEW YORK - MAY 09: Anthony Rizzo #48 of the New York Yankees hits an RBI double during the eighth inning of the game against the Texas Rangers at Yankee Stadium on May 09, 2022 in the Bronx borough of New York City. (Photo by Dustin Satloff/Getty Images)
Dustin Satloff/Getty Images

Key Stats: 33 G, 141 PA, 9 HR, 3 SB, .225 AVG, .340 OBP, .508 SLG, 151 OPS+, 0.7 rWAR

Like Kepler, Anthony Rizzo has cooled off even as the weather has warmed up in May. To wit, he hit all nine of his home runs in April.

On the whole, though, this season has been a notable return to form for the 32-year-old after his numbers took a substantial dive in 2020 and 2021:

  • 2014-19: 139 OPS+ and 32 HR per 162 G
  • 2020-21: 109 OPS+ and 27 HR per 162 G

Rizzo is hitting the ball harder, posting career bests with 91.9 mph average exit velocity and a 45.4 hard-hit rate. Yet the biggest change concerns the direction in which he's hitting the bulk of his batted balls. At 55.7 percent, he's pulling balls like never before.

The bad news? This has made Rizzo easy pickings for defensive shifts, against which he's hitting .209.

The good news? Well, he's performing about as well as you'd expect any pull-happy lefty slugger to perform at Yankee Stadium. He has a 1.064 OPS and seven home runs there, compared to a .585 OPS and two homers on the road.

Eric Hosmer Is Suddenly Chasing a Batting Title

SAN DIEGO, CA - MAY 6 : Eric Hosmer #30 of the San Diego Padres hits an RBI double during the first inning of a baseball game against the Miami Marlins on May 6, 2022 at Petco Park in San Diego, California. (Photo by Denis Poroy/Getty Images)
Denis Poroy/Getty Images

Key Stats: 33 G, 136 PA, 4 HR, 0 SB, .350 AVG, .412 OBP, .512 SLG, 175 OPS+, 1.5 rWAR

Though Eric Hosmer had a good season in 2020, that "season" contained all of 38 games. And despite it, his average WAR for his first four seasons with the San Diego Padres was barely above replacement level.

It's understandable the Padres wanted to be rid of the 32-year-old over the winter. But try as they might to trade him and the remainder of his $144 million contract, nothing came together.

If Hosmer is playing angry as a result of all that, his .350 average says it's working. That's the second-best average in the National League after his teammate on the other side of the diamond, Manny Machado.

If there's a catch, it's that Hosmer isn't hitting so well because he's broken free of his longstanding penchant for ground balls. On the contrary, his 57.8 ground-ball percentage is higher than his career rate of 54.4 percent.

While he almost certainly won't hit .350 all season, we wouldn't suggest Hosmer alter his approach. If nothing else, his 15.4 K% and 9.6 BB% are marked improvements. He's also been eminently shift-proof, batting .500 on ground balls and line drives against shifted infields.

On the other side of the ball, Hosmer is making progress in living up to his reputation as a four-time Gold Glover. Whereas his outs above average were deep underwater between 2016 and 2020, he was at plus-one in 2021, and he's already at plus-three for 2022. That makes him one of the most effective first basemen in the league.

Don't Look Now, but Christian Yelich Is Hitting Like an MVP Again

Milwaukee Brewers' Christian Yelich hits a two-run home run during the fifth inning of a baseball game against the Chicago Cubs Friday, April 29, 2022, in Milwaukee. (AP Photo/Morry Gash)
AP Photo/Morry Gash

Key Stats: 34 G, 145 PA, 5 HR, 4 SB, .252 AVG, .352 OBP, .455 SLG, 130 OPS+, 0.8 rWAR

For a good year and a half, Christian Yelich was the best baseball player on the planet. Add the stellar second half of his MVP-winning season in 2018 to all of his excellent 2019 campaign, and you get a .342/.436/.705 batting line with 69 home runs and 40 stolen bases.

As for how he went from that to a decidedly "blah" 103 OPS+ over 175 games between 2020 and 2021, it's no secret that injuries played a role.

In the former season, he didn't seem fully recovered from the broken kneecap that ended his 2019 campaign Sept. 10. In the latter, the back issues that plagued him even at the best of times in '19 returned and cost him games.

After going through all of that, it's a significant positive for the Brewers that Yelich's numbers have bounced back as much as they have. They may not be MVP-caliber, but he's back to being a well-above-average hitter.

And he's getting hotter. In 15 games since April 29, Yelich has hit .316/.427/.632 with four of his five home runs. The highlight of this run came last Wednesday when he hit for the cycle for the third time in his career:

"He has looked like the MVP Yelich," teammate Hunter Renfroe told reporters. "It's fun to watch him, that's for sure. If he keeps going, we are going to win a lot of games. There's no question."

But can Yelich sustain this? Let's consult his underlying metrics real quick:

  • AVG Exit Velocity: 92nd percentile
  • Barrel%: 96th percentile
  • Hard-Hit%: 99th percentile

"Yes" seems like a fair answer to that question.

Alex Bregman, Too

WASHINGTON, DC - MAY 13:  Alex Bregman #2 of the Houston Astros doubles in a run in the first inning during a baseball game against the Washington Nationals at Nationals Park on May 13, 2022 in Washington, DC.  (Photo by Mitchell Layton/Getty Images)
Mitchell Layton/Getty Images

Key Stats: 35 G, 145 PA, 5 HR, 0 SB, .235 AVG, .352 OBP, .437 SLG, 134 OPS+, 1.0 rWAR

Unlike Yelich, Bregman has hit the skids since getting off to a hot start in April. He's hitting .191/.321/.368 with two home runs over his last 20 games.

Very much like Yelich, however, Bregman must have the Astros breathing a sigh of relief anyway.

The 28-year-old's trajectory was going nowhere but up through his first four seasons, culminating in a 41-homer campaign in 2019 that darn near (and perhaps should have) won him the AL MVP over Mike Trout. But between 2020 and 2021, the good vibes ceased as Bregman played in just 133 games and posted a 114 OPS+.

Bregman had issues with his wheels, missing time with a hamstring injury in 2020 and then a quad injury in 2021. As he said before last year's World Series, "I feel like I've lost two years of my prime."

Thankfully, Bregman reported to camp this year healthy and feeling "amazing." It shows in how tough of an out he's been, balancing 22 walks against 20 strikeouts with the help of some notable peripherals:

  • Chase%: 99th percentile
  • Whiff%: 92nd percentile

Bregman's power has been slower to come around, but maybe not for long. He's doing precisely what he did with his batted balls in 2019, which is wear out his pull side. Not a bad idea when you're a right-handed hitter who has the Crawford Boxes out there.

Stats courtesy of Baseball Reference, FanGraphs and Baseball Savant.