And Next Year’s Comeback Players Are….

The Major League Baseball Comeback Player of the Year award has been interesting to me since it was conceived by MLB — and Viagra — in 2005. Certainly it’s not an award a player aspires to when beginning a career, but it can be quite an honor for someone who’s struggled but then overcome. In the award’s brief history, the winners have run the gamut. Some have been a one-year blip on the radar — like Aaron Hill or Francisco Liriano. Others have been superstars who’ve had a year away from typical production, only to return to that previous level. Guys like Jim Thome, or Ken Griffey Jr., surely fit that bill. Other times, the award can be a harbinger, like when Cliff Lee won in 2008.

This year, there are a several viable candidates in both leagues: Jacoby Ellsbury, James Shields and Alex Gordon seem like excellent options in the American League. In the NL, Ryan Vogelsong, Carlos Beltran and Matt Kemp all are strong contenders. In the process of thinking about who would get my votes this season (Gordon and Vogelsong) I began considering some players who could be candidates for the award next year. Here’s my list:

Pedro Alvarez – 3B, Pittsburgh Pirates

This isn’t the way it’s supposed to go for top prospects, especially not for one who already had nearly 400 major-league plate appearances that implied there was a developing star in the batter’s box. Yet injuries and ineffectiveness marred Alvarez’s sophomore season, holding him to fewer than 250 plate appearances and an OPS in the .550s. There were questions about Alvarez’s long swing in 2011, but his troubles seem mostly due to bad luck. Not only has the health bug bit Alvarez, but he also owns a .275 BABIP – among the 15 lowest of all players with 200-plus plate appearances – despite an incredible surge in GB/FB, LD%, and GB%. Sure, Alvarez is going to strike out a lot, but it’s safe to say that his rates foretell a return to form for the 24-year-old. He might never become the superstar many folks though he would become, but Alvarez should be an asset next season.

Franklin Gutierrez – CF, Seattle Mariners

To say the least, it’s been an exceptionally rough season for “Death to Flying Things.” If his .224/.261/.273 slash line hadn’t put him in cahoots with Chone Figgins, Gutierrez was hampered by a mysterious stomach illness that required trips to the Mayo Clinic and cost Franklin the first six weeks of the season. An oblique injury later cost him almost all of September. As a result, Gutierrez started slow — with a 467 OPS after a month — and never really recovered. On the plus side, Gutierrez had a .266 BABIP — this, despite no obvious disparity in his batted-ball rates. If he can gravitate back to his .306 career mark — and stay healthy — he should show marked improvement.

Joe Mauer/Justin Morneau – C/1B, Minnesota Twins

If Gutierrez’s season has been bad, the Twins have gotten a double dose. With both Mauer and Morneau shut down for the season, the duo will have missed 173 games for a team that’s probably the worst in the franchise’s 51-year history. With Morneau, there’s plenty of doubt about whether he’ll ever resemble anything close to the All-Star he once was. With Mauer, though, a healthy off-season – which is far from guaranteed – should go a long way to helping him return to his .300/.400/.500-type glory. With $37 million tabbed for this pair in 2012, the Twins simply can’t rebuild.

Adam Dunn – DH, Chicago White Sox

Dunn has had a horrific 2011, but he’s not this bad. His wOBA is nearly 100 points worse than his previous-worse season; his ISO is still only about half what it was in his previous-worst full season; and the same goes for his wRC+. In a nutshell, Dunn’s batted-ball rates are almost identical to his career rates across the board. And while he’s never been a BABIP monger, his .244 mark is still 50 points below his career mark. For one last bit of context: If Dunn magically improved his 2011 OPS by .300 points, it STILL wouldn’t match his career OPS. Even a modest return to form for Dunn should help him lock down this award.

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In addition to Rotographs, Warne is a Minnesota Twins beat reporter for 105 The Ticket's Cold Omaha website as well as a sportswriter for Sportradar U.S. in downtown Minneapolis. Follow him on Twitter @Brandon_Warne, or feel free to email him to do podcasts or for any old reason at brandon.r.warne@gmail-dot-com

80 Responses to “And Next Year’s Comeback Players Are….”

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  1. Radi0Waves says:

    Jason Heyward — if he can get his swing in check over the winter, and stop with the groundballs — is my prime candidate in the NL for next season.

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  2. dfan says:

    Here’s hoping for Carl Crawford.

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    • Yirmiyahu says:

      My biggest concern there is the 4.30 K/BB, by far the worst of his career.

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      • James says:

        But yet everything else is the same. Only O-swing% and Z-Swing % have shifted. Contact%, SwStr%, ect. are all the same. I’d put this season to more random variation than anything else. He’s just hitting the ball to people more and the higher O-Swing% is leading to less BB’s and more K’s. Nothing that can’t be fixed though.

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    • No kidding. Can’t see how he isn’t a lot better next year. If not, this could become another Vernon Wells contract. Same goes for Joe Mauer though, right? *sigh*

      I wrote at a different website that I thought Crawford had a worrisome future in front of him, but this was way out of left field.

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      • Matt says:

        Left field! Get it?!

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      • CircleChange11 says:

        I would be concerned about Crawford’s future. He’s so BABIP dependent because he doesn’t walk much, and even less this year.

        He’s down about 16 fielding runs from previous years (career), down about 5 runs in baserunning and about 25 runs down with the bat. (Other than that, he’s having a pretty good season. *grin*)

        [1] Fielding – Considering Fenway and Ellsbury in CF, he may never reach his past fielding metrics again (which are very impressive).

        [2] Batting should normalize to a large degree … even as a free swinger.

        [3] baserunning may be limited by team philosophy and the green monster (advancing bases). But, BR is such a small part between elite and average.

        It’s tough to know where he’ll perform, but the case could very well be that his 5-7 WAR days are over. He may be a 3-4 WAR LF, and BOS is probably fine with that considering everything else, but he won’t be producing at his pay grade.

        Essentially he needs a combination of ~30-35 runs from fielding, baserunning, and batting to produce in the 4+ WAR range.

        If he’s not able to get the ~15 fielding runs that he has in the past (for various reasons), he’s going to need to be at around his career bests with the bat to make up for it.

        It’s possible, but I’d still be concerned … but then I’d also remeber that he plays on a team with lots of stars, can tolerate an overpay, and is not reliant on Crawford for their success.

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      • CircleChange11 says:

        Oops …

        Replacement level is likely somewhere around 20-7=13.

        I forgot to subtract that out of WAR.

        To be 3-4 WAR, Crawford needs to produce aorund 45-55 runs from fielding, batting and baserunning.

        He’s a toughie because his fielding/batting environment is so drastically changed (relative).

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  3. gabriel says:

    Jayson Werth, Adam Lind, Hanley Ramirez, Ichiro Suzuki would also appear to be candidates for the award if they have bounce-back seasons.

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    • cs3 says:

      who votes on this award?

      Even if Hanley has a monster season next year, I can see him not getting votes simply based on his perceived image as a poor teammate and lazy worker.

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  4. Jamie says:

    Forget “a modest return to form”, if Adam Dunn shows up for spring training next season he should get this award. Like, for exceptional valor in extreme circumstances or something.

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    • With any luck, when Ozzie leaves after this season he’ll also remove his foot from Dunn’s ass. Then again, it’s a wonder how Ozzie walks with one up Dunn’s and the other up Rios’.

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  5. Hurtlocker says:

    Aubry Huff, top ten in the MVP vote last year, bottom ten in the toilet this year.

    I also agree that if Adam Dunn is alive and breathing next year he should win.

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    • Havoc says:

      But Huff had always sucked before last year

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      • Bob R. says:

        I am guessing you are referring to 2009, and perhaps the three year stretch from 2005-07, because otherwise, Huff has been pretty solid. From 2002-04, and again in 2008 and 2010 he hit well. Generally his fielding has pulled down his WAR totals, but in 6 of his 10 full major league seasons he has had an OPS over .800 and a WAR between 3.3-5.8 four times according to fangraphs.

        7 times his OPS+ has been over 100, five times between 124-145. Huff has had a good but erratic major league career. A lifetime 114 OPS+ for a poor fielding corner player is not outstanding, but it certainly does not “suck”. And having years with an OPS+ of 124, 135, 137, 142 and 145 indicates some very productive seasons.

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      • Bill says:

        For the last few years, Huff has alternated between awful and awesome. He has had no middle ground. He looked great in ’08, terrible in ’09, great in ’10, and terrible this year. I thought he was done in ’09, but now I think he is one of those guys that is impossible to predict.

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  6. cthabeerman says:

    I don’t know that you can call it a comeback since he was able to salvage this season (and post a better than salary-equivalent WAR), but I expect Dan Uggla to produce his typical even-year WAR of 4-5.


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  7. Norm says:

    “Not only has the health bug bit Alvarez, but he also owns a .275 BABIP – among the 15 lowest of all players with 200-plus plate appearances”

    Am I missing something with this comment?
    275 babip doesn’t seem all that out of line and it most definitely is not among the 14 lowest…

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    • Pat says:

      Yea, that’s not too bad. There is really no evidence to say he’ll get better other than just hoping as a young player he’ll progress. He looks very lost at the plate and struggles so hard to make contact, and most of it is of the same variety, grounding out to third base. As a Pirates fan, I REALLY hope things work out for him soon because he’s probably the first prospect I’ve followed since he was drafted, but he needs to just forget this year ever happened.

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      • …and now he’s not going to winter ball. Not a good idea, Mr. Alvarez. Then again, if he’s “baseballed out” (if that’s even a phrase), maybe time away from the game will help.

        But being on the DL a good portion of the year should qualify as away from the game too. This is an intriguing situation.

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  8. Richie says:

    An award conceived by Viagra. If it was intentional, at least I got the joke.

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  9. Sara says:

    Buster Posey

    after one of the most visable, impactful and grisly injuries this year, if he comes back and has an effect similar to 2010 on the giants… especially after having the worst offense in baseball this year, he could garner some consideration.

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    • Yeah says:

      I was about to post how in the world buster posey could not be on this list. Glad I’m not the only one who thought that.

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      • Similar to Heyward, it’s impossible to put everyone I want on the list. I wanted to do equal parts “on the grid” and “off the grid”, and since I’m most familiar with the Twins situation, I wanted to get one in there that I considered myself knowledgeable about, too.

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  10. joeiq says:

    I think it should be reserved for players who were once great but had a bad year or two, probably related to some injury. Perhaps a new award for breakout player of the year. Sponsored by ??

    So I would exempt guys like Alvarez and thirty other rookies that were wildly overrated. Gordon is iffy, he was decent but never great, he’s more of a break out player than a comeback.

    Crawford would be a great candidate next year.

    Some more names for this year
    Aramis Ramirez, Lance Berkman, Chipper, a bunch of relievers probably, Jordan Zimmerman, Erik Bedard. Maybe Vazquez if he keeps up his refound velo through all of next year. Liriano again.

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  11. TartanElk says:


    Breakout player of the year sponsored by proactiv.

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  12. Matt Defalco says:

    Brandon Morrow.

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  13. Matt says:

    How about Alex Rios? You can’t get much worse than his 53 wRC+. If he gets back to his 110 wRC+ from 2010 that’s almost a 60 point jump LOL!

    Ichiro and Carl Crawford are obvious candidates as well.

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  14. glenstein says:

    I don’t know about Dunn. He seems to have the hitter equivalent of Steve Blass Disease. That can be hard to recover from.

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  15. Stephen Strasburg says:

    hey guys don’t forget me

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  16. greenfrog says:

    Kyle Drabek?

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  17. Justin says:

    Vernon Wells? Simply can’t get much worse.

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  18. Havoc says:

    Lance Berkman has to be one of the candidates for this year, actually he HAS to be the comeback player for this year in the NL.

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  19. Matt says:

    How about The Baltimore Orioles? Can I vote for a team?

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  20. Snark says:

    Is this the fangraphs official position on comeback player of the year award?

    I need to know what to think.

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  21. Morse says:

    What about Grady Sizemore?

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    • I think some believe he’ll never be as good as he was. Does he need to be that good to win the award again? Not necessarily, but the award is way more competitive than I thought before I started researching for this column.

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  22. Bob R. says:

    Casey Kotchman should be in the discussion this year, although not necessarily the winner.

    I could see A-Rod showing up on some lists next year if he has a really big season.

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  23. JTJ1210 says:

    Shin-Soo Choo

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  24. Travis Snider says:


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  25. That trip from Las Vegas is a killer.

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  26. Me. Did I do that right?

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  27. gdc says:

    How can so many people be aware of Vogelsong (who is a bit Josh Hamilton to me, came back from something but hadn’t had that much MLB accomplishment) and projecting Posey not be aware of Panda Sandoval’s reawakening? Possibly not as dramatic a great-bad-great as Matt Kemp but worth a few votes.

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  28. jeff says:

    from mid-season this year, i gotta give it to Vazquez over Uggla..

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  29. jeff says:

    white sox – Rios, Dunn, Beckham .. what the hell happened over there?

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  30. Comeback Pitchers says:

    Brandon Webb
    Ben Sheets
    Pedro Martinez

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  31. Comeback Pitchers? says:

    Hell, with the current state of pitching, why not bring back
    Sandy Koufax
    Bob Gibson
    Tom Seaver

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  32. On the subject... says:

    Adam Wainwright

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  33. Walk Year says:


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  34. Thenickbusch says:


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  35. Tim E says:

    I literally have each player listed on my AL and NL strat teams. This year was clearly spectacular

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  36. Chris says:

    What did Vogelsong comeback from?

    The Major League Baseball Comeback Player of the Year Award is presented by Major League Baseball (MLB) to the player who is judged to have “re-emerged on the baseball field during a given season.”

    Vogelsong– a negative WAR pitcher in almost every season he was in the MLB– re-emerged from what?

    Amazing story and breakout season, but just because it took him 10+ years doesn’t mean he came back from anything.

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  37. A 6.39 ERA? FIVE years ago? IN PITTSBURGH?

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