The 2017 baseball season had a handful of great stories, for both teams and individual players. The Houston Astros won their first World Series in team history, the Cleveland Indians set a new MLB record with 22 consecutive victories, and Miami Marlins slugger Giancarlo Stanton crushed 59 home runs – the most by a player in a single season since Barry Bonds hit 73 in 2001.
But 2017 wasn’t kind to everyone. Injuries and poor performance took a toll, as they always do. With that in mind, let’s take a look at a handful of early candidates for the 2018 Comeback Player of the Year Award.
Indian second baseman Jason Kipnis missed significant time in 2017 due to a strained right hamstring. Kipnis appeared in 90 games for Cleveland, but his production wasn’t on the same level as previous seasons. While Kipnis posted a .817 OPS with 8.6 WAR combined over the last two seasons, he had just a .705 OPS with 0.4 WAR in 2017.
Kipnis will be 31 at the start of next season, which places him directly in the midst of his prime baseball years. He hasn’t had serious injury problems that have cost him games in the past, so expect him to rebound in a big way in 2018.
If Boston Red Sox starter Rick Porcello wins the Comeback Player of the Year Award in 2018, it’ll be the second such award he can put on his mantle. Porcello posted a 4.92 ERA in 172 innings for Boston in 2015, but followed it with an outstanding season the next year: 3.15 ERA, 223 innings pitched, and the AL Cy Young Award. That effort also earned him the Comeback Player of the Year.
Porcello was down again in 2017, putting together a 4.65 ERA in 33 starts and 203 1/3 innings. He also led the American League in hits allowed with 236 and home runs at a whopping 38. Porcello most likely won’t win another Cy Young in 2018, but a strong bounce-back season isn’t out of the question.
Los Angeles Dodgers second baseman Logan Forsythe has toiled in obscurity for the majority of his career. His first three seasons came with the San Diego Padres, followed by three with the Tampa Bay Rays. Forsythe finished his Ray tenure with two strong seasons, combining for a .791 OPS, 37 home runs, and 8.4 WAR over 280 games played. After being dealt to the Dodgers, however, Forsythe had a forgettable 2017: 119 games, six home runs, a .678 OPS, and 1.8 WAR.
Assuming the Dodgers bring him back on their $8.5 million team option – he has a $1 million buyout – he should be their regular second baseman next season. Bouncing back with a season like he had in 2015 (5.0 WAR) would make Forsythe a major comeback candidate.
How could we leave off Madison Bumgarner? The reason the San Francisco Giant ace is a candidate for this award is a four-wheeler accident that gave Madison a bum shoulder and cost him around half the 2017 season. After posting over 200 innings in each of the last four years with a combined 2.86 ERA in 130 starts, the big left-hander had a 3.32 ERA in 111 innings for the Giants this season.
A return to form for Bumgarner would not only mean consideration for the 2018 NL Cy Young – an award the 28-year-old has yet to win in his career – but also the Comeback Player of the Year.
The second Dodger position player to make the list is outfielder Joc Pederson, who was bad enough that Los Angeles sent him back down to the minors. After posting a 119 OPS+ with 51 homers and 5.7 WAR in his first two big league seasons, Pederson had just a 95 OPS+ with 11 homers and -0.4 WAR in 102 games for Los Angeles this season.
Of course, Pederson did come back up to the majors after his short stint in the minor leagues. He earned his spot back in the regular lineup in the World Series against the Astros, and ended up hitting 6-for-18 with three home runs and two doubles. Pederson won’t be 26 until next April, so he could be due for a major bounce-back season.
After putting two Dodger position players on the list, we had to go with yet another Giant pitcher. In reality, other Giant pitchers could be listed here beyond Johnny Cueto and Bumgarner. Matt Moore, Mark Melancon, or even Jeff Samardzija – who outperformed his 4.42 ERA – could be considered. We went with Cueto because of his history, posting a 2.79 ERA in 219 2/3 innings in 2016 and a 2.73 ERA in 166 starts spanning the previous six seasons.
Cueto, now 31 years old, started just 25 games and tossed 147 1/3 innings for the Giants in 2017. He walked more batters than is usual for him, allowed more hits, and had his ERA rise to 4.52. There’s no reason to believe Cueto can’t return to form next season, which is borderline Cy Young-level.
Of course Thor is going to be on this list. New York Mets right-hander Noah Syndergaard is just 25 years old and is on his way to being one of the best pitchers in the game. Many had thought that Syndergaard would comepete with Clayton Kershaw and Max Scherzer for the NL Cy Young award in 2017, and he might have had a right lat injury in late April not limited the Mets’ ace to just 30 1/3 innings this season.
If we take 2016 as a template, Syndergaard should be a favorite for this award. In 183 2/3 innings last season, he put up a 2.60 ERA, a league-best 2.20 FIP, and allowed just 11 home runs while striking out 218 batters. The 2018 Comeback Player of the Year Award should be Thor’s to lose.