2017 MLB Awards Watch: Top Comeback Player of the Year candidates in each league
As always, players returning from major injuries headline this year's crop of Comeback Player candidates
Throughout the week we've been previewing baseball's major 2017 awards races. That is the Most Valuable Player, Cy Young, Rookie of the Year and Manager of the Year in each league. Some races -- the two Rookies of the Year in particular -- have a runaway favorite. Most don't. The final seven weeks of the regular season will decide those.
The fifth major award -- if it can be considered that -- is the Comeback Player of the Year, which is given annually to the player in each league who has "re-emerged on the baseball field during a given season." Pretty ambiguous! Does that mean comeback from injury? Poor performance? Personal hardship? The Comeback Player of the Year is voted on by the media and the award definition leaves a lot open to interpretation.
For example, should Mets outfielder Michael Conforto and Yankees righty Luis Severino be considered Comeback Player of the Year candidates after their 2016 demotions to Triple-A? Or are they just young players thriving in their first full MLB seasons? I think of both as breakout players, not comeback players, but that's just me. Anyway, with all that in mind, here are the top Comeback Player of the Year candidates in each league, listed alphabetically.
A pair of shoulder surgeries limited Indians outfielder Michael Brantley to 11 games last season -- he missed the team's entire AL pennant run -- and this year he returned looking like the same old Michael Brantley. He is hitting .299/.358/.445 with 20 doubles, nine home runs and 11 stolen bases in 88 games, and was selected to the All-Star team. Brantley is on the disabled list with an ankle injury, which could hurt his Comeback Player of the Year candidacy.
A knee injury and some big-time meltdowns led to Red Sox closer Craig Kimbrel having his worst big-league season in 2016. That said, he was still pretty good, saving 31 games with a 3.40 ERA and 83 strikeouts in 53 innings. Kimbrel is back to being unreal this year, with 28 saves and a 1.48 ERA in 48 2/3 innings. He has faced 180 batters and struck out 90. Exactly half.
Royals third baseman Mike Moustakas' 2016 season was cut short by a torn ACL. He crashed into teammate Alex Gordon while chasing a popup in foul territory. This year Moustakas has returned to hit .279/.314/.554 with 32 home runs in 104 games. He is only four homers short of tying Steve Balboni's single-season franchise record of 36 home runs, which was set in 1985.
Blue Jays first baseman Justin Smoak falls into the "is he a comeback player or breakout player?" gray area. He was a first-time All-Star this year and is hitting .293/.372/.578 with 31 home runs, making this by far his best season. Prior to 2017, his best season was 2013, when he hit .238/.334/.412 with 20 home runs. Comeback or breakout? Hmmm. I guess it'll be up to the voters to decide.
Left-hander Jason Vargas blew out his elbow and needed Tommy John surgery in July 2015, so he missed the Royals' run to the 2015 World Series. He returned late last year to make three September starts, and so far this season he is 13-6 with a 3.40 ERA in 129 2/3 innings. That earned Vargas a spot on the AL All-Star team. His recent struggles (7.62 ERA since July 1) could hurt his Comeback Player of the Year chances.
Zack Greinke's first season with the Diamondbacks was decidedly un-Greinke-like. He threw 158 2/3 innings with a 4.37 ERA, and also missed time with an oblique injury. This year Greinke has bounced back to go 13-5 with a 3.14 ERA in 149 innings, which earned him another All-Star Game nod. He's back to being the same great Zack Greinke.
Like Vargas, Greg Holland blew out his elbow during the 2015 season and missed Kansas City's World Series run while rehabbing from Tommy John surgery. He did not pitch at all last year, and after signing with the Rockies over the winter, Holland leads MLB with 34 saves and has a 2.79 ERA with 54 strikeouts in 42 innings. He was an All-Star last month.
Tommy John surgery sidelined Cardinals righty Lance Lynn for the entire 2016 season, and this year he looks like pretty much the exact same guy he was before elbow reconstruction. Lynn is 10-6 with a 3.12 ERA in 138 2/3 innings in 2017. From 2013-15, he had a 3.25 ERA in 580 2/3 innings. Yep, same guy.
The 2016 season was a big disappointment for Andrew McCutchen -- he hit .256/.336/.430 overall, which is solid, but is a far cry from the MVP-caliber numbers he put up from 2012-15 -- so much so that the Pirates put him on the trade block over the winter. McCutchen started this year slowly but has been on a rampage since late May, and he's now hitting .287/.381/.516 with 23 home runs. That is the Andrew McCutchen we all know and love.
After three monster years with the NC Dinos in Korea, Eric Thames returned to the big leagues this season and signed a three-year contract with the Brewers. He got off to an incredible start in April, and while he hasn't sustained that pace all season, he's still hitting .242/.359/.511 with 25 home runs.
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