It's mid-August, meaning Major League Baseball's regular season has just over a month to go before wrapping up. With that in mind, CBS Sports is spending the week dissecting the awards races. This piece will focus on the National League Comeback Player of the Year award race. For a look at the American League race,.
There's enough ambiguity about what necessitates a "comeback" that we're casting a wider net than usual. Historically, the winner of this award either returned strong after missing significant time in the previous season due to injury, or has recovered from a down year statistically. Whatever the award means to you, just know there are more candidates than we'll list.
Technically, Nick Markakis didn't "come back" from anything other than a shaky year at the plate. He's improved his production to the extent that his 145 OPS+ would represent a new career-high and that he's so far gained three wins above replacement as compared to 2017. Maybe it's a stretch to give him the award, but he's likely to earn votes all the same.
Matt Kemp didn't come back from injury, but he's improved upon his performance on both sides of the ball (upping his WAR by two wins versus last year) after spending the winter getting in better shape. That he was dealt to the Dodgers as cap ballast and was expected to be released before the season began should help his candidacy -- who doesn't love that kind of story?
No player has ever won the award on the basis of returning from playing overseas. Miles Mikolas could be the first given how well he's pitched for the Cardinals. Mikolas, who previously spent three seasons in Japan, has a 144 ERA+ and nearly four strikeouts per walk. He doesn't miss a ton of bats, but his impeccable control has translated and has enable him be an asset.
Others to watch
Derek Holland appeared cooked before this season, as he hadn't been a respectable big-league starter over a full season since 2013. He's pitched well for the Giants, however, and has likely ensured that he'll receive a big-league deal during the winter. That might be reward enough.
Though Zack Wheeler's ERA+ is under 100, he's made strides since last season, his first back following Tommy John surgery. Wheeler has shaved nearly a run and a half per nine off his ERA and has upped his strikeout-to-walk ratio from 2.03 to 3.02. He won't win, but that's impressive.
In 2017, Adam Ottavino posted a 5.06 ERA and a 1.62 strikeout-to-walk ratio. So far this year, he has a 1.73 ERA and 3.61 strikeout-to-walk ratio. That's a heck of a turnaround.
Lastly, there's Will Smith, who didn't pitch in 2017. Smith isn't going to get as much consideration as his rate numbers demand because he's yet to crack 40 innings. Still, we wanted to recognize his return to being an above-average reliever after a lost season.