Don’t call it a comeback, yet.
The top candidates for the 2012 Comeback Player of the Year award have overcome injuries and/or poor play from last season, but they’ve still got a long way to go before their comebacks are complete.
Over the next three months, some of the candidates will fade, and one or two may suffer an injury bad enough to make them a comeback candidate in 2013.
According to Major League Baseball, the award is presented to the player who has “re-emerged on the baseball field during a given season.” Here are the American League’s top candidates for the midseason award, but their comeback trail has plenty of miles left ahead.
5. Joe Nathan, Texas Rangers
Nathan was a shadow of his former self last season, his first since returning from Tommy John surgery. He pitched just 44 2/3 innings and posted a 4.84 ERA in his last year in Minnesota. Nathan had been the best closer outside of Mariano Rivera for six years prior to the injury, and has returned to that level with the Rangers this year. The 37-year-old has 18 saves, a 1.87 ERA, 0.89 WHIP and 42 strikeouts against just four walks over 33 2/3 innings.
4. Joe Mauer, Minnesota Twins
The only catcher in baseball history to win three batting titles, Mauer is in the hunt to win a fourth. He currently ranks fourth in the AL with a .330 batting average. Various injuries and ailments derailed the St. Paul product’s 2011 season, as he managed to appear in just 82 games while posting career lows in every slash line stat. Mauer leads the AL with a .418 on-base percentage
3. Fernando Rodney, Tampa Bay Rays
Even if Rodney would have been simply serviceable this year, it would have been a shock. It could be argued that he’s been the most dominant pitcher in baseball, which would have been unfathomable before the start of the season. Rodney has gone from posting more walks than strikeouts and an ugly 4.50 ERA in 2011 to flashing a 0.96 ERA, 0.72 WHIP and 38-to-5 strikeout-to-walk ratio with 24 saves this year. Amazing.
2. Adam Dunn, Chicago White Sox
Dunn has gone from having maybe the worst season of any hitter ever back to being one of the best sluggers in baseball. The big fella ranks third in the AL in home runs (25), fourth in RBI (60) and leads the majors in walks (66). The only thing keeping Dunn out of the top spot is his 127 strikeouts. Despite the power surge, he’s still on pace to set a new MLB record for strikeouts in a season, and could flirt with 250 punch-outs.
1. Jake Peavy, Chicago White Sox
That’s right, it’s Dunn’s own teammate that beat him out for best comeback so far. Injuries Peavy suffered have ruined his last two seasons, and there were questions on whether or not his career was on the brink of being over. He entered the night ranking in the top-five in the AL in the majority of major statistical categories, but most impressively, Peavy has thrown 112 2/3 innings. He added to his terrific numbers tonight, going another 7 1/3 innings of one-run ball while striking out seven. He deserves some consideration to start the All-Star Game, but has somehow been left off the roster completely.
The Comeback Player of the Year Award has been presented by the MLB since 2005. Here are the previous winners from the AL:
2005: Jason Giambi, New York Yankees
2006: Jim Thome, Chicago White Sox
2007: Carlos Pena, Tampa Bay Devil Rays
2008: Cliff Lee, Cleveland Indians
2009: Aaron Hill, Toronto Blue Jays
2010: Francisco Liriano, Minnesota Twins
2011: Jacoby Ellsbury, Boston Red Sox