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 National League’s top candidates for the midseason award, but their comeback trail has plenty of miles left ahead.
5. Adam LaRoche, Washington Nationals
The Nationals did everything they could to replace LaRoche this offseason but came up empty handed. Things have worked out okay for them this season. The Nats have dealt with several injuries in their lineup, but LaRoche has been a steady producer. His 15 home runs and 53 RBI both rank in the top-10 in the NL. The nine-year veteran hit just .172 over 43 games in 2011.
4. Buster Posey, San Francisco Giants
The Giants brought Posey back slowly this spring, and their conservative approach has paid off. He’s played in 75 of the team’s 84 games, making 12 starts at first base. Posey sparked San Francisco’s World Series run in 2010, but had his leg basically destroyed on a collision at the plate last year. There were questions on whether he’d ever catch again after suffering a fractured fibula and torn ligaments in his ankle, but the 25-year-old has bounced back nicely, as he’s hitting .292 with 10 home runs, 43 RBI and a .825 OPS.
3. Johan Santana, New York Mets
Santana missed all of 2011 with a shoulder injury, and there was a report this winter that the Mets would have considered 100-125 innings from Johan a bonus. Seeing as he’s already hit that mark, the team should be ecstatic. Santana had one of the signature moments of the season so far, throwing the first no-hitter in Mets history June 1. The two-time Cy Young Award winner has pitched 102 2/3 innings and has two shutouts in 17 starts. He has a 3.24 ERA, 1.17 WHIP and 99 strikeouts.
2. Stephen Strasburg, Washington Nationals
Strasburg had Tommy John surgery in August 2010, and he managed to make just five starts last year. The Nationals have been adamant that they will limit Strasburg’s innings to somewhere between 160 and 170. The 23-year-old has already thrown 99 innings, meaning he’s on pace to hit that limit in early September. With Washington leading the division, you have to wonder if they’ll stick to that limit. Strasburg leads all of baseball with 128 punch-outs, averaging 11.6 K/9.
1. David Wright, New York Mets
Wright is on the short list of NL MVP candidates, and is one of only five hitters in the game with an OPS over 1.000. His play has helped turn the Mets from laughingstock to contenders, and the focus is back on the field. Wright missed two months of the 2011 season with a stress fracture in his lower back. A torn abdominal muscle cost him much of spring training, but the 29-year-old has been better than ever this season.
The Comeback Player of the Year Award has been presented by the MLB since 2005. Here are the previous NL winners:
2005: Ken Griffey, Jr., Cincinnati Reds
2006: Nomar Garciaparra, Los Angeles Dodgers
2007: Dmitri Young, Washington Nationals
2008: Brad Lidge, Philadelphia Phillies
2009: Chris Carpenter, St. Louis Cardinals
2010: Tim Hudson, Atlanta Braves
2011: Lance Berkman, St. Louis Cardinals