September 4, 2014
The Lineup Card
Nine Comeback Player of the Year Candidates
1. Aroldis Chapman
It's not easy to come back from something like that. In addition to the physical wounds that Chapman suffered, he also had to go back onto a pitching mound knowing that... well, that could happen again. And he did it. To me, although he's been here for years, I feel comfortable calling it a comeback. —Russell A. Carleton
2. Jake Arrieta
With the help of pitching coach Chris Bosio, along with dogged work ethic and finding the right frame of mind, Arrieta appears to have finally become the pitcher many hoped he could be. With some mechanical tweaks as well as a deep arsenal of pitches to pull from, Arrieta has emerged as the anchor of the Cubs staff.
Arrieta has a 2.81 ERA with a 25.9 percent strikeout rate and a 7.1 percent walk rate in 134 1/3 innings, leading one to believe that his success this season is likely sustainable. With the bounce back of Starlin Castro and Anthony Rizzo, along with a plethora of position prospects beginning to impact the major league roster, having Arrieta develop into a legit top-of-the-rotation force has sped up the Cubs rebuild and given them a real chance to surprise in 2015. —Sahadev Sharma
3. Starlin Castro
4. Melky Cabrera
5. Chris Young
Young the pitcher hasn’t actually very good since 2007, mostly because of assorted injuries (and not Tommy John!). He didn’t even touch the big leagues last year, splitting time between the Nationals farm system and the DL, and I’m not sure which fate is gentler. Knock on all the wood you can find in your house but this is the first year Young has not visited the disabled list since 2006.
He could have finished his career known as the former pitcher with a great pool, and hosted fancy pool parties and skinny dipped at night, staring at the moon in peace and harmony, pondering the intricacies of life. Instead he chose the Mariners, who signed him after being released by the Nationals out of spring training. Okay, he’s having one of his worst seasons FIP-wise, mostly because his K-rate is among the worst, but a pitch-to-contact flyball pitcher will survive at Safeco Field. All told he is the third-best starter on the American League’s best pitching staff and is a candidate not only for Comeback Player of the Year but also Residential Aquatic Leisure Aficionado Of The Decade. —Matt Sussman
6. Jimmy Rollins
7. Tim Hudson
But Hudson underwent surgery the next day, and less than four months later, he became one of the first free-agent pitchers to find a new home. The former A's hurler signed a two-year, $23 million pact with the Giants, who assumed a bit of risk surrounding Hudson's recovery in exchange for a bargain-bin arm for the middle of their rotation.
Few could have expected as terrific a start to the season as Hudson delivered. He began 2014 with four consecutive walk-less outings, and while that stretch came to a halt, when the calendar reached June 12th, Hudson's ERA was still below 2.00. That wasn't sustainable, of course, and there have been rough patches interspersed with crafty dominance ever since. But it's September now, and Hudson's ERA is still just 3.08. His walk rate is still a career-low 4.2 percent. And his K:BB ratio a career-best 3.70.
Hudson's 3.41 FIP is two points lower than the 3.43 mark he posted in 21 starts before the freak accident that ended his season. You might say he's picked up almost exactly where he left off. —Daniel Rathman
8. Scott Kazmir
Kazmir's two-year, $22 million contract stirred some controversy, because there still was a risk with the lefty being only two years removed from surgery. Kazmir went on to pitch 159 1/3 innings to date registering a 3.48 FIP with 132 strikeouts to 42 walks. He also returned to the All-Star Game in July after a six-year drought since 2008. Kazmir also has pitched to a career-low 2.4 BB/9. His resurgence has the A's poised for a deep run in the playoffs with their impressive rotation this October. —Rob Willer
9. Pat Neshek
Disaster struck in May of 2008 with a torn UCL that necessitated Tommy John surgery, knocking him out of big-league action until 2010. His return was brief, as a tendon injury to his throwing hand shelved Neshek in late April, and his return trip was confined to Triple-A Rochester for the summer. The right-hander struggled to find his previous level of effectiveness, and he ping-ponged between Triple-A and the majors for the next couple of seasons. He finally returned to the majors to stay in 2013, re-emerging in Oakland and posting a solid yet unspectacular season in a bit of a mop-up role, with 32 of his 45 appearances coming with the team trailing.
That usage pattern has been reversed this year, as Neshek has rediscovered the glory of that 2007 season. He has been nearly unhittable, beating his career-best with just 4.9 safeties per nine innings while allowing a career-low homer rate of 1.8 percent. His penchant for the infield pop-up has returned with a ridiculous 30 percent rate of pop-ups per flyball (another career-best), and his 59 innings pitched are the most that he has thrown in the bigs since '07. With a 1.37 ERA and K:BB ratio of 8.7, Neshek has earned his way to the back of the bullpen, coming in with the lead in 58.7 percent of his appearances and earning five saves along the way (the first saves of his career). If one listens carefully, the statistical ring of Koji Uehara can be heard emanating from Neshek's 2014 season. —Doug Thorburn