2009's best 'comeback' seasons

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Because everyone likes a good comeback story.



Chris Carpenter: After being sidelined for much of the past two seasons following Tommy
John surgery, Chris Carpenter has not only become a near-lock as the NL
Comeback Player of the Year, but he could be in line for his second Cy
Young, as well. Carpenter finished the regular season at 17-4 with a
league-best 2.24 ERA and a 1.01 WHIP (2nd in NL). Only teammate Adam
Wainwright had more wins while only Dan Haren had a lower WHIP. 22 of
his 26 starts were Quality Starts (or 79% of the time — tied with Zack
Greinke) — only Tim Lincecum (81%) and Felix Hernandez (85%) did it more often. Imagine what he could have done if he didn’t miss
nearly five weeks with a rib cage injury? Wow.




Aaron Hill: The Blue Jays weren’t quite sure what they were getting when Aaron
Hill showed up to Spring Training this season. After all, he was
working his way back from post-concussion symptoms that limited him to
just 55 games in 2008. However, the 27-year-old Hill blistered the ball
from the start, batting .365/.412/.567 with five homers and 20 RBI in
April. He finished with a .286/.330/.499 line, leading all major league
second basemen with 36 homers (3rd in AL) and 108 RBI (5th). Only
Alfonso Soriano (38 in 2003, 39 in 2002) hit more home runs in a
season at the position in American League history. The Jays have tons
of problems to address in the offseason, but Hill and Adam Lind aren’t among them.




Scott Podsednik:
This is the kind of comeback story you can root for. Scott
Podsednik’s future in the majors looked uncertain after he was released
by the Rockies during Spring Training on the heels of a lousy
.253/.322/.333 line in 2008. He eventually signed on with the White Sox
in mid-April, and after spending a couple weeks with Triple-A
Charlotte, the 33-year-old outfielder returned to the majors when the
team’s center field options fizzled out. It didn’t take long for him
to secure a stranglehold on the job, batting .304/.353/.412 with seven
homers (most since 2004), 48 RBI (most since 2003), 30 stolen bases
(7th in AL) and 75 runs scored in 132 games. Chone Figgins will
probably be too rich for the White Sox blood during the offseason, so
look for “Scotty Pods” to return as the club’s leadoff hitter with a just reward in hand.




Justin Verlander: It’s easy to forget that Justin Verlander’s 17 losses were
tied with Barry Zito and Aaron Harang for the most in the majors last season. It
looked like he was headed for the same fate this season when he started
at 0-2 with a 9.00 ERA over his first four starts. However, he has been
one of the most dominant starters in the majors over his past 30 starts, going 19-7
with a 2.92 ERA. He kept the Tigers postseason hopes afloat on Sunday,
allowing three runs over 7 2/3 innings, tying C.C. Sabathia and Adam
Wainwright for the major league lead in victories. He was a true
workhorse for the Tigers in 2009, logging a major-league high 240 innings. The
26-year-old fireballer was tops in the league with 269 strikeouts while
his 20 games of eight strikeouts or more tied him with Tim Lincecum.




Todd Helton: Todd Helton’s chronic back condition reduced him to just 83 games in
2008, batting a career-worst .264/.391/.388. After undergoing
arthroscopic surgery last September, he opened the 2009 season with
serious questions about his durability and just how the surgery would
affect his performance at the plate. While he’ll never touch the same
historic on-base totals of his prime, he came pretty close in 2009,
batting .325./416/.489 with 15 homers and 86 RBI. Incredibly, he
managed to play in 151 games this season. His .904 OPS still placed him
among the top-15 in the league. The Rockies have to feel a little bit
better about the roughly $36 million they owe him over the next two
seasons.

Yordano Ventura represented the best and worst of baseball’s culture

BOSTON, MA - AUGUST 28:  Yordano Ventura #30 of the Kansas City Royals delivers in the first inning during a game against the Boston Red Sox on August 28, 2016 at Fenway Park in Boston, Massachusetts.  (Photo by Adam Glanzman/Getty Images)
Adam Glanzman/Getty Images
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It was reported this morning that Royals pitcher Yordano Ventura was killed in a car accident in the Dominican Republic. Former prospect Andy Marte was also killed in a separate car accident. Along with Jose Fernandez and Oscar Taveras, the baseball world has lost a lot of young, exciting talent in a very short amount of time.

Ventura was, like all of us, a complex human being. At his best, he was an exciting, talented, emotive pitcher who featured an electric fastball which sat in the mid-90’s and occasionally touched 100 MPH. At his worst, he was an immature, impressionable kid trying to fit in by exacting revenge against batters he felt had wronged him by slinging those electric fastballs at vulnerable areas of their bodies.

Baseball needed Ventura when he was at his best. It is players like him and Fernandez, not Mike Trout, that bring in new fans to the sport. To baseball die-hards, Angels outfielder Mike Trout is the pinnacle of entertainment because we know he’s an otherworldly talent. But to the average fan, Trout is just another player who hits a couple of homers and doesn’t do anything particularly interesting otherwise. Trout is milquetoast. Ventura was never an All-Star, but fans knew who he was because he made his presence felt every time he made a start. He was fun, if sometimes vengeful.

Ventura’s baseball rap sheet is rather lengthy for someone who only pitched parts of four seasons in the big leagues. Early in the 2015 season, Ventura found himself in a handful of benches-clearing incidents in quick succession. On April 12, he jawed with Trout, apparently misunderstanding the motivation behind Trout yelling, “Let’s go!” Though catcher Salvador Perez intervened, Trout’s teammate Albert Pujols ran in from second base and the benches cleared shortly thereafter. On the 18th, some drama between the Athletics and Royals continued. Ventura fired a 99 MPH fastball at Brett Lawrie, resulting in his immediate ejection from the game. More beanball wars ensued in the series finale the following day. Finally, on the 23rd, Ventura hit White Sox first baseman Jose Abreu with a 99 MPH fastball in the fourth inning. Ventura was not ejected… until after the completion of the seventh inning. Walking back to the dugout, Ventura barked at White Sox outfielder Adam Eaton and — you guessed it — the benches cleared. All told, Ventura was fined for his behavior with the Athletics and suspended seven games for the White Sox incident.

In August 2015, Ventura called Blue Jays outfielder Jose Bautista a “nobody” and accused him of stealing signs. He apologized shortly thereafter. Two months later, during his start in Game 6 of the ALCS against the Blue Jays, Ventura got into it with Jays first base coach Tim Leiper. Nothing happened beyond that, but apparently it was part of the Jays’ plan to try to put Ventura “on tilt.”

Most recently, in June this past season, Ventura hit Orioles third baseman Manny Machado with a pitch. Machado charged the mound and got in at least one punch before the players spilled out onto the field in a blob of royal blue and orange. Ventura was suspended for eight games.

Ventura was by no means a model of civility, but he was a product of baseball’s intransigent culture forcing players to assimilate or be ostracized. The old culture taught players to never show emotion. Hit a home run? Put your head down and circle the bases in a timely fashion or risk taking a fastball to the ribs. Players like Fernandez and Bautista — typically players from Latin countries — challenged those old cultural norms and are, as a result, the vanguard of the new culture. Ventura displayed aspects of each, the worst of the old culture and the best of the new. He was not a one-dimensional person; he was strikingly complex. At one moment willing to use a fastball as a weapon, the next stopping by some kids’ lemonade stand and giving out fist bumps. Baseball is made more entertaining and more interesting by its personalities and Ventura’s was a behemoth, for better or worse. His absence from the sport will be felt.

MLB remembers Yordano Ventura and Andy Marte

BOSTON, MA - AUGUST 28:  Yordano Ventura #30 of the Kansas City Royals delivers in the first inning during a game against the Boston Red Sox on August 28, 2016 at Fenway Park in Boston, Massachusetts.  (Photo by Adam Glanzman/Getty Images)
Getty Images
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Following the tragic passing of 25-year-old Yordano Ventura and 33-year-old Andy Marte, both of whom were killed in separate car crashes on Sunday morning, players and executives from around Major League Baseball expressed an outpouring of grief and support for the players’ families and former teams.

Fans have gathered at Kauffman Stadium in memory of the former pitcher.