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.

MLB Network airs segment listing “good” and “bad” $100 million-plus contracts

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On Wednesday evening, Charlie Marlow of KTVI FOX 2 News St. Louis posted a couple of screencaps from a segment MLB Network aired about $100 million-plus contracts that have been sigbned. The list of “bad” contracts, unsurprisingly, is lengthier than the list of “good” contracts.

As Mike Gianella of Baseball Prospectus pointed out, it is problematic for a network owned by Major League Baseball to air a segment criticizing its employees for making too much seemingly unearned money. There’s a very clear conflict of interest, so one is certainly not getting a fair view of the situation. MLB, of course, can do what it wants with its network, but it can also be criticized. MLB Network would never air a similar segment in which it listed baseball’s “good” and “bad” owners and how much money they’ve undeservedly taken. Nor would MLB Network ever run a segment naming the hundreds of players who are not yet eligible for arbitration whose salaries are decided for them by their teams, often making the major league minimum ($545,000) or just above it. Similarly, MLB Network would also never think of airing a segment in which the pay of minor league players, many of whom make under $10,000 annually, is highlighted.

We’re now past the halfway point in January and many free agents still remain unsigned. It’s unprecedented. A few weeks ago, I looked just at the last handful of years and found that, typically, six or seven of the top 10 free agents signed by the new year. We’re still at two of 10 — same as a few weeks ago — and that’s only if you consider Carlos Santana a top-10 free agent, which is debatable. It’s a complex issue, but part of it certainly is the ubiquity of analytics in front offices, creating homogeneity in thinking. A consequence of that is everyone now being aware that big free agent contracts haven’t panned out well; it’s a topic of conversation that everyone can have and understand now. Back in 2010, I upset a lot of people by suggesting that Ryan Howard’s five-year, $125 million contract with the Phillies wouldn’t pan out well. Those people mostly cited home runs and RBI and got mad when I cited WAR and wOBA and defensive metrics. Now, many of those same people are wary of signing free agent first baseman Eric Hosmer and they now cite WAR, wOBA, and the various defensive metrics.

The public’s hyper-sensitivity to the viability of long-term free agent contracts — thanks in part to segments like the aforementioned — is a really bad trend if you’re a player, agent, or just care about labor in general. The tables have become very much tilted in favor of ownership over labor over the last decade and a half. Nathaniel Grow of FanGraphs pointed out in March 2015 that the players’ share of total league revenues peaked in 2002 at 56 percent, but declined all the way to 38 percent in 2014. The current trend of teams signing their talented players to long-term contract extensions before or during their years of arbitration eligibility — before they have real leverage — as well as teams abstaining from signing free agents will only serve to send that percentage further down.

Craig has written at great length about the rather serious problem the MLBPA has on its hands. Solving this problem won’t be easy and may require the threat of a strike, or actually striking. As Craig mentioned, that would mean getting the players all on the same page on this issue, which would require some work. MLB hasn’t dealt with a strike since 1994 and it’s believed that it caused a serious decline in interest among fans, so it’s certainly something that would get the owners’ attention. The MLBPA may also need to consider replacing union head Tony Clark with someone with a serious labor background. Among the issues the union could focus on during negotiations for the next collective bargaining agreement: abolishing the draft and getting rid of the arbitration system. One thing is for sure: the players are not in a good spot now, especially when the league has its own network on which it propagandizes against them.