Comeback Players (Updated) – A Baker’s Dozen

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Jay Bruce & Joey Votto

Fantasy leaguers are constantly trying to unearth the next breakouts and sleepers for the coming season in preparation for their upcoming draft. Not nearly as much time and effort is spent on the less exciting prospect of comeback players, yet they can provide as much value as the other two categories.

These are the players who have already shown us at least one year of high production, usually more, but had a setback last year for a variety of potential reasons. These reasons could range from season-ending surgery, to nagging injuries, to sophomore slumps, to team slumps (see 2014 Tampa Rays), to personal issues off the field. All of the following experienced one or more of these season-harming issues, and have subsequently slipped in the overall rankings.

What we have to determine is if these issues have been resolved during the off-season, or will the player’s numbers continue to trend in the direction of the previous season. Is there a pattern to the regression, such as age, or wear and tear? Will those nagging injuries persist? Was it really a sophomore slump? Is the regression the new norm, or was it a one-year outlier?

So, let’s take a look at Caveball’s (updated) comeback candidates for 2015:

1. Joey Votto (1B) – Falls into the nagging injury category, which is probably the toughest to see through. The good news is that he was ready to comeback in September, but the Reds finally asked themselves, “What would be the point?”. More good news is that he has always been close to the top of the league in OPS, with a career .950, and that fantasy owners will tend to forget his elite status there because of his absence from 100 games last year. The Reds were beat up by injuries all year, and never truly contended. With Todd Frazier and Devin Mesoraco coming off breakout seasons, Billy Hamilton leading off, and Jay Bruce looking at a comeback season himself, the 31 yr. old Votto could have his best year to date. But there’s one big if – if he can stay healthy. Given the extra time he has had to recover, Votto should be as fresh as ever to start.

2. Evan Longoria (3B) – More a victim of a team-wide slump, than his own, Longoria still managed 83 R and 91 RBI. The 29 yr. old still has plenty of good years left, and like Pedroia for the Sox, he is the face of the Rays. A true gamer of the highest order, Tampa’s leader will rally his troops (including newly acquired Stephen Souza) in the coming season, despite (and maybe in lieu of) the loss of John Maddon. Look for Longoria to top the 30 HR/100 RBI mark once again.

3. Matt Harvey (SP) – Here’s what I wrote in Tommy John Prospects: Harvey is, of course, another elite talent who is returning this year after going under the knife for Tommy John. What is the difference in his case? Well, in a word, timing. His surgery came on October 22, 2013, which has given him a nice cushion of 16 months for recovery, two more than the prescribed upper limit of 14 months. Besides this, he will go through the entire Spring Training schedule, as well. This gives him that much extra time to iron out all the wrinkles, and rediscover his game, instead of coming back part way through the season. I suspect you won’t be able to get Harvey as low as you will be able to this year for a long time to come.

4. Dustin Pedroia (2B) – For the Red Sox, 2014 can be summed up as “the hangover from an unlikely championship season”. Even the Fenway faithful were more forgiving than ever for their team’s poor defence of the crown. Along with Big Papi, Pedroia is the face of the team, and it seems as the team goes, so goes Pedroia. The 31 yr. old was even apologetic for his poor year. But make no mistake, he is a gamer of the highest ilk. If the talent is still present, then the numbers will return, especially with the new crop of rookies and acquisitions surrounding him in the line-up. Numbers? I don’t see any numbers here. No need. It’s all about the team. The numbers will just come along for the ride.

5. Jay Bruce (OF) – Okay, all you 2014 Bruce owners, take a deep breath, and please refrain from smirking disdainfully. I was not amongst you, which could give me a more objective, less snake-bitten, perspective. I do know what it’s like when a player just snubs you like that. It’s as if he doesn’t even know you exist. Adam Dunn single-handedly destroyed one of my teams in 2011. From 2004-2012, Dunn had at least 38 HR in every year but one. That year was 2011 when he sent a paltry 11 balls over the fence. I call it 11/11. My carpool/fantasy opponent had many a sadistic laugh over my frustrations with Dunn that year. But I digress, and most of that should remain on my therapist’s couch. Yes, Bruce had a horrible year, but so did the Reds. With a healthy Votto, his buddy should comeback, as well. Look for the 27 yr. old to reach the 30 HR plateau for the 4th time. Go ahead and laugh, but save the last one for me.

6. Jason Kipnis (2B) – Not sure I saw his 2014 regression coming, especially since he turned 27 last April. Okay, let’s not downplay it. It was more than a regression. It was a nightmare. What is it about the name Jason and nightmares? I know there’s something to it. Anyway, he should have been peaking, but instead his OPS dropped from .818 (2013) to .640 (2014). Much of this, however, can be attributed to an oblique injury he suffered at the end of April last year. His swing was never quite the same afterward. On top of this, Kipnis admits to feeling the pressure of living up to his new contract last year, and perhaps, he fell out of the zone by trying too hard. Given his career average of .861 in the minors in the pitcher-friendly International League, one would have to assume that a bounce back is in the forecast this year. Coach Francona says he’s going to do it “with a vengeance”, and what Tito says must not be taken lightly. Besides, how much do you really have to lose when you can count on 30 SBs in the bank?

7. Jean Segura (SS) – His 2014 was the epitome of a sophomore slump, but it came with a lot of extra baggage. Tragically, Segura lost his 9-month old son in July to an illness in the midst of his poor season, which probably kept his focus off the game for the rest of the campaign. He also had nagging injuries to add to the mix. The shortstop position, in general, had one of its worst offensive years ever. The top players have a high injury-risk, and the position really thins out quickly. If the Brewers slot him in the top of the line-up, Segura should be a shoo-in for 30 SB, and 80 R. This isn’t too bad for someone who ended up on the waiver wire in most leagues last year. He has that Ron Cey-esque frame that seems to have been created particularly for baseball. Anyone out there recall Ron Cey? Oops, could be dating myself here. Not that I would ever date myself. Uggh. Time to stop typing.

Jason Heyward8. Jason Heyward (OF) – If you haven’t  noticed yet, 2015 is the “Year of Jason”, and Jays, and names beginning with J. It sounds like some kind of horror flick, but  I’m sure most of the scary scenes occurred in 2014. Offensively, Heyward really didn’t have a nightmarish season, it was just kind of blah for someone from whom so much more was expected. It might help to keep in mind that he is still just 25, and that he was slotted in the ill-fitting lead-off spot for much of the year. Heyward’s bat would be more productive anywhere in the next 5 spots. It reminds me of Cleveland slotting Brantley in the lead-off spot a few years back. With his power, he should be more than just a table-setter. If he is moved, look for him to add 20+ RBI to the disappointing 58 he had in 2014. His defence is so valuable that it should provide a platform for him to get back to his 2012 offensive numbers at some point. One last thing, and this is just gut instinct (Cubbies fans should stop reading here), doesn’t it seem like the Cardinals get more out of their players?

9. Will Myers (OF) – What to make of the enigma that is Will. Will Will have the will? For the 2013 Rookie of the Year, last year was as close to a fall from grace as one can get without any crime being committed. Do we chalk this up to the old sophomore slump? Well, along with missing 77 games during the dog days of summer due to a collision with Desmond Jennings on May 30, I think we can. Myers’ .912 OPS over 452 minor league games helps remind us of his pedigree. In 2012, over 134 minor league games he had 98 R/37 HR/109 RBI. Numbers like that just don’t vanish. Now he’s a Padre, and along with the Matt Kemp and Justin Upton signings, San Diego suddenly have a line-up worth looking at for Fantasy owners. He’s the one player who makes Caveball’s list of Breakouts and Comeback Players. We have seen his floor, now get ready for his ceiling. Myers just turned 24 in December. 

10. Anibal Sanchez (SP) – Yes, it’s true, he could have easily ended up in the Gimps category in our feature: Sooks, Gimps and Gamers, which was recently featured in Pro Sports Daily’s Red Zone. Sanchez has a history of injuries. He has had elbow surgery (2003), shoulder surgery (2007), and then last year’s freak pectoral injury. But that’s just it, it was a freak injury – one that doesn’t normally occur to pitchers (and he’s 8 years past the ones that typically do). Sanchez has lightened his weight-training this offseason and maintains that he’s prepared for a full campaign. If he is, then we have reason enough to be excited, as Sanchez was the league leader in ERA with a 2.57 in 2013. Oh, and he had 202 K in 182 IP that same year, as well.

11. Drew Storen (RP) – We had to remove Storen from the Sleeper post yesterday, as Yahoo already have him ranked at 123rd overall. Of the four rankers, only Andy Behrens (at 190th) had him above the 168th position required for Caveball’s “sleeper status”. Fortunately, we can include him in the Comeback category, but there may be less value to be had here. It all depends on where he goes in each individual draft. Storen had 43 saves back in 2011, before he suffered an injury in 2012. He regained closer status part way through last season after Raphael Soriano was “relieved” of his duties. Storen is steady, with almost a K/IP and a career 2.94 ERA/.229 BAA/1.13 WHIP, but he did blow 3 of his 14 opportunities last year. If he’s still available after the 15th round in a 12-team draft, then he provides value.

12. Matt Cain (SP) – Okay, let me just copy/paste from our Sleeper Picks, because I only want to say this twice. Here we go: The 30 yr. old has dropped so far in the rankings that he now has considerable value for 2015. He may never be quite the same pitcher he once was, but if you take a closer look at his “demise” over the past couple of years, his stats are really not that bad at all:

  • 2014: 4.18 ERA/.242 BAA/1.25 WHIP (before he went on the DL last year)
  • 2013: 4.00 ERA/.228 BAA/1.16 ERA (over a full season)

I boil a lot of Cain’s “slip” down to arm fatigue. He pitched at least 217 innings for 5 straight years, not to mention all of the the post-season IP. Even the steadiest of pitchers have their down years. If you don’t believe me, just have a look at John Lester’s apocalyptic 2012 (c’mon, y’all gotta give me some love for that one), when he had a 4.82 ERA/.273 BAA/1.38 WHIP (and now look at him) Fantasy owners/experts all seem to take a “what have you done for me lately?” attitude, and tend to ignore the rest of the resume′. Buy low.

13. Joakim Soria (RP) – Again, I can refer you to our Sleeper post, or I can do the work for you. Okay, Copy/Paste. I’m just too nice. Here you are: Exactly when Brad Ausmus (or Joe Nathan, himself) realizes it’s time for Nathan to hang up his cleats is anyone’s guess, but Soria should be his obvious replacement. Nathan turned 40 last year, and his stats blatantly show it: 4.81 ERA/.265 BAA/1.53 WHIP. Meanwhile, Soria, 10 years his junior, went 3.25/.222 BAA/0.99 WHIP. Speaking of 40, he twice surpassed the 40-save mark with the Royals in 2008 and 2010. So, you may not have to draft Soria, but I would keep a real close eye on Nathan until the inevitable time comes.

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