MLB Comeback Player Candidates for 2018

March 13, 2018 | insideinjuries | No Comments

Injuries last season seemed to hit all of the top pitchers and hitters in the game. From Mike Trout’s torn thumb ligament to Bryce Harper’s knee injury to Madison Bumgarner’s shoulder injury, no one was spared. So which players have the best chance to bounce back this season and earn the title of MLB Comeback Player of the year? Here are a few of our favorites.

5 MLB Comeback Players 2018

Noah Syndergaard – SP NYM

The injury troubles of Noah Syndergaard have been well documented. Syndergaard decided in 2016 that he would try to throw even harder, a decision that was controversial in the baseball world. In 2015, Syndergaard was already the fastest throwing starter in the Majors, averaging 97.7 miles per hour on his fastball. But in 2016, he upped the octane, averaging 98.6 miles per hour. The speed seemed to improve his ability, as his ERA, K-rate, and HR-rate all improved from 2015 to 2016. In 2017, he came out with the same plan, but it seemed that the velocity caught up with him, as he tore his lat muscle while pitching in an April game against the Nationals.

The good news is that the injury shouldn’t be an issue going forward, but if he keeps throwing gas, he is likely to get injured in some other way, as most humans just can’t pitch that many innings throwing that hard. Alternatively, if he can back it up to “just” 97 miles per hour or so, he has shown he can still be a Top 20 pitcher in the league and should drastically lower his injury risk. I would argue that the reward far outweighs the risk here, as he is a Top 3 fantasy pitcher when healthy.

Miguel Cabrera – 1B DET

Coming into 2017, Cabrera’s worst offensive season since his rookie campaign saw him post 22.0 Offensive Runs Above Average. For his career, he had averaged 38.2. Last season, he posted -13.7. Cabrera fell off a cliff last season, and a lot of people were ready to yell “father time” at him and say he’s done. But we don’t think he’s done yet. Yes, he posted a terrible offensive season. But in the first half, he was still really good, posting a wRC+ of 110, meaning he was 10% above average (nowhere near his career average of 149, but still good).

But half way through the year, he began to accumulate injuries, and his production quickly dropped off, with a 65 wRC+ in the second half. Near the end of the season, Cabrera was diagnosed with two herniated discs in his back, which were the cause of his discomfort and likely the cause of his poor production. Coming into the season, he should be over the injury after having offseason surgery. Cabrera has been around a long time, but you must remember he is only 34, which means he may very well have several more good seasons in him. I won’t pick him to be an MVP candidate anymore, but an All-Star campaign is certainly likely, if not probable.

Madison Bumgarner – SP SFG

There really isn’t too much to say about Madison Bumgarner. He isn’t old, he hasn’t had a drop in production, his stuff is as good as ever, and he is still one of the best 5 or so pitchers in the game. He just had a very unfortunate injury that caused him to miss a lot of time. All that being said, while there is not a serious risk of reinjury, there is a minor risk that the dirt bike incident he found himself in has caused permanent damage to his throwing shoulder. There was a noticeable dip in his fastball velocity when he returned from injury. In his 4 games of 2017 before his injury, he was averaging 92.0 with his fastball. His first 4 games back from injury, it had dropped to 90.7, a huge decline. But there is some evidence that shows he was just knocking off some cobwebs, because in the last 4 games of the season, he averaged 91.3, and he was back at an even 92.0 for the season finale. Bumgarner is very likely to return to form, and he should be drafted high, just maybe a few spots lower than he would have been drafted last year.

Greg Bird – 1B NYY

Greg Bird is a young player that has huge potential that thus far has been derailed by injury. Last season, he was killing it in Spring Training before sustaining an ankle injury that caused him to miss 4 months. When he came back, he showed off the power that has him so highly touted by smashing 9 homers in just 170 plate appearances. Over the course of a 600 plate appearance season, that’s 32 homers. And in his other taste of the bigs in 2015, he hit them at an even higher rate of 37/600 PAs. Bird should be 100% from his ankle injury and ready to go, and he isn’t a particularly high injury risk going forward. While he may not be an MVP candidate due to relatively low batting average, he should hit a lot of bombs.

Adam Eaton – OF WAS

Adam Eaton was a devastating loss for the Nationals in 2017. After quietly being one of the better outfielders in baseball from 2014-2016 (ranked 35th in wRC+, 8th in plate appearances, and 5th in hits), he suffered an ACL tear in May that put him out for the season. Obviously an ACL tear is never good, but from a fantasy perspective, there were still a lot of bright spots. Before the injury, he was on pace for a career high in hits, walks, doubles, and stolen bases. While a bum ACL may cause problems on defense and on the base paths, it shouldn’t spread too much to his hitting. He will still likely be one of the better offensive players in the league, and I would project him for a replication of his 2016 season.

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