Navigating The Comeback Trail
As we wait in anticipation for the start of the new season, we have a tendency to place great emphasis on high profile players. We need these guys to perform in order for our favorite teams to win games (and our fantasy teams as well).
Pitchers and catchers report this coming week. I love those words so much, I’m going to write them again. Pitchers and catchers report this coming week. It all begins. For some guys, they will be navigating the comeback trail. The way they rebound from sub-par performance in 2015 will have a great deal to do with their teams success (and our fantasy team’s success.
Here is a list of guys I’ll be monitoring carefully to see how they travel along the 2016 comeback trail.
Oh my, did he fall off the cliff. Victor Martinez is among the best long-term pure hitters I’ve seen in the game. From his time as a great hitting prospect catcher in the Indians organization to his fabulous 2014 season of .335/32/107 in 641 plate appearances, Martinez has always been an impact hitter. And a switch-hitter to boot. Last year? Martinez, coming back from bad wheels and knees hit .245/11/64. Yikes! He went from a .409 OBP to .301. Now, in 2016 and at age 37, who is Victor Martinez?
Sandoval left the comfort of the National League San Francisco Giants to the very high profile American League Boston Red Sox. The rest is a nightmare. Looking a tad out of shape at his reported 255 pounds on his 5-foot-11 frame, Sandoval is a better defensive third baseman than his thick frame may dictate. Defense isn’t the issue though. He went from .279/16/73 in 638 plate appearances with the Giants to a brutal .245/10/47 in 505 plate appearances with the Red Sox. The Panda needs to change his brand of bamboo or find another food source, because this just isn’t working. He will be in his age 29 season, and his team needs the switch-hitter to perform.
Puig’s nose dive last season could be attributed to various injuries that included hamstring issues. However, when he did play he looked like a stale bottle of soda without the fizz. He hit .255/11/38 in his 311 plate appearances in 79 games. In the previous season, he finished at .296/16/69 in 640 trips to the plate. The Dodgers need the right-handed hitter to come back from injuries and perform as anticipated. But he also has to tone down his overall approach to the game and his demeanor in the clubhouse that has been a source of contention for his club. The man is talented-but he has to prove his worth in 2016.
Do you find it hard to believe that Jacoby Ellsbury hit 32 home runs and drove in 105 runs in…wait for it…2011. Well, that was an interesting time in baseball, right? Four short years later, Ellsbury hit exactly seven. That’s seven- as in 7. That’s 25 fewer big flies. But here’s the rub. He stole 70 bases in 2009. Last season he stole 21. That was down from the 39 he stole in 2014. But last year he played in only 111 games. He hit .257 compared to .271 in 149 games in 2014. Is this decline permanent? At the age of 32 is Ellsbury toast? While there is no denying the consistent decline in his stats, Ellsbury should be motivated to renew his career. What can we expect?
I was fortunate to scout Martin when he first arrived with Texas as a fresh young outfielder from Cuba. It took some time for the Rangers staff to work on his entire game, but they did a fine job. In 2014 he hit .274/7/40 and stole 31 bases, being caught 12 times. He was becoming a complete player—good jumps in the outfield, good offensive improvement. He had a .325 on base percentage. And then–the roof caved in. Last year he eventually was replaced in center field by the Rangers. He finished the season at .219/5/25 with 14 stolen bases. He was traded to Seattle in November. He has a new life with a new team–in the same division. He can bite the hand that once fed him. I admit I am not confident we will see the 2014 edition of Martin. But who is he? Will he be a force with the Mariners? Time will tell.
JEFF SAMARDZIJA- GIANTS
There are respected baseball analysts that place a very high value on Samardzija. He has a strong arm, great physicality and he has the look of a winner. I’m not as bullish on him as some others. Last year the White Sox thought he was among the answers for their rotation needs. The results? He went 11-13 with an ERA of 4.96 and a WHIP of 1.29. He yielded a whopping 29 home runs. And 118 earned runs. And 228 hits in 214 innings. OK- that last stat really isn’t that bad. But the ERA, WHIP, and homers are an issue. He gets a rebirth with a new big ball park in Oakland. Will it be enough for him to be a solid starter in the AL West? We’ll see. My jury is still out.
Those that follow me know I’m a big Tillman fan. I was with the Mariners when Tillman was part of the huge trade with the Orioles for Erik Bedard. At the time I thought it was a mistake to give up Tillman in the package. I thought he would be a solid starter for years to come. Well, in 2014 he went 13-6 with an ERA of 3.34 and a WHIP of 1.23. He yielded 21 homers in 207 1/3 innings. Those are solid numbers.
Last year? While he got better in the second half, he finished at 11-11 with an ERA of 4.99. a WHIP of 1.38. He yielded 30 homers in 173 innings. It wasn’t consistent and it wasn’t always pretty. The Orioles need an entire season of the 2014 Tillman.
None of my blogs would be complete without a mention of a Cleveland Indians player. This time it’s Urshela. Is he really only a .225 hitter? He had six home runs as a third baseman. He drove in 21. How can the Tribe keep him in a position that requires offense with those abysmal numbers? Basically, it’s all about Urshela’s defense. He helped the pitching staff with a stellar glove. He and Francisco Lindor form a terrific defensive left side of the infield. But those offensive numbers are rally killers. For a club with anemic power and a meh offense, I would think his bat will have to wake up for him to retain his job all year. The starters may pitch great and lose 3-2 or 2-1 with a pop-gun outfield offense and a woeful hitter at third in Urshela. He has to step up.
There are more my friends. Many more players that have to have a better 2016 than their 2015 to help their clubs. And ours. This is just a small sampling.
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Happy Valentine’s Day to my bride of 49 years. We had a Valentine’s Wedding in 1967.
The weather in Mansfield, Ohio that day when we were married? Blizzard and very, very cold. Much different than our home in Arizona—where it’s 80 here today.
That’s it. I’m done.