Now that we’re less than three weeks away from that glorious day when pitchers and catchers report to camp for Spring Training, I’ve been hearing a lot of predictions flying around for 2012; I’m usually not a good predictor, but I’m going to take my stab at the 2012 American League and National League Comeback Players of the Year. After doing an intense search, I’ve decided that the honors will go to Adam Dunn of the Chicago White Sox and Adam Wainwright of the St. Louis Cardinals; before you agree or disagree, let me tell you why I think these two players will rise to the top this year.
Last year was probably the worst season Adam Dunn has endured in his entire life. After signing a four-year/$56 million contract to play for Ozzie Guillen and the Chicago White Sox, he performed well under the expectations that the front office and fans had set for him with a .159 average, 11 home runs, and 42 RBI. How did this happen? Who knows. The best part about last year for Adam Dunn is that it’s over. Dunn has never been known to hit for average (.243 lifetime BA), but that .159 mark is well below just about any everyday ballplayer in MLB history. However, since he has been in the league for 11 years, he has established himself as a middle-of-the-order kind of player that is expected to hit at least 30 home runs and drive in 100 runs every year. In fact, he’s hit more than 30 home runs in a season on seven occasions, while hitting 40 or more five years in a row. He’s also driven in over 100 runs on six different occasions during his career. So, it’s not as if Adam Dunn is an unproven commodity in Major League Baseball. The man can hit the ball a country mile and has done it on a consistent basis throughout his time in the Bigs.
There are a couple of things that will work to his advantage this year. One is that he’s gotten through his first year in the American League. Switching leagues always seems to be more difficult for hitters than for pitchers, and Dunn is a great example of that. Now, he’s seen his AL counterparts for an entire year and has a better idea of how he will be pitched. The second reason why he will bounce back this year is his new manager, Robin Ventura. Even though he hasn’t managed a day in the Major Leagues, his demeanor is completely different from Ozzie Guillen; his relaxed view of things will do wonders for this White Sox clubhouse, who have been walking on egg shells for Guillen’s entire tenure as manager. I think he’s going to bust out this year in a big way to show everyone that he’s not going away anytime soon. A .250 average, 35 home runs, and 110 RBI can be a real possibility for Dunn; helping him return to form.
Adam Wainwright also had a tough year in 2011, but on quite a different level. He was unable to play all year because he was recovering from Tommy John surgery, and was unable to be a part of the improbable run the Cardinals made to become World Series champions. There is no doubt that he was elated his team was once again on top of the baseball world, but players hate that they weren’t to contribute along the way. In his first full season in 2006, he was used primarily as a reliever, and took over closer duties in the postseason as the Cardinals marched their way bast the Tigers to win the World Series that year as well. From 2007 to 2010, he become a key part of the St. Louis starting rotation, posting double digit wins in each of those years. In 2009 and 2010, he won a total of 39 games, reaching the 20-win plateau in ’10, averaging a 2.53 ERA between both of those seasons. He placed in the top-3 for the Cy Young award each year as well. Before he went down with his injury, him and Chris Carpenter were one of the best one-two punches in baseball.
So, why does Wainwright have a big year? With the departure of Pujols, most people in baseball have been focused on that (rightfully so), which gives him no pressure to perform this year. The front office has put their faith behind him by picking up his options last year, without pitching an inning. He will undoubtedly return to form and be a key piece in Cardinals starting rotation. I wouldn’t rule out a 15-win season from Wainwright with a sub-4.00 ERA.
We’ll see if I’m even close with these predictions; only time will tell. Who are you picking to have a big comeback year?