Thursday, October 13, 2011

Confused by the Comeback Player of the Year Award

Award presentations get wackier every year. In the entertainment business, there are so many award shows that any day now we could soon get the "Entertainer of the Year on Shows That Nobody Watches on Cable" awards. In college football, there are so many bowls every year that soon we might get the Rent-A-Wreck Bowl. Fortunately, baseball has kept the awards to somewhat of a minimum. But among those awards, the Comeback Player of the Year Award might be in that Rent-A-Wreck category. What does it mean exactly?

According to some of the sites scanned today, the award is given to a player who has re-emerged with his play this year. What does "re-emerge" mean? Does it mean that a player had to emerge in the first place to be eligible? Does that leave out players like Ryan Vogelsong who never had a good season in his life before this one? If so, should it? Did you have to be somewhat of a star before to get the honor when you are sort of a star again?

It's difficult to argue with the choices presented by this year's award.  Lance Berkman had a great year for the Cardinals (at least offensively) after so-so years the last two due to injuries and probably a lack of inspiration and conditioning. His WAR matched his last two years combined. But it also fell a bit short of his great years of the past (mostly on his poorly rated defense). Jacoby Ellsbury had a fantastic year and is an MVP candidate after missing virtually all year last year after hurting himself in a collision with a teammate. But there are some inherent issues with both picks.

First, Jacoby Ellsbury did come back from injury to have a superb season and that appears on some level to be a "re-emergence." But the fact is that Ellsbury was never this good before. Wouldn't his season be more of an emergence than a re-emergence? What if 2011 turns out to be a career year or an outlier for Ellsbury? Remember when Wade Boggs hit 26 homers? Remember when Joe Mauer hit more than five? If so, shouldn't Ellsbury's season qualify more for the Outlier Award or the Budding Superstar award? He so blew away anything in the past that it's hard to call what he did a re-emergence. Ellsbury's previous high fWAR was 4.3 but he blew the doors off of that and more than doubled it this season. It was more of a butterfly coming out of a cocoon than a re-emergence.

This writer really loves Lance Berkman. In fact, this writer called Berkman's great season back in February of 2011. So it's a bit gratifying to see the season he's had and to see him playing in the post season. But it's also this writer's belief that Berkman became disinterested in Houston and got himself out of shape. There were several stories in the preseason that he went on a fitness kick to prove that he was still a good player this season. Having to sign a substandard contract (for him) will do that for you. So should his 2011 season be rewarded when he kind of got himself into his own mess to begin with? The Yankees, who had Berkman last year, were shocked at how well Berkman played for the Cardinals.

In case you get the wrong impression, this writer is not against Berkman and Ellsbury getting these awards. Both players are well liked in this space. Let's just say this Fan doesn't understand the spirit of this award. Is it the "I got hurt and now can play again" award? Or should it be someone who overcame heavy obstacles to succeed. Ryan Vogelsong seems to more fit the spirit of what the award should be. The guy never stopped working and after missing five seasons in the majors, put together an unbelievable story. The same could hold true for Brandon McCarthy and others who battled from obscurity to grab some positive value as major league players. Was there any better comeback than James Shields?

Of course, we could go into a whole other post about this award's tie in with a sponsor like Viagra, but we'll let that rest for now. Though if this award stays in your mind for more than four hours, you should probably call your doctor.