The Comeback Player of the Year Award is a strange animal. Basically, you qualify for the award if you completely sucked the previous year(s) or were injured and could not perform. To top off the weirdness of the animal, there are two of them. The Sporting News has awarded the prize since 1965 and then Major League Baseball came up with its version in 2005. Both have already awarded their picks for 2012. They both got it wrong. The selections were lazy, plain and simple.
The Sporting News went with Adam Dunn of the Chicago White Sox. The funny thing here is that the link was found on the Sports Illustrated site, a magazine that has long been in competition with TSN and did not even mention in the story that TSN was the author of the award. Anyway, TSN got it way wrong.
Major League Baseball gave the award to Fernando Rodney. Rodney, as we all know, had an amazing season, one of the best ever for a reliever/closer. But Rodney's season does not fall in the category of a comeback. His season was more in the, "where-the-heck-did-that-come-from," category. He did not come back. He never was before.
Let's start with Dunn. Yes, Adam Dunn had the most putrid season in baseball history in 2011. And yes, he was not nearly so putrid in 2012. For those wildly impressed with power numbers, Dunn did hit 41 homers in 2012 after hitting only eleven in 2011. That certainly is pretty. And he knocked in 96 runs and received an incredible 105 walks.
Even so, he was still only fourth on his own team in wRC+ and since he was mostly a DH and a really bad first baseman, and since he is the stodgiest of base runners, he still garnered only 1.7 fWAR or 0.9 rWAR. Dunn came within a strikeout of tying the major league record and struck out a preposterously 34 percent of the time. If you liked Dave Kingman, then Adam Dunn is your guy.
Dunn was not the best choice for comeback player on his own team, never mind the entire league. Alex Rios should have won the award. If we go by WAR for example and use Fangraphs.com's numbers for that statistic, Dunn went from -3.0 fWAR to 1.7, a jump of 4.7 wins. Alex Rios went from -0.8 fWAR in 2011 to 4.3 in 2012, a jump of 5.1 wins. Baseball-reference.com has an even bigger swing. According to that site's WAR calculation, Dunn gained four wins in 2012 higher than his 2011 figure while Rios jumped a whopping 6.2 rWAR from 2011 to 2012.
And Rios isn't the only one on the White Sox worth considering. There was also Jake Peavy who went from 111+ innings in 2011 to 219 in 2012 and went from 0.0 rWAR in 2011 to 4.3 in 2012. Here was a guy nobody thought would pitch effectively again and he finished with a 3.73 FIP.
So again, Dunn wasn't even the best candidate on his own team. But what about Fernando Rodney? There is nothing but superlatives to say about Rodney's season. But he did not come back from anything. He never was anything until this season. Before 2012, Rodney had never finished higher than 1.0 rWAR in his career since 2005 and that was the highest he'd ever finished in that statistic. 2005 and 2006 were his only two seasons to finish under 4.00 in ERA.
Rodney's lowest FIP of any full season was 3.88. Yes, he had 37 saves in 2009, but it's not like he had a good season that year. He didn't. Rodney's 2012 season came out of nowhere. His dominance in K/9, K/BB ratio, WHIP, FIP and every other statistic were unprecedented in his career. Rodney was certainly the reliever of the year and should get a top ten finish in Cy Young Award voting, but he does not qualify for the comeback thing. He just doesn't.
So yes, we've started the award season and it is already off to a bad start. The voters of the Comeback Player of the Year Award (both versions) were lazy and did not do the homework needed to get it right. But that isn't really a surprise to anyone, is it?