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Can Barry Zito be the Comeback Player of the Year?

May 6, 2010, 9:47 AM EDT

Barry Zito 2.jpgAs I was reading Aaron’s last post one thought sprung to my mind: “I guess Barry Zito is the Comeback Player of the Year.” But then I thought about that a bit and now I’m not so sure.

Can you be the Comeback Player of the Year simply because of the expectations caused by your giant contract?  I mean, Zito had an ERA+ of 108 last year, which means that he was an above-average starter. To the extent that he is having a “comeback” year it is only because he’s paid to be an ace and has not been.

That doesn’t seem to be the point of the award, though. The award has only been around since 2005, but it has almost always gone to guys who suffered serious injuries or health problems (e.g. Jason Giambi, Chris Carpenter) suffered serious personal setbacks (e.g. Dmitri Young) or whose performance was so bad that it represented a career-threatening obstacle (e.g. Cliff Lee, who had been sent to the minors).

Zito doesn’t fit into any of those categories. He hasn’t been hurt. By all accounts his comfortable Bay Area existence has not been fraught with adversity. He pitched poorly in 2008, but (a) that was two years ago; and (b) he has otherwise been average or a little better.

If Zito wins the Comeback Player of the Year Award this season it’ll be solely because of the money he makes, not because he necessarily came back from anything. And I’m not sure I’m cool with that.

  1. Professor Longnose - May 6, 2010 at 10:20 AM

    But the reason the expectations were so high, and that he got the contract, was because he used to be good. If you’re good, then you’re not, then you are again, that’s pretty much a comeback.
    Beyond the boxscore had an interesting take last year. They measured the drop in WAR from a previous recent high to the low and then added the difference between the low and the comeback year. It’s here:
    The actual official qualification is that you “re-emerge.” That’s pretty vague.

  2. Dan - May 6, 2010 at 10:38 AM

    Is there both an AL and NL award? If not I think it would be tough to beat Andruw Jones at this point–course they both would have to keep it up.

  3. thatGuy - May 6, 2010 at 11:00 AM

    Liriano is another AL player that is looking to make a pretty good case forhimself as comeback player of the year.

  4. Tanikaze - May 6, 2010 at 12:21 PM

    If they gave the award to Lidge in ’08 then they (who are these mystery voters?) could also tab Zito.

  5. salvo - May 6, 2010 at 12:54 PM

    The award’s history goes more than five years deep.

    Even though MLB didn’t get on board with recognizing a Comeback Player of the Year until 2005, The Sporting News had been recognizing a player in each league for the award for 40 years before that. Every baseball fan in the ’70s knew that guys like Bobby Tolan, John Hiller and Tommy John were recipients of the Comeback Player of the Year award.

    In the five years since the two organizations have both featured the awards, they only disagreed once, in 2008 when MLB inexplicably awarded it to Lidge in the NL, a season after he’d made 66 appearances with a 133 ERA+. That year TSN recognized Fernando Tatis, who returned from oblivion (64 MLB plate appearances over the previous four seasons) to post a 123 OPS+ in over 300 plate appearances with the Mets.

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