For pretty much all of 2012, Jake Peavy and Adam Dunn have been regarded as the leading candidates for the American League’s Comeback Player of the Year Award. With Dunn coming off a season where he hit just .159 and Peavy being fully healthy for the first time in years after extensive surgery on a detached lat muscle in his right shoulder, they certainly are two players who deserve consideration.
However, the best choice to win the award also plays for the Chicago White Sox, but is not Dunn or Peavy. It’s Alex Rios.
Much like Dunn, Rios had a 2011 to forget, easily setting career lows in almost every offensive category. His .613 OPS was the worst amongst everyday outfielders in the American League, and his defense took a huge dive from 2010, causing fans to question his hustle and desire. Much was made of the booing of Dunn last season, but a lot of times, the displeasure the fans showed towards Rios was almost just as much.
However, Rios has turned the page and then some, as he’s been on fire for now two, going on three months. Since May 23rd, Rios is hitting .345 with 17 home runs, 52 RBI, 11 steals and a OPS of 1.003. It’s raised his average on the season to .318, a whopping 91 points higher from 2011. That’s more than Dunn’s average increase of 48 points (from .159 to currently .207), more than anyone in the American League and second in baseball next to Andrew McCutchen, who’s having an MVP type year after jumping from .259 to over .360 this season. That defense that slipped in 2011? After moving to right field this season, he’s been rejuvenated. Given that he’s in the top 20 in the AL in OPS, doubles, steals and WAR, the top 10 in average, RBI and slugging percentage and top five in hits and triples, we aren’t just talking about a Comeback POTY candidate. We may be talking about a guy who will receive MVP votes.
The argument against Rios for winning Comeback POTY is that he’s not overcoming any sort of injury, as the award is most times given to a player following up an injury-filled campaign. However, that’s not always the case. In 2008, Brad Lidge won the NL’s award with the Phillies after just being plain ol’ bad with the Astros in 2006 and 2007 (really, ever since the 2005 postseason, as Sox fans remember well). Also, Carlos Pena and Dimitri Young won each league’s award in 2007 after falling way off the map (although Young overcame all sorts of legal trouble and abuse issues, he never had any physical injuries). Plus, if the award is given to Dunn, he didn’t have any injuries to overcome either. Sorry, appendectomies don’t really count.
As far as Peavy goes, he is certainly defying the odds with the type of contribution he’s making to the rotation this season. However, I believe that Rios is having a more fantastic season this year and had a much worse season last year than Peavy.
All in all, when you look at the season Alex Rios is having and you combine that with his horrendous 2011 stats, he is the most deserving player not only on the Sox for the AL Comeback Player of the Year, but in the entire American League.
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