Wednesday, September 18, 2013
Seven players poised to rebound in '14
By Jim Bowden
Matt Kemp has endured a nightmare 2013, but all signs point to a resurgent 2014.
Teams can rely on offseason trades and free agency to supplement their teams for the next season. But one of the easiest and most gratifying methods is simply having an important player return to form.
In 2013, baseball has witnessed the comebacks of a number of players who have had a direct impact on their teams' success this season.
Forecasting how well these players will bounce back can be tricky, but based on a player’s track record and work ethic, general managers often will take gambles based on hunches. They often are the best offseason acquisitions because they cost nothing in terms of trade assets or signing values.
Here are seven players who I believe will have bounce-back seasons in 2014 after subpar 2013 seasons:
Kemp’s injury-plagued 2013 season was nothing short of a nightmare. Early in the season he didn’t display his typical power, and while the team maintained he was healthy, most observers attributed his lack of power to a surgically repaired shoulder. He also was hampered by a sore right hamstring in May, then again in June.
However, with Kemp’s high character and work ethic, I would expect him to return 100 percent in 2014. A fire will burn inside him to prove he can regain his 2011 form, when he led the NL in runs, home runs and RBIs. To have a healthy Kemp and Yasiel Puig in the same lineup next season will be can’t-miss baseball. The Dodgers will boast two of the best power/speed combination players in baseball.
In fact, Kemp made his first start since July on Tuesday night and went 4-for-4 with two doubles, giving us a glimpse of what he is capable of. I would not be surprised if he returned to be an MVP candidate.
Cain was instrumental in the Giants' two World Series-winning campaigns. Unfortunately, this season he delivered his worst season as pro, posting an 8-9 record with a 4.37 ERA and 1.16 WHIP. The numbers actually are deceiving, as his strikeouts per nine are identical to last season, and his walks per nine innings remained below 3.0. Most impressive, he’s only given up 139 hits in 162 2/3 innings. In his last nine starts, he’s given up three runs or fewer, which gives the impression he’s poised to get off to a good start in 2014.
I’m not sure if his few bad outings -- including five starts this season in which he gave up six or more runs -- had to do with mechanics being off or maybe lapses in concentration or both. What I do know is since 2010 he has maintained his velocity on all of his pitches and I fully expect him to be a Cy Young candidate in 2014.
How easy it is to forget in his first season in L.A. in 2012, Pujols hit 50 doubles and 30 home runs and drove in 105 runs after overcoming a horrendous April and May. However, this season he hit just .258 with 17 home runs before he was shut down with plantar fasciitis. He never seemed to have his legs under him, either because of his knees or the plantar fasciitis. However, I am confident he will be healthy in 2014, and I expect him to bounce all the way back to be an MVP candidate at age 34, with between 35 and 40 home runs and his best season as an Angel.
Sandoval burst onto the scene in 2009 when he hit .330/.387/.556 with 44 doubles and 25 homers. However, he set a bar so high for himself that he’s never come close to matching it again. His OBP has declined steadily since 2011, and he’s fought weight problems for years.
Well, now the dynamic changes because his three-year, $17.15 million contract expires at the end of next season. His next contract surely will be based on what type of year he has in 2014. There are a lot of factors, including age (at 27, he is entering his prime years), free agency (he’s playing for a contract) and pride that point to Sandoval getting in the best shape of his life and having the best season of his career in 2014.
Gallardo has never finished with an ERA higher than 3.84, until 2013. Before 2013, he hadn’t won fewer than 13 games in a season, and he’s never given up more hits than innings pitched (which he still could do this season). Is he hurt or just having a down year? The truth is all he had was a down first half, going 7-8 with a 4.83 ERA. In the second half, Gallardo’s regained his ace form, posting a 4-1 record in eight starts with a 2.63 ERA. Expect Gallardo to have a season more typical of his past performance in 2014.
Outside of using the playoffs for redemption, 2013 has been an absolute embarrassment for Upton. He’s batting a meager .188 with just nine home runs and 12 stolen bases after signing a five-year, $75.25 million deal. In his defense, changing teams, leagues and fan bases isn’t as easy as people think, and Upton won’t be the last player to go through something like this.
Coming to a fan base that has high expectations and then digging a hole so deep you can’t get out isn’t easy. However, Upton is just 29 and too talented not to bounce back. I would expect something along the lines of his career slash line of .249/.330/.411 with 20 home runs and 35 stolen bases in 2014. A year of adjustment and a positive postseason would be helpful for him to reload for next season.
It was just two years ago that as a member of the Arizona Diamondbacks, Kennedy went 21-4 with a 2.88 ERA and finished fourth in the NL Cy Young voting. He followed that season with 15 wins in 2012 and a 4.86 ERA. This season he got off to a slow start, and after going 3-8 with a 5.23 ERA in 21 starts, he was dealt to the Padres in what might have been the "biggest" trade of the July 31 trade deadline.
Kennedy responded with his new team by going 3-1 with a 3.76 ERA in seven starts, setting him up to be the Padres’ Opening Day starter in 2014. Pitching in the large confines of Petco Park with a strong defensive team should help him bounce back to form. Kennedy’s average fastball this year was the same as it was from 2010 through 2012 (roughly 90 mph), as is the velocity on his secondary pitches. With the slight adjustments the Padres have already made to his delivery, most scouts believe he’ll be a comeback candidate in 2014.