There is a lot of season left in 2011. The Rockies might be playing out the season and just trying to figure out who might be with the team in 2012, but there are still the individual awards and one Rockie might be up for one.
Todd Helton is having a great season following the worst season of his career. This is exactly the sort of player who should win Comeback Player of the Year. I don’t want to see some guy who had an amazing year but never before had a great year. Just because a guy like Andrew McCutchen might be having his best year as a pro does not make him a Comeback Player of the Year candidate. The player must have been good previously and coming off a year in which he was injured or simply did not perform.
There are three obvious contenders for the Comeback Player of the Year award in the National League: Helton, Lance Berkman and Matt Kemp. All three were good, maybe great and all three are coming off of seasons in which they underperformed to their standards.
Berkman’s career triple slash is .295/.408/.548 with about 33 home runs and 37 doubles across 162 games. In 2010 he struggled with Houston and eventually the Yankees to the tune of .248/.368/.413 with only 14 home runs and 23 doubles. His slugging percentage of .413 was the lowest in any season of his career (other than his first year in which he played 34 games). His previous low slugging percentage was .509. In ’10 Berkman slugged nearly 100 points lower than his career lowest. I guess this is why Dan O’Dowd passed on signing him? Well, in 2011 he is batting .290/.399/.589 and that slugging percentage is leading the National League. His OPS of .988 is the fourth highest of his career and he is on pace for about 24 doubles and 40 home runs with St. Louis. Berkman already has 201 bases in ’11 and his OPS+ of 175 is crazy good.
Safe to say that Berkman is the leader for Comeback Player of the Year at this point of the season.
In Kemp’s first two full seasons with the Dodgers he hit around .290 with a .340ish on-base percentage and in 2009 he slugged .490. Kemp looked to be a lock to swipe 30 bags and hit 25 or more home runs for the next four or five years, at least. The power was there (38 doubles in 2008 and 26 home runs in 2009) and sooner or later the speed might fade but the power should remain for quite a while as Kemp was only 25 in 2010. Unfortunately the ’10 season was full of criticism for Kemp, even from the Dodgers front office. They thought he was dogging it in the outfield and his triple slash of .249/.310/.450 was clearly a step backward. He even stole fewer than 20 bases even though he played in all 162 games (he previous best was 159 games played in ’10). In 2011 Kemp is having an MVP season. He was leading the league in average and on-base percentage for quite some time and is still hitting .320/.394/.574 and if he finishes with that line they would all be career bests. That .574 slugging percentage would be close to 75 points better than his previous single season best. Kemp already has 30 stolen bases this year and has 26 home runs; he is surely going to set career marks in both.
Kemp isn’t far behind Berkman for the award.
We all know Helton’s stats; a career on-base percentage of .422 and a perennial .300 hitter with one of the best, most consistent gloves at first base. The anchor in the Rockies lineup for years had a bad season in 2008 in which his on-base percentage fell under .400 for the first time since 1999. Helton bounced back in 2009 but then plummeted statistically in 2010. He only played in 118 games due to issues with his back. His .256 batting average was worse than ’08 and almost 80 points lower than his career number. Helton’s OBP fell to .362, which –gasp– was near league average! But the worst part of Helton’s ’10 season was his .367 slugging percentage. With no legs and no back there was no power for the Rockies first baseman. Many Rockies fans wanted Helton out of town but in ’11 he is proving that he has good years left. He is hitting over .300 again (.307) and his on-base is near .400 (.389). But the real turnaround for Helton is in his power numbers as he is slugging .479. He is on pace to hit 30+ doubles and he might even reach 20 home runs this year. Helton hasn’t hit 20 or more home runs since 2005.
Helton is short of winning the award right now but it is not out of his reach. A good month to push that OBP well over .400 and if he can hit 20+ home runs there very well could be plenty of voters who vote for Helton at the age of 37.