Chris Young Wins AL Comeback Player Of The Year Award


Upon the conclusion of spring training this March, the Seattle Mariners looked around and realized “holy crap, we only have four starters.” They offered a spot to Randy Wolf, but he got all angry about filling out some paperwork and walked away. They then reached out to Chris Young, looking only to plug a rotation spot for a month (if that). Young filled out the paperwork, and signed with Seattle after being released by the Washington Nationals.

29 starts and 165 innings later, Chris Young is the Sporting News AL Comeback Player of the Year. He’s the first Mariner to win the award since Gil Meche in 2003. Miami Marlins third baseman Casey McGehee took home the NL award this season. Last year, the AL winner was Mariano Rivera. The year before that, Adam Dunn. Which gives you a sense of Young’s peer group: guys who were good, then got hurt, then came back and were still good.

Except that’s not Young. Young was good, seven years ago. He was good one other time in his career, nine years ago. Then he was either hurt or awful for, you know, six full seasons, before coming to Seattle to be a warm body. Then he had a miraculous season where he posted a fabulous ERA and an atrocious FIP while pitching as many innings as he had the past four years combined. Mariano Rivera, comeback player? He simply missed a year with injury. Young, though, now there’s a comeback.

Young is maybe the craziest story of any guy to win this award in recent memory, as he showed up out of almost nowhere to do something nobody expected him to do. McGehee is probably the closest, as he disappeared to Japan for a few years before coming back to America and turning in a solid-if-unspectacular campaign. Young, of course, wasn’t great, or even good by some measures. But he showed up and stuck around, which is the part people expected least from him.

Guys like Young should win big awards like this more often. I know it’s easy to just pick the big star who missed a year and give him a plaque and a handshake, but the Chris Young comeback is just too damn good. For instance, Lance Berkman won this award in 2011 by following his least productive full season at the plate with his second-best. Which, of course, ignored the amazing that was Ryan Vogelsong and his out-of-nowhereness. That would have been a much more fun choice.

Good on The Sporting News for picking Young instead of opting for more Lance Berkmans. Young was as polarizing as he was fascinating: his terrible fielding-independent numbers knocked him for not being a big strikeout guy who also allowed some homers, but he himself was able to explain brilliantly why that didn’t matter insofar as his ERA was concerned. By one of the most traditional metrics, Young looked good. By a much more predictive metric, he looked bad. But Young speaks the language of stats, and was able to successfully challenge the numbers and paint himself as a truly good pitcher. How cool is that?

Congratulations to Young, who is hopefully just the first Mariner to be honored during Major League Baseball’s awards season. Whether or not he comes back remains to be seen, but what matters right now is the year he just had. And the year he just had was pretty good, and completely unexpected. Comeback Player of the Year, to be sure.