Every year there are a handful of hitters, whether the young and talented or the formerly successful, that most people want to give up on. In 2013 we saw outfielders Hunter Pence and Shane Victorino have impressive seasons at the plate after mediocre 2012 campaigns.
Jacoby Ellsbury and Troy Tulowitzki returned to top form after spending most of 2012 on the DL. Marlon Byrd rebounded from a horrific 2012 year to post career-best numbers in 2013. The fortunate (or prescient) fantasy owner or General Manager reaped the benefits of seeing these hitters perform at a level much higher than expected.
Looking forward to 2014, who are some good candidates for a bounceback season?
Anthony Rizzo, the Chicago Cubs 24 year-old first baseman, saw his numbers decline from .285/.342/.463 for a 115 wRC+ to .233/.323/.419 for a 102 wRC+ in his first full season. Still, the big slugger managed to improve his walk rate from 7.3 percent to 11.0 percent.
He lowered his chase rate, and even though his strikeout rate crept up slightly to a still below-average 18.4 percent, his swinging strike rate dropped from 9.6 percent to 8.8 percent.
A major culprit in the lowered average was an in-play batting average of just .258, down from .310 the previous year. He does tend to get pull-happy, but this number should climb up to at least the .280 range.
A season of 30 home runs and a .270/.350/.500 line is a very realistic expectation, and it wouldn’t be surprising if the lefty swinger surpasses that projection.
After putting up a .293/.380/.573 line as a 21 year-old in 43 games in 2011, Brett Lawrie has lost some of his luster in the past two seasons. Over that time, he’s battled injuries and hit just .265/.320/.401 for a 97 wRC+ while missing almost 100 games.
Still just 24, Lawrie could bounce back in a big way in 2014. He has good contact skills, and struck out in just 15.4 percent of his plate appearances in 2013.
Upon returning from an ankle injury, Lawrie hit .283/.346/.417 in 281 second half plate appearances, while striking out just 11 percent of the time.
Provided that he can stay healthy, which is no guarantee given his all-out style of play, a batting line of .275/.340/.450 is a good baseline expectation, and more impressive numbers could be in order.
Ike Davis had a solid first two seasons in the major leagues and looked like the New York Mets first baseman of the future after he hit .271/.357/.460 for a 123 wRC+ with 26 home runs in 750 plate appearances.
However, he’s hit just .219/.315/.414 the last two years, and the Mets resorted to sending him to the minors for 21 games in 2013 after he hit .165/.255/.250 in the first half.
The Mets have explored trading Davis this offseason, though General Manger Sandy Alderson is reportedly asking for too much in return. It’s not absurd to believe that the Mets shouldn’t sell low on Davis.
He hit .289/.449/.505 in the second half of 2013, albeit in the small sample of 138 plate appearances.
Davis, who is not yet 27, is unlikely to hit for a high batting average due to his propensity to strike out, but he has 25-30 home run power, and a career walk rate of 12.1 percent.
If he’s figured out the issues with his swing, a breakout season, or even just a return to his 2010-11 numbers is not out of the question, though it may be for a team other than the Mets.
Eric Hosmer isn’t so much a bounceback candidate as a potential breakout hitter. He improved significantly on a dismal 2012 season that saw him hit .232/.304/.359 for a 79 wRC+. The Kansas City Royals first baseman hit .302/.353/.448 for a 119 wRC+ in 2013.
Still, most fans would like to see the former third overall pick do more than that.
Like Rizzo, he has good contact skills, and has a career strikeout rate of just 15 percent. Though he hit only 17 home runs in 2013 with a very modest .146 ISO, his average home run distance was a healthy 418 feet.
While his home park isn’t conducive to hitting for power, the big lefty is just 24 years old, and the power tool often develops late. He’s shown flashes of his impressive raw power, including this 455 foot blast, and 2014 may be the year the former top ten prospect puts it all together.
Mark Trumbo had impressive counting stats in 2013, with 34 home runs and 100 RBI. However, his slash line dipped to .234/.294/.453, for a 106 wRC+, and he struck out a whopping 184 times. This type of player, the boom-or-bust hitter, tends to be very volatile.
Trumbo could be a good candidate for a Richie Sexson type season where he clubs 40-45 home runs and brings his batting average to a respectable .260 or .270. He doesn’t walk very often, so an on-base percentage over .325 is unlikely even with a bumped-up batting average. In addition, he has the advantage of moving to the hitter-friendly Chase Field, which could raise his already high HR/FB ratio.
Yoenis Cespedes, corner outfielder for the Oakland Athletics, could put together all his hitting tools in his third major league season. Battling through injuries he dropped to a .240/.294/.442 batting line in 2013 after a solid debut season. He has a lot of swing and miss in his game, but his raw power might be unrivaled.
Like Trumbo, there’s a lot of volatility due to his high strikeout rate, but a rate around 20 percent combined with an uptick in his in-play batting average and HR/FB ratio could bring him back to his 2012 form or beyond.
If his wrist and shoulder injuries are fully healed, a .280/.340/.520 season isn’t at all unrealistic.
Despite significant advancements in scouting and statistical analysis, baseball remains incredibly difficult to predict. Every year, a handful of hitters or pitchers come out of the blue to remind fans and personnel of this truth. Attempting to find players who will do so is part of what makes baseball at once both amazing and frustrating.