TURNAROUND FROM NIGHTMARE 2011 SHOULD EARN DUNN HONOR
There are not many provisions for Comeback Player of the Year except that, well, the player has to come back from something unfortunate and from a season in which he underperformed, usually dramatically.
Players who come back from serious injuries such as Jake Peavy often win the award because it obviously involves overcoming pain, legitimate physical odds and generally a large amount of doubt, either by others, themselves or both.
And then there is Adam Dunn, for whom there is no precedent, no concrete excuse for his terrible season, but more doubt than probably most athletes can imagine.
Dunn is the top early candidate for Comeback Player of the Year in large part because he was at such a high level two years ago, because his drop was so indescribably abysmal and because, frankly, he was able to rebound at all.
When he signed a four-year, $56 million deal to play for the White Sox in December 2010, Dunn was 31, had too many strikeouts, wasn't a very good fielder and was a fabulous signing. The thought of Dunn as designated hitter with Paul Konerko re-signing and in the same lineup seemed to be the perfect remedy for a team that had managed just 18 home runs with .728 combined OPS at the DH spot the previous season.
Dunn was a lock for 40 homers and 100 RBIs, not to mention 100 walks. And then 2011 happened. He became the second everyday player with more strikeouts (177) than batting average points (.159), hitting just 11 homers with 42 RBIs. In 496 appearances at the plate, Dunn had a club-record 177 strikeouts and hit .142 with runners in scoring position.
Nobody can laugh that off. Hitting is as mental as it is physical, and a season like that could easily have thrown Dunn's next season off track, not to mention his entire career.
Instead, through spring training and the first two months anyway, Dunn has proven his strength in every way.
Yes, it is early. Dunn still strikes out too much, leading the AL with 82. And his average is .230. But he finished May with 11 home runs, 21 RBIs and 18 runs scored over 28 games. He is also among the league leaders in May in walks (first, 26), home runs (third), and RBIs (11th). He is 16th among AL hitters in OPS (.976) and 18th in slugging percentage (.590). If the season ended today, both would be career highs.
Yes, the season does not end today. And yes, it is early. Dunn is on pace to hit 52 home runs with 120 RBIs in 2012, but already it is some kind of comeback.
Melissa Isaacson is a columnist for ESPNChicago.com.
PEAVY HAS OVERCOME SERIOUS INJURY TO BE WHITE SOX'S ACE
It's good news for the Chicago White Sox that they have multiple players who could win Comeback Player of the Year. It also shows how bad they were in last year, a meltdown that continues to have repercussions on attendance.
Adam Dunn has had the biggest statistical turnaround, going from maybe the worst individual hitting season in history to, well, vintage Adam Dunn.
Dunn's slide was only one year long and it didn't involve injuries. Most people figured he would be back to something resembling normal. Jake Peavy's climb back to ace status was far more uncertain.
I'd pick Peavy as the Sox's biggest comeback story. Peavy hasn't been a workhorse starter since 2007, the fourth and last time he has thrown 200 innings. In 2008, he made 27 starts, and in 2009, when he was traded to the Sox, an ankle injury limited him to 16 total starts. In 2010, he made 17 before a career-threatening back/shoulder injury. Last year, he rushed back and made 19 starts.
In those four years, he has been a .500 pitcher, and in the last two injury-plagued seasons, he has had ERAs closer to 5.00 than 4.00 and WHIPs over 1.2, his highest ones since 2003. While GM Kenny Williams didn't give up much for him, Peavy will have made $48 million over the past three years, a few million of which were covered by an insurance policy the team took out on him.
Given injury concerns, you had to wonder what the rest of Peavy's career would look like. Right now, it doesn't look too bad. He's 6-1 with a 3.07 ERA through 10 starts with a 0.924 WHIP.
The Sox will likely buy out Peavy's last year for $4 million rather than pay him a $22 million team option in 2013.
His future likely lies elsewhere, but his comeback season could be vital for this season.
Jon Greenberg is a columnist for ESPNChicago.com.