10 rebound candidates off to hot starts

April 14th, 2024

While every player wants to open the season on a positive note, a strong start is especially important for players looking to move past poor performances from the previous year.

The players below are doing just that so far in 2024. Here are 10 rebound candidates performing well out of the gate this season. (All stats below are through Friday.)

, OF, Giants
After missing all of 2022 while recovering from right shoulder surgery, Conforto didn’t hit for much power in his return to action last season, recording 15 homers with a .384 slugging percentage over 125 games for San Francisco. It’s been a different story so far in 2024. Conforto has actually run into a bit of a cold spell over the past week, but he already has six barrels through 13 games and is hitting .300 with three homers, 11 RBIs and a .560 slugging percentage.

, SP, Yankees
Called upon to start on Opening Day after reigning American League Cy Young Award winner Gerrit Cole went down with an elbow injury during Spring Training, Cortes has given the Yankees’ rotation a boost in Cole’s absence. Through three starts, the left-hander has recorded a 3.50 ERA, a 3.20 FIP and a 2.98 expected ERA over 18 innings. He looks much closer to the pitcher he was in 2022 (2.44 ERA, 3.13 FIP, 2.70 xERA) than the one who dealt with left shoulder issues last season and finished with a 4.97 ERA over 12 starts.

, 1B, Padres
After hitting .256 with 42 homers, 78 doubles and a 117 OPS+ in 364 games across 2020-22, Cronenworth saw his offensive production plummet in 2023 (.229 BA, 10 HR, 92 OPS+). The first baseman has looked like an entirely different hitter in 2024, however, ranking in the 96th percentile or better in expected batting average, expected SLG and expected wOBA and homering three times in his first 16 games. Cronenworth is tied for third in the Majors with nine barrels, only seven fewer than he produced all of last season.

, 1B, Mariners
While France is still searching for his first home run of the season, he’s been absolutely mashing the ball in 2024. Among players with at least 25 batted balls, France is tied for second in sweet-spot rate (54.8%) and tied for sixth in hard-hit rate (58.1%), contributing to a .350 xBA and a .606 xSLG. It’s certainly encouraging after France hit .250 with 12 homers and a 99 OPS+ over 158 games last year.

, SP, Astros
Coming off a 2022 season in which he posted a 2.54 ERA and started two combined no-hitters (including one in the World Series), Javier looked like a dark-horse candidate to win the AL Cy Young Award entering 2023. However, he faded after a strong start and finished with a 4.56 ERA over 162 innings. Although he has been a bit wild to begin 2024 (13.2% walk rate), the right-hander has done well to limit the damage, notching a 1.10 ERA across 16 1/3 innings through three starts. Javier’s changeup has been a big part of his early performance -- he has thrown it 29.6% of the time (4.1% in 2023) and held batters to a .167 average over 18 at-bats ending on changeups. With a more diverse repertoire, Javier might be better positioned to sustain his success throughout 2024, unlike last year.

, SP, Cardinals
Lynn’s home run troubles likely aren’t going away, but after posting a 5.73 ERA with an MLB-high 44 dingers allowed last season, his performance through three starts can only be considered a positive. While Lynn allowed three home runs against the Marlins on April 4, he kept the ball in the yard in his other two starts. Overall, he has struck out 18 batters and owns a 2.63 ERA over 13 2/3 innings.

, OF, Red Sox
A change of scenery has worked wonders for O’Neill, who was traded from the Cardinals to the Red Sox after two injury-plagued seasons in which he slashed .229/.310/.397 over 168 games. The 28-year-old is tied for the big league lead with six homers and leads the AL outright with a 1.124 OPS over 13 games with Boston. Three of O’Neill’s six homers have come on breaking balls, against which he went 8-for-69 (.116) with zero dingers in 2023.

, SS, Astros
Peña’s outstanding 2022 rookie year, which saw the young shortstop produce 5.0 WAR (per Baseball-Reference) in the regular season before winning both the AL Championship Series and World Series MVP Awards, gave way to some sophomore struggles in 2023. After hitting 22 homers in 136 games as a rookie, Peña went yard 10 times over 150 games last season, with just four homers coming in his final 123 games. As a result, Peña went to work in the offseason, overhauling his batting stance in hopes of recapturing his power stroke. The changes have paid immediate dividends -- Peña already has two round-trippers this season and is slashing .339/.361/.458 with a 9.8% strikeout rate, down from 22.2% across 2022-23.

, SP, Yankees
Little went right for Rodón in the first season of a six-year, $162 million deal with the Yankees. The left-hander didn’t make his debut with the team until July due to a flexor strain and a back injury, and he finished the season with a 6.85 ERA over 14 starts. A slimmed-down Rodón is off to a much better start in 2024. Although some of his peripherals are concerning, there’s no arguing with the results -- Rodón owns a 1.72 ERA, and the Yankees have won all three of his starts, the same number of wins they had all of last season in games started by the southpaw. Rodón's new cutter -- which has held batters hitless in seven at-bats -- is a pitch to watch as he tries to sustain this success.

, SP, Royals
After following up his breakout 2022 season (3.23 ERA, 4.29 K/BB) with a 5.52 ERA last year, Singer decided to make some changes to his pitch mix entering 2024. The right-hander added a four-seam fastball to his repertoire and is also throwing his slider more often while relying less on his sinker. The tweaks appear to be working. Singer has been one of the most effective pitchers in the game in the early going, notching a 0.98 ERA with a 4.50 K/BB ratio over 18 1/3 innings in his first three starts. Singer is not only generating swings and misses at the highest rate of his career but also allowing hard contact at just a 30.4% clip, which is a significant improvement after he had one of the worst hard-hit rates (48.6%) in MLB a year ago.