Red Sox right-hander Rick Porcello and Nationals third baseman Anthony Rendon, who each bounced back to lead his team to an East Division championship in 2016, have been named recipients of the American League and National League Comeback Player of the Year Awards, respectively, Major League Baseball announced on Tuesday.
The Comeback Player of the Year Awards are officially sanctioned by MLB, and they are presented annually to one player in each league who has re-emerged on the field during the season. The 30 club beat reporters from MLB.com selected the winners from an original list of 30 candidates, one per club.
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For Porcello, it is another piece of hardware to add to the AL Cy Young Award he won 13 days earlier. After going 9-15 with a 4.92 ERA last year in his first season with the Red Sox, Porcello became a model of consistency, elevating his WAR from 0.6 in 2015 to 5.0 in '16 and leading Boston to the AL East title. He was 22-4 with a 3.15 ERA over a career-high 33 starts, topping the Majors in wins with a total that represented the most by a Boston pitcher since Hall of Famer Pedro Martinez went 23-4 in 1999.
Porcello said by phone on MLB Network after the announcement that in 2015, after being acquired from Detroit in the Yoenis Céspedes trade, "I put more pressure on myself, more than I needed to put on myself. When the Red Sox brought me over, they didn't want me to do anything different … just continue that trend.
"There are definitely times there when I started to struggle and started to put pressure on myself, and it got me out of my game plan every fifth day. It was a lot of self-induced pressure and just understanding the situation and the city I'm playing in, and trying to do too much."
So what did he do differently to raise his level in 2016?
"I think the consistency of quality strikes was the biggest improvement," Porcello said, "just being able to do that game after game in tough situations that you encounter. I was able to stay in my delivery, stay in my head, just throw strikes. I was able to get out of situations that I wasn't getting out of the in the past, minimize damage.
"The things that I can control -- limiting my walks, establishing strike one and getting ahead of hitters … varying eye levels -- a bunch of things that I tried to incorporate into my game plan this year. Just focusing on things I can control and not letting anything else affect me."
Of 130 pitchers to throw 3,000 pitches in the Statcast™ era (2015-16), his four-seam fastball rate of 2,380 rpm has been the seventh highest. The MLB average was 2,162 rpm over that time.
Porcello increased his innings pitched from 172 in 2015 to 223, permitting 78 earned runs on 193 hits with 32 walks and 189 strikeouts. That 5.91 strikeout-to-walk ratio not only led the Majors, but it was also was the seventh best by a Red Sox pitcher in the past 100 years. Porcello ranked second in the AL in quality starts (26) and WHIP (1.01); tied for third in complete games (three); was fourth in innings pitched; fifth in ERA; sixth in opponents' batting average (.230); and eighth in strikeouts. His 1.01 WHIP was the lowest by a Boston pitcher since Martinez (0.92) and Derek Lowe (0.97) in 2002.
Rendon, in his fourth Major League season, hit .270 with 20 home runs and a career-best 85 RBIs over 156 games played to lead the Nationals to 95 wins and an early division clincher. In 2015, he was limited to just 80 games (five homers and 25 RBIs) after suffering a pair of injuries that caused him to miss a collective three months of the regular season. He lifted his WAR from 0.3 in '15 to 4.1 in '16, returning to his breakout '14 form.
"I'm not a very boastful person," Rendon said. "Of course, there are times you are excited and happy about whether you have a good game or not. But I don't want to be that person that boasts about himself day in and day out. I try to stay away from [the media] as best as I can. ... It's going to help me humble myself and not make my head any bigger than it already is."
At the plate in 2016, Rendon also amassed 153 hits, 91 runs, 38 doubles, two triples and 12 stolen bases while drawing a career-best 65 walks. His slash line increased from .264/.344/.363 in 2015 to .270/.348/.450, and his 52 RBIs in the second half of the season were the fifth most in the NL during that time.
"We know Anthony can hit, everybody knows that Anthony can hit, but when you miss as much time as he missed last year, he's got to find his groove again, and we know Anthony's going to hit, big time," Nationals manager Dusty Baker said in midseason, and that is exactly what happened.
The former Rice University player led all NL third basemen in doubles, and he also ranked first in the NL at the hot corner with a .976 fielding percentage. In addition, Rendon led the Nationals in runs, was second on the club in hits and doubles, and he ranked third in RBIs. Rendon had 29 two-out RBIs on the season, and his 23 RBIs in September marked a personal career best for a single month.
Past winners of the Comeback Player of the Year Award include: Jason Giambi and Ken Griffey Jr. (2005); Jim Thome and Nomar Garciaparra ('06); Carlos Peña and Dmitri Young ('07); Cliff Lee and Brad Lidge ('08); Aaron Hill and Chris Carpenter ('09); Francisco Liriano and Tim Hudson ('10); Jacoby Ellsbury and Lance Berkman ('11); Fernando Rodney and Buster Posey ('12); Liriano and Mariano Rivera ('13); Casey McGehee and Chris Young ('14); and Prince Fielder and Matt Harvey (2015).
The announcement was made earlier this afternoon on MLB Network's "MLB Now."