Dmitri Young won the comeback player of the year award for the NL this season. Congrats to Dmitri, he definitely deserved it, as his comeback stretched well beyond his accomplishments on the baseball field.
In terms of what this means for his future, well a quick check of the past winners of this award shows that it may not be promising. I did a quick check of the OPS of the award winners, and compared their OPS during the year they won the award, and the year after they won it. In other words, was the comeback longer lasting than one season? I considered an OPS change from the first year to the second of less then .025 to be “the same.” Of the 51 previous winners who were hitters, a remarkable 37 of them had a worse OPS (by more than .025) the year after the award, 8 stayed within .025 in each direction, and 4 improved by more than .025. There are many possible reasons for this – you gotta have a great season to win the award (MVP players usually have their best seasons when they win their award, too), it has to be preceeded by a bad season (maybe you’re streaky, not a comeback guy), the average age of the award winner are 32, which is usually about the time players decline, etc. It points to the fact that this is probably the best we’ll see from Dmitri.
Here’s the good news: While only players 4 actually improved the season after they won the award, 3 of them were coming back from injuries – Bo Jackson (who won the award after his football-career-ending hop injury), Tony Conigliaro (who won the award after being beaned in the eye), and Mike Lieberthal (who won the award after tearing all 3 major ligaments of his right knee). Of the 8 players who basically stayed the same, 4 of them – Jason Giambi, Kevin Elster, Jose Canseco (remember, in the same season he let the ball bounce of his head, he hurt his arm pitching), and Dave Winfield – also were coming off of significant time missed due to injury. Young was coming back from missing significant time as well, including time in rehab, and was affected negatively by his divorce. He is refreshed in ways similar to these players. Of the guys who won the award, and didn’t do as well or better the next season, less than half, about 40% were coming back from injury. One interesting case was Boog Powell, who won the award twice in his career, and lost over .200 OPS the following season both times!
What does this mean? I’m not sure it gives too much predictive power. It does show that historically, players who did as well or better the following season were more likely to have been coming back from injury than those who didn’t. My money is on him having a slightly worse season, but something plenty good, more along the lines of his typical career numbers – in other words, he probably won’t hit .320 again, but slugging .490 isn’t a stretch.