A new Major League Baseball season is on the way, and more than a few players around the league are hoping that it will be a more pleasant experience than the last one.
For our part, we want to look at 10 who can make bounce-back seasons happen in 2023.
This kind of exercise naturally comes with a question of how to define a "bounce back." We settled for focusing on players whose bad seasons in 2022 basically came out of nowhere. Whether it was because of injuries or simple ineffectiveness, they just plain fell under expectations.
We opted not to include players who are on runs of multiple disappointing seasons, such as Cody Bellinger and Christian Yelich. We also sided against including players who sustained major injuries in 2022 but who were effective when they did play, such as Kris Bryant and Anthony Rendon. Debatable, we know, but these are our rules and we're sticking to 'em.
Now then, let's start with five hitters and end with five pitchers.
SS Javier Báez, Detroit Tigers
2022 Stats: 144 G, 590 PA, 17 HR, 9 SB, .238 AVG, .278 OBP, .393 SLG
Javier Báez was coming off a par-for-the-course kind of season when the Tigers inked him to a six-year, $140 million contract last winter. He slammed 31 home runs and stole 18 bases in 2021, all while mostly holding it down at shortstop.
As for what happened to Báez in 2022, well, there's at least one silver lining. He had been a threat against fastballs in his best seasons, and he was even more of one last year as he racked up a career-best plus-10 run value against four-seamers.
Trouble is, opposing pitchers didn't play along. They didn't stop throwing Baez four-seamers altogether, but they apparently noticed his massive struggles against sliders and upped his diet accordingly.
It's a wonder this didn't happen sooner, and not just because Báez can be such a good fastball hitter. Sliders (and other bendy pitches, to be sure) end up outside the strike zone more often than fastballs, after all, and Báez's willingness to keep his swings inside the zone is notoriously nonexistent. Since 2016, no hitter has gone fishing more than he has.
If there's a reason for hope, it's that new Tigers general manager Scott Harris has overhauled the club's hitting coaching staff in such a way that may help Báez. The newly cozy dimensions at Comerica Park will certainly help him, and he can also hope for better health after dealing with thumb, arm, back and knee injuries last year.
RF Nick Castellanos, Philadelphia Phillies
2022 Stats: 136 G, 558 PA, 13 HR, 7 SB, .263 AVG, .305 OBP, .389 SLG
Nick Castellanos had a tendency for streakiness between 2016 and 2020. That finally changed in 2021, as he was good pretty much from wire to wire in racking up a .309/.362/.576 slash line and 34 home runs.
Go figure, then, that the best moments of Castellanos' debut season with the Phillies came via his glove. He made several huge catches during the club's World Series run, including a game-saver in the first contest of the Fall Classic.