Harvey, Fielder named Comeback Players of the Year
Both players helped clubs get to postseason in resilient 2015 seasons
By Paul Hagen
The Rangers had high hopes for Prince Fielder after acquiring him from the Detroit Tigers prior to the 2014 season. But the designated hitter, who had missed just one game in the previous five seasons, had season-ending surgery on a herniated disc in his neck in May and played in just 42 games.
The Mets had high hopes for right-hander Matt Harvey when he was the National League's starting pitcher in the 2013 All-Star Game in his first full season in the big leagues. Six weeks later, he was diagnosed with a partial tear of the ulnar collateral ligament in his elbow, underwent Tommy John surgery and missed the entire 2014 season.
Both players rebounded strongly this season, and as a result, they were recognized as the American League and the NL Comeback Players of the Year on Thursday by Major League Baseball. The awards 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.
Fielder, 31, played in 158 regular-season games while batting .305 with 23 homers, 98 RBIs and an .841 OPS. He made his sixth All-Star team.
"It's really awesome," Fielder said on MLB Network after the winners were revealed. "It was a lot of hard work to get back and be able to play. ... I kind of felt I'd be confident to at least be able to play. But I didn't know how I'd play."
Harvey, 26, made a career-high 29 starts and pitched 189 1/3 regular-season innings, going 13-8 with a 2.71 ERA, then made four more starts and threw an additional 26 2/3 innings in the postseason. That had become an issue in the second half when agent Scott Boras suggested that Harvey's total innings should be capped at 180.
Before throwing eight innings against the Royals in Game 5 of the World Series, Harvey talked about what it meant to him to be able to return to the rotation with a full injury-free season.
"I think it's great," he said. "As a starting pitcher and being a younger guy, I think getting to that 200-innings limit is something you always look for. You kind of want to be a horse and go out there. You look at guys who have thrown 230 innings year after year after year. That's who I've always wanted to be.
"Leading into the season, you don't know what to expect. Obviously going from zero innings, I couldn't be happier. I think the best thing and the most positive thing is how I feel after the 200-inning mark, and quite honestly, it's probably better than I did at the 100 mark. For me, the season was obviously an extreme success, just being healthy, playing, going out there every fifth day or whenever it was and being healthy and being where we are now. I don't think anybody's happier at that than I am."
Harvey said he had little doubt that he would be able to dominate again.
"I think the biggest worry was when I was deciding if I was going to have surgery or not," he said. "I wanted to take some time. It took about two months from finding out I had a slight tear to actually going in and having surgery. So I think in those two months, there were probably a lot of things that went through my head, if I was going to be the same player or same pitcher or even close to coming back.
"Once I decided I wanted to have surgery, all those doubts and thoughts -- and especially negative thoughts -- definitely went out the window. I knew I was going to go see the best surgeon in the world and have the best staff behind me and training program. From then on, it was kind of a no-doubter that I knew I'd be back."
Fielder, a middle-of-the-lineup force, had signed a 9-year, $214 million contract with the Tigers in 2012. Last year, though, he hit just three homers in his first 150 at-bats while trying to ignore the pain in his neck. That was a shock for a hitter who had the fifth-most homers by a left-handed hitter in baseball history by the age of 30.
"It was such a bad feeling,'' Fielder said during Spring Training. "I never thought I'd get hurt. Nine years in, and I never got hurt. I don't know what was wrong. I was stubborn. I couldn't even feel my arm, but I'm thinking, 'Did I lose it?' I refused to make an excuse. I just figured I'd needed to get back in the cage and get my swing back.''
Fielder got his swing back, and the Rangers made the playoffs after a two-year absence. And Harvey helped propel the Mets into the postseason and all the way to the World Series for the first time since 2000.
Fielder and Harvey didn't fulfill expectations last year. They did it a season later, and for that, they were voted MLB's 2015 Comeback Players of the Year.
Paul Hagen is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.