Johnny Cueto had an injury plagued, DL-ridden 2013 season that may well be the single biggest thing that derailed the Cincinnati Reds postseason dreams.
Johnny Cueto had a healthy, prodigious 2014 season that featured him leading most of the National League world in every major pitching category (non-Kershaw division).
On Monday morning, it was announced that a 1.1 bWAR corner infielder who slugged .357 and finished 2nd in the NL in singles - and not Johnny Cueto - was the 2014 winner of Sporting News' NL Comeback Player of the Year award because, well, because I don't really have any idea why. Miami Marlins 3B Casey McGehee hit .287/.355/.357 with 4 dingers in 691 PA in 2014, quite literally infinite improvement over the 0 MLB PA and 0 MLB dingers he hit (didn't hit?) in a 2013 season spent playing in Japan, and for his efforts his NL playing peers voted him as the player most back from what he'd previously done up to this very unscientific endpoint.
Perhaps they're right, those NLers, as McGehee's infinite improvement since 2013 does trump Cueto's 470ish percent increase in production year over year.
But this post isn't really about whether or not McGehee's recalibration was more award-worthy than Cueto's. Rather, it's about whether or not the people voting for the award have any idea what the hell they're voting for in the first place. You see, the top five vote-getters for both the AL (where Seattle pitcher Chris Young took home the honor) and NL were listed at the bottom of the SN release linked above, which means we each get to see the other players generally considered quite comebacky by the jury of their peers. Which means we all get to see that Tim Hudson finished 2nd in the NL voting this season.
Which means we get to see that in some cases, the perception of injury severity means more in the eyes of voters than actual time and performance dips. Hudson threw 131 innings of 94 ERA+ ball for the Atlanta Braves in 2013 before a broken ankle ended his 37 year old season. While it looked awful at the time, the recovery was apparently easy enough for the San Francisco Giants to sign him to a 2 year, $23 million contract just over 3 months later, and Hudson rewarded them with 189 innings of 98 ERA+ ball, or roughly exactly what he'd been doing for Atlanta prior to his injury. His 2013 bWAR: 1.0. His 2014 bWAR: 1.5.
It also means we get to see Starlin Castro's 4th place finish in the NL voting and attempt to figure out what, exactly, he was coming back from. Castro, still just 24 years old, played in all 162 games in 2012 and all but one game in 2013, and managed to lead the NL in ABs in each of 2011, 2012, and 2013. In other words, he was the most there and not-gone player in the Senior Circuit for the previous 480+ games, never once hitting the DL and never once needing even off-season surgery. That means votes came his way due to his miserable 2013 dip in production, so apparently some of his fellow NL players equate the honor with the usual growing pains.
Basically, you'll get votes if you've had success in your career before but not in the year immediately prior. You'll get votes whether your dip was injury induced, contract induced, performance induced, performance-enhancing induced, or age-induced with a memorable career in the books. But you won't get votes if you're Johnny Cueto, for some reason, which just doesn't make a ton of sense.
Maybe his injury wasn't viewed as being severe enough. Maybe his comeback to start the one-game playoff in Pittsburgh meant that was his comeback instead of the entirety of the 2014 season. Maybe Tony La Russa was in charge of counting the NL votes.
Or, maybe no player knows what the hell the Comeback Player of the Year Award really is, they just know they don't want to ever be in the running for it.
Regardless, there's not a player in baseball who had a better step-up from a 2013 step-down than Johnny Cueto, no matter what the voting says. And c'mon, American League...you had eleven players vote for Derek Jeter.