With the regular season approaching, we’re taking a look at hitters and pitchers from each division who are seeking bounce-back years in 2020. We’ve already covered the American League, so let’s head to the Senior Circuit and begin with 10 NL East hitters hoping to rebound from subpar 2019 showings this year.
Didi Gregorius, SS, Phillies:
With a one-year, $14MM guarantee, Gregorius was one of the Phillies’ highest-profile acquisitions during the offseason, though the former Yankees star landed the contract off a less-than-ideal platform year. After returning from Tommy John surgery on his right elbow in June, the 30-year-old hit a below-average .238/.276/.441 and totaled only 0.9 fWAR over 344 plate appearances. Gregorius also wound up under the league average in several important Statcast categories. Nevertheless, as someone who put up no worse than 4.0 fWAR in both 2017 and ’18, the Phillies are banking on a rebound; otherwise, they can simply move on after the season.
Johan Camargo, 3B, Braves:
The switch-hitting Camargo was a 3.0-fWAR player two seasons ago, but he fell flat last year, turning in a minus-0.5 effort with a dismal .233/.279/.384 line in 248 plate appearances. Despite that, he’s in the running (along with Austin Riley) to start at third base this season for the Braves, who lost previous No. 1 option Josh Donaldson in free agency.
Yan Gomes, C, Nationals:
Gomes earned the lone All-Star nod of his career in 2018, his final season with the Indians, but saw his offensive production dip in Year 1 with the Nationals. A slow start doomed Gomes to a .223/.316/.389 line in 358 PA, though he did experience a major offensive rebound in the second half. Defensively, while Gomes did throw out 31 percent of would-be base thieves, his pitch-framing numbers fell off a cliff. Still, the Nationals brought him back for two years and $10MM to once again team with Kurt Suzuki.
Robinson Cano, 2B, Mets:
Cano was supposed to be the long-term answer at second for the Mets, who paid a pretty penny for him and closer Edwin Diaz in a trade with the Mariners in December 2018. Instead, the longtime star turned in the worst season of his excellent career, batting .256/.307/.428 in 423 trips to the plate during an injury-shortened campaign. Cano recorded far better numbers during the second half of the season, though, and ranked near the top of the league in multiple Statcast categories (average exit velocity and hard-hit percentage). So, it may be too soon to declare the 37-year-old done; at least, the Mets hope that’s the case.
Wilson Ramos, C, Mets:
Ramos was yet another of the Mets’ hyped pre-2019 pickups whose first season with the team didn’t go as hoped. The 32-year-old did notch a respectable batting line for his position, slashing .288/.351/.416 across 524 PA, but it paled in comparison to what he did the previous season. And Ramos wasn’t exactly a strength defensively. He threw out just 15 percent of would-be base stealers and ended up near the bottom of the league in Baseball Prospectus’ Fielding Runs Above Average metric.
Jed Lowrie, INF, Mets:
There may not have been a more ill-fated addition for the Mets last offseason than Lowrie. Signed to a two-year, $20MM contract after back-to-back terrific seasons with the Athletics, multiple injuries limited Lowrie to nine games and eight plate appearances. The 35-year-old isn’t even a lock to participate this season, as he continues to deal with leg troubles. Even if Lowrie does play, he’s not slated to be anything more than a backup right now. Perhaps that will change as the season goes along, but Lowrie will have to get healthy first.
Yoenis Cespedes, OF, Mets:
Hey, another Met! Cespedes is coming off an injury-ravaged couple years – including an ailment he suffered during a run-in with a wild boar – but seems to be making progress now. The talent’s there for a bounce-back campaign, but if your stance is “I’ll believe it when I see it,” you’re not alone.
Brandon Nimmo, OF, Mets:
Maybe we should change the name of this list to “Mets Hitters Who Are Looking For Bounce-Back Seasons.” Nimmo was the most productive of this group last year, at least offensively, but his output fell shy of his coming-out party in 2018. Injuries held the on-base machine to 69 games, 254 PA, a .221/.375/.407 line and 1.3 fWAR. Meanwhile, his hard-hit percentage plummeted by seven points and his expected weighted on-base average dropped from .352 to .330, per Statcast.
Jesus Aguilar, 1B, Marlins:
Aguilar was among the game’s most prolific sluggers as a member of the Brewers in 2018, when he registered a 134 wRC+ and amassed 35 home runs. But he was unable to follow it up during a 2019 divided between Milwaukee and Tampa Bay. Aguilar concluded with an uninspiring .236/.325/.389 line and 12 homers across 389 trips to the plate. However, according to Statcast (.334 xwOBA versus .307 real wOBA), he may have deserved better. The Marlins are banking on that after plucking the 29-year-old off waivers over the winter.
Francisco Cervelli, C, Marlins:
Like Aguilar, Cervelli’s production dropped precipitously in 2019. The 34-year-old’s longtime concussion problems came to the forefront again, holding him to 160 PA of replacement-level production. But Cervelli was a very good contributor just two seasons ago, and for $2MM, Miami’s hoping he’ll serve as a solid complement and mentor to Jorge Alfaro.