Whether it’s because of injuries, a down season, or a combination of both, talented Major League Baseball players fall off the grid each season. Over 162 game seasons, it’s challenging to play at peak performance consistently, and every year MLB players get forgotten as a result. Here are five players that were each named All Stars within the last few seasons, but have now become underrated and will bounce back in 2023.
2022 stats: 47 G, .229/.326/.380 (103 wRC+), -0.2 BsR, 1.3 Def, 0.8 fWAR
2023 Steamer projection: 131 G, .257/.348/.431 (122 wRC+), 0.0 BsR, -0.8 Def, 3.3 fWAR
After establishing himself among the best third basemen in MLB as a Washington National, Anthony Rendon signed a seven-year $245 million contract with the Los Angeles Angels. Rendon was coming off of a heroic 2019 World Series and Postseason run, a 6.8 fWAR season, and third place NL MVP finish, so his expectations partnering with Mike Trout in the middle of the Angeles’ lineup were through the roof.
In the pandemic-shortened 2020 season, Rendon showed he was worth every penny with a 2.5 fWAR — on a rate basis Rendon was on pace for 7.2 fWAR over 150 games (which would’ve been a career high). Despite a strong first season in Anaheim, everything has gone for Rendon over the last two seasons.
In 2021, Rendon was placed on the IL three times and only played in 58 games. In late May last season, Rendon was placed on the IL with a wrist injury. Rendon was reactivated in June, but he only played in four games before returning to the IL and returning for the Angels’ last three games of the season. On top of only playing 105 games over the last two seasons, Rendon also hasn’t been himself at the plate struggling to a 98 wRC+.
If Rendon can stay healthy in 2023, look for him to have a big bounceback year and potentially help a bolstered Angels team return to the Postseason for the first time since 2014.
2022 stats: N/A
2023 Steamer projection: 128 G, .243/.340/.411 (115 wRC+), -0.5 BsR, -11.8 Def, 1.6 fWAR
From 2017-2020, Michael Conforto was one of the best outfielders in MLB. Conforto’s sweet swing from the left side produced .265/.369/.495 (133 wRC+) at the plate across 467 games. Additionally, Conforto held his own defensively and on the bases to accumulate 14.9 fWAR — 1.8 wins more than Bryce Harper did in the same time period despite playing in 18 more games than Conforto.
In the COVID-shortened 2020 season, Conforto was dynamic on the plate. Across 54 games, Conforto hit .322/.412/.515 (158 wRC+) sparking contract extension conversations. With how great Conforto had been in 2020 and seasons before, the New York Mets wanted to extend their star outfielder before his final arbitration season. According to Andy Martino, the Mets offered Conforto a contract in the $100-$120 million range, but Conforto declined opting to play out the 2021 season in hopes of landing a more lucrative contract in free agency.
2021 and the ensuing offseason turned into a nightmare for Conforto. Conforto dealt with a hamstring injury throughout the season and his performance on the field resulted in one of his worst seasons. The Mets offered Conforto the qualifying offer, but he declined, looking for a better contract on free agency. Conforto never got the contract he desired and when training in January, hurt his shoulder requiring him to undergo surgery and miss the entire 2022 season.
At a discount, the Giants inked Conforto to a two-year $36 million contract following the 2022 season. Conforto is just 29 years old and a few years removed from being one of the best outfielders in MLB, look for him to have a resurgent year in 2023.
2022 stats: 5.2 IP, 3.18 ERA, 2.41 FIP, 3.19 xFIP, 20.0 K%, 4.0 BB%, 0.2 fWAR
2023 Steamer projection: 147.0 IP, 3.48 ERA, 3.25 FIP, 3.17 xFIP, 28.4 K%, 6.8 BB%, 2.9 fWAR
After a dominant first two seasons in a Boston Red Sox uniform in 2017 and 2018 ensued a successful stint with the Chicago White Sox, Chris Sale agreed to a $145 million extension with the Red Sox over five years. Despite elite peripherals, Sale struggled in 2019 with a career-worst 4.40 ERA. Even though Sale’s 2019 season was disappointing, expectations remained high for him for the 2020 season.
Had the 2020 season not been shortened due to COVID-19, Sale would’ve missed the originally scheduled opening day with pneumonia. However, it was announced in March that Sale would miss the entire season after undergoing Tommy John surgery. Sale was sidelined until August 2021, where he pitched 42.2 innings to a 3.16 ERA.
The Red Sox hoped Sale would be able to return to full capacity in 2022, but he sustained a right rib fracture causing him to miss the first three months of the season. Sale pitched five brilliant innings in his 2022 debut on July 12 against the Orioles, but in his next start against the Yankees, he was struck by a line drive in the first inning fracturing one of his left fingers. At the beginning of August, Sale broke his wrist after falling off his bike effectively ending his season.
Despite Sale only pitching 48.1 innings since the end of 2019, there are plenty of reasons to be optimistic he’ll bounce back in 2023. Since becoming a full-time starter in 2012, Sale averaged just under 192 innings per season with a 3.05 ERA from 2012-2019. Additionally, Justin Verlander, who completely didn’t pitch for the entirety of the 2021 season and most of the 2020 season, won the AL Cy Young in 2022 at 39 years old. Sale, who will be 34 in 2023, can replicate Verlander’s path to Cy Young if he can avoid the injured list.
2022 stats: 65 G, .221/.308/.383 (104 wRC+), 2.0 BsR, -3.0 Def, 0.9 fWAR
2023 Steamer projection: 130 G, .238/.321/.450 (124 wRC+), 1.0 BsR, -3.0 Def, 3.3 fWAR
After impressing in limited action for the Tampa Bay Rays in 2018 and in an injury-shortened All Star campaign in 2019, Brandon Lowe established himself among the elite second basemen in MLB in 2020. Playing in 56 of the COVID-shortened 60 regular season games, Lowe dominated offensively hitting .269/362/.554 (151 wRC+) and his 2.3 fWAR was the second-best among all second basemen trailing only DJ LeMahieu (2.4 fWAR).
In 2021, Lowe built off of his stellar 2020 over a full season. In 149 games, Lowe’s 137 wRC+ was the second-highest among qualified second basemen behind only Trea Turner (142 wRC+) and his 4.9 fWAR was the fourth-best trailing only Turner (6.8), Marcus Semien (6.2), and Jose Altuve (5.3). From 2020-2021, Lowe’s 141 wRC+ and 7.2 fWAR both led all qualified second basemen.
While expectations were high for Lowe in 2022, he was derailed by injuries. Lowe had three separate trips to the IL, including one to the 60 day IL, resulting in him only playing in 65 games and easily having his worst MLB season. With Lowe returning to full strength health-wise and the elimination of the shift, look for him to have a big year in 2023.
2022 stats: 36 G, .250/.347/.328 (101 wRC+), -1.2 BsR, -5.8 Def, -0.2 fWAR
2023 Steamer projection: 125 G, .246/.323/.432 (116 wRC+), -1.5 BsR, -10.8 Def, 1.8 fWAR
Austin Meadows burst onto the scene in his first full season in the Major Leagues. In 138 games with the Tampa Bay Rays, Meadows hit .291/.364/.558 (144 wRC+) and was named an All Star. Despite his great season, Meadows hasn’t been able to replicate his success since.
In the COVID-shortened season, Meadows was dreadful; his plate discipline and power both diminished leading to an 88 wRC+. Meadows rebounded in 2021, but not to the extent of his 2019 season. While his power (27 homers and .224 ISO) and plate discipline (10.0 BB% and 25.1 Chase%) returned to a high level, Meadows’ batting average was a bleak .234, 57 points lower than his .291 AVG in 2019.
A big reason for Meadows’ big dip in his AVG was his BABIP also declining. In 2019 Meadows’ BABIP was .331, while his 2021 BABIP was .249. The main reasons Meadows wasn’t having as much success on balls in play were that his average exit velocity decreased, his barrel% decreased, and he was getting shifted more. However, with Meadows returning to better physical and mental states and the new shift rules, he could become a sneaky bounceback player after only playing 36 games in his first season with the Detroit Tigers in 2022 due to mental health and injury-related issues.
“I’m right where I want to be mentally, and I’m right where I want to be physically,” Meadows said via the Detroit Free Press. “This offseason has been amazing with having our daughter (Adelynne), being in a much better place mentally and being in a much better physical shape. Everything is starting to go in the right direction.”
The new shift rules should also benefit Meadows in 2023. Meadows was shifted in 74.7% of his plate appearances in 2021 and had a .300 wOBA when shifted. However, in 25.3% of his plate appearances against the shift, he had a .400 wOBA.
I am a freshman studying magazine, news and digital journalism at the Syracuse University Newhouse School of Public Communications