Top 2024 Bounce-Back Candidates for Each Team in the NL East

These five players from the NL East are looking to get their groove back in 2024.

BALTIMORE, MARYLAND - SEPTEMBER 28: Chris Sale #41 of the Boston Red Sox gets set to throw a pitch in the first inning against the Baltimore Orioles at Oriole Park at Camden Yards on September 28, 2023 in Baltimore, Maryland. (Photo by Brandon Sloter/Image Of Sport/Getty Images)

Cody Bellinger was one of the most talked-about players in baseball last year. After back-to-back-to-back disappointing seasons from 2020-22, the former NL MVP was a star once more. Splitting his time between center field and first base, he ranked fourth among NL hitters in batting average, sixth in slugging percentage, and eighth in wRC+. Talk about a bounce-back.

The year before, it was Albert Pujols, who went on one of the greatest victory laps the game has ever seen. After four consecutive seasons as a below-average bat, the future Hall of Famer gave it his all in 2022. With 24 home runs and a 149 wRC+, it was his best performance since 2015 – even in limited playing time.

Who will it be in 2024? We can only speculate, but it’s bound to be someone. History tells us to expect a couple of comeback players every year.

Here are some of the top bounce-back candidates in the NL East.

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Atlanta Braves Bounce-Back Candidate: Chris Sale, LHP

2023 Stats: 20 GS, 102.2 IP, 4.30 ERA, 10.96 K/9, 2.54 BB/9, 2.1 fWAR

You know the Braves are good when even their bounce-back candidate had a two-win season last year.

One could argue that Chris Sale already had his comeback campaign in 2023. After all, he made 20 starts and tossed over 100 innings after missing most of the previous three seasons. However, he still spent considerable time on the IL. While he showed flashes of dominance, he never quite looked like the Chris Sale of old.

Perhaps you think the Chris Sale of old is gone forever (replaced with old Chris Sale), but I’m not ready to write him off completely. He’ll be 35 on Opening Day; older, but hardly ancient. Moreover, the Braves clearly have high hopes for Sale, or they wouldn’t have given him a two-year, $38 million extension. Atlanta has a pretty good track record helping older pitchers thrive (Charlie Morton, Jesse Chavez, Collin McHugh).

If Sale returns to anything resembling his pre-injury form in 2024, he’ll be the bounce-back player of the year.

Honorable Mention: Travis d’Arnaud, C

Travis d’Arnaud struggled to follow up his All-Star 2022 season. His OPS dropped from .791 to .685, while his fWAR plummeted from 4.0 to 0.9. He may never recapture the magic of his career-best performance (especially at 35 years old), but his .258 BABIP and .330 xwOBA are strong indications that he dealt with some bad luck in 2023.

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Miami Marlins Bounce-Back Candidate: Nick Gordon, UTL

2023 Stats: 34 G, 93 PA, .176/.185/.319, 2 HR, 0 SB, 30 wRC+, -0.4 fWAR

Once a top prospect, Nick Gordon fell off the top 100 lists well before making his big league debut in 2021. Yet, one year later, he surprised everyone with a 111 wRC+ in 2022. It was enough to earn him the Twins’ Opening Day second base gig in 2023 (with incumbent Jorge Polanco on the IL).

Unfortunately, that’s when things took a turn. Gordon got off to a dreadful start over the first three weeks of the season, hitting .106/.125/.149 in 17 games. The next 17 games were better, with Gordon bringing his wRC+ up from -33 to 98. Unfortunately, he fractured his right tibia in mid-May and ultimately missed the rest of the year.

If a healthy Gordon can find his way back to a 111 wRC+, it would be a boon for Miami’s lineup; the ZiPS projection system doesn’t have a single Marlins hitter with a wRC+ above 110. Even if Gordon is merely a league-average hitter, his lefty bat and ability to play all around the infield and the outfield should make him a valuable contributor.

Honorable Mention: Nick Fortes, C

Nick Fortes blossomed into a solid defensive catcher in his second big league season, yet his fWAR dropped from 1.3 in 72 games to 0.2 in 108. Why? His offense fell off a cliff. Across his first 86 big league games, Fortes was roughly a league-average hitter. In 2023, he was one of the worst offensive players in the game.

As long as he continues to play plus defense behind the plate, Fortes doesn’t need to be a good hitter, or even an average one. If he can post a wRC+ in the low-90s over a full season, it would mark a huge improvement over his 53 wRC+ last year.

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New York Mets Bounce-Back Candidate: Luis Severino, RHP

2023 Stats: 19 G (18 GS), 89.1 IP, 6.65 ERA, 7.96 K/9, 3.43 BB/9, -0.6 fWAR

The Mets have no shortage of bounce-back candidates, but Luis Severino could have the biggest turnaround of anyone on this list. The former All-Star and Cy Young contender has been ravaged by injuries for several years. However, we’ve all seen what he can do when he’s healthy, and at 30 years old, that potential should still be there.

Severino may be coming off of a dreadful season, but he’s only one year removed from producing a 3.18 ERA and 2.94 xERA in 102 innings in 2022. An ERA that low would have ranked eighth among qualified starters last season, while an xERA that low would’ve been the best in baseball.

Honorable Mention: Starling Marte, OF

Starling Marte might be cooked following a career-worst season at the plate and in the field. Still, he was so good in 2021 and ’22 that it would be foolish to ignore him completely.

Over those two seasons, Marte hit .301 with a 133 wRC+ and 65 stolen bases. His 2021 season earned him a $78 million contract with the Mets, and his 2022 season earned him his second All-Star nod and his first MVP vote. Who knows? Maybe he has one more season like that left in him.

Philadelphia Phillies Bounce-Back Candidate: J.T. Realmuto, C

2023 Stats: 135 G, 540 PA, .252/.310/.452, 20 HR, 16 SB, 102 wRC+, 1.5 fWAR

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J.T. Realmuto was fine in 2023, but “fine” counts as a big disappointment for the man who finished seventh in NL MVP voting the previous year.

His power was still there (20 home runs, 28 doubles, 5 triples), and he still led all catchers in stolen bases. However, his plate discipline was lacking, and much more importantly, his defensive numbers fell dramatically. He was worth just 1.5 fWAR in 135 games.

It’s normal for catchers to decline in their thirties, and Realmuto’s days as the best catcher in baseball are probably behind him. Still, if he works on his pitch framing this winter and exercises a little more patience at the plate in 2024, his power, speed, and durability can help him stay afloat as one of the better catchers in the National League.

Honorable Mention: Aaron Nola, RHP

This choice is mostly about ERA. Aaron Nola was a better pitcher last year than his 4.46 ERA would have you think, and he’s a good bet to improve upon that number in 2024. However, his underlying numbers also took a step back last season. Nola’s 3.77 xERA and 4.03 FIP were both unusually high.

The ZiPS projection system has Nola as the most valuable pitcher in baseball, while Steamer has him fourth. Don’t be surprised if he bounces back both traditionally and sabermetrically in 2024.

Washington Nationals Bounceback Candidate: Jesse Winker, OF/DH

2023 Stats: 61 G, 197 PA, .199/.320/.247, 1 HR, 65 wRC+, -0.8 fWAR

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Jesse Winker isn’t even on Washington’s 40-man yet, but he has a clear path to the Opening Day roster as long as he isn’t awful this spring.

From 2017-21, Winker was one of the better hitting corner outfielders in baseball, posting a 132 wRC+ in more than 400 games. He struggled in 2022 with the Mariners (108 wRC+) before the wheels completely fell off last year in Milwaukee. In 61 games for the Brewers, he hit for a 65 wRC+.

Winker is only 30 years old, and if he can move past the back injuries that troubled him last season, perhaps he can be a threat at the plate once more.

Honorable Mention: Joey Meneses, 1B/DH

I could’ve gone with the Nats’ other Joey, too, but I’m getting tired of picking Gallo as a bounce-back candidate. Joey Meneses showed prodigious power as a 30-year-old rookie in 2022. He then took a massive step backward the following year, hitting the same number of home runs in more than twice as many plate appearances.

Meneses is probably a one-season wonder. Still, if the reports are true that he was playing through a knee injury in 2023, perhaps a healthy Meneses can get back to walloping the baseball in 2024.