Top 2024 Bounce-Back Candidates for Each Team in the AL West

An All-Star first baseman, a three-time MVP, and a World Series hero highlight this year's list of bounce-back candidates in the AL West.

Cristian Javier of the Houston Astros looks on during the first inning against the New York Mets at Minute Maid Park.
HOUSTON, TEXAS - JUNE 21: Cristian Javier #53 of the Houston Astros looks on during the first inning against the New York Mets at Minute Maid Park on June 21, 2023 in Houston, Texas. (Photo by Carmen Mandato/Getty Images)

The American League West is one of baseball’s most competitive divisions. The Houston Astros, Texas Rangers, and Seattle Mariners finished within two games of one another to end the 2023 season, and all three of those teams are very much built to compete in 2024.

Additionally, the Los Angeles Angels and Oakland Athletics are each looking to build a core of players to compete with in the future.

One thing that all five of these teams have in common?

They all have players they are counting on to return to form after a disappointing 2023. Whether it is to help the team battle for a division title or help build for the future, each of these players will be key for their respective teams in 2024.

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So, let’s break down the likely bounce-back candidates in the AL West.

Houston Astros Bounce-Back Candidate: Cristian Javier, RHP

2023 Stats: 31 GS, 162 IP, 4.56 ERA, 1.9 fWAR

After a stellar 2022 campaign, Cristian Javier couldn’t quite replicate his success the following year. He ended 2023 with a 4.56 ERA in addition to an increased walk rate and a significant drop in K/9.

Javier was punching tickets left and right two seasons ago, averaging 11.74 K/9. But in 2023, his strikeout rate dropped all the way below 9.00 K/9. Much of that drop-off appeared to be due to a decrease in slider effectivity.

Opposing batters would seldom put a barrel on his slider in 2022, hitting at a measly .121 clip with a HardHit% just over 22%. Yet Javier couldn’t find that same life on his go-to breaking ball last year.

His slider Run Value sat at -2, with its HardHit% jumping up more than 11%. He couldn’t put away hitters with the offering anywhere close to the way he did the year before. Javier had a 28% PutAway% on his slider in 2022 compared to a 17.8% PutAway% in 2023.

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All that said, this was the first season in the righty’s young career in which he finished with an ERA over the 3.55 mark. He has a track record of success through just his age-26 campaign and is a top-end starter when he is at his best. If Javier gets his slider back on track, expect the right-hander to return to his regular form.

Texas Rangers Bounce-Back Candidate: Brock Burke, LHP

2023 Stats: 53 G, 59.2 IP, 4.37 ERA, -0.2 fWAR

Brock Burke was sensational in 2022. With a 1.97 ERA and 202 ERA+, the lefty proved to be one of the best relievers in baseball that year. 

But while he possessed some of the sharpest command in the sport this past season (99th percentile in BB%, per Baseball Savant), Burke fell back to earth, sporting a 4.37 ERA and a 4.90 FIP across 53 appearances.

Burke continued to keep hitters on their toes with his four-seam fastball, posting an identical +6 Run Value on the pitch in both 2022 and ’23. The difference is his slider was nowhere near as deceptive this past season. Opponents went from hitting .196 against Burke’s breaking ball to an alarming .315 clip last year. As a result, his numbers ballooned; he only had one effective pitch in his arsenal.

Should Burke find success with his slider again, look for him to bounce back as a key piece in the Rangers bullpen.

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Seattle Mariners Bounce-Back Candidate: Ty France, 1B

2023 Stats: 158 G, 665 PA, 12 HR, .250/.337/.366, 104 wRC+, 0.5 fWAR

Ty France appears ready to light it up in 2024.

France proved to be one of the most productive first basemen in baseball in 2021 and followed that up with a miraculous first half in 2022. He made his first All-Star appearance that year and ranked top-ten in the league in wRC+ for much of the first three months. However, his production plummeted in the second half, partly due to an injury he suffered in late June, which he tried to play through the rest of the way. 

In 2023, the turbulence carried over. France posted just a 104 wRC+, displayed well-below-average power and did not wow anyone with his hard-hit profile. He looked nowhere near the Ty France that had been a driving force of the Mariners offense in seasons prior.

He knew something had to change. And changes he made.

After seeing first-hand the wonders that attending Driveline did for teammate and close friend J.P. Crawford (who posted a 134 wRC+ last year, ranking 6th in the AL), France followed the shortstop’s footsteps up to the facility in Kent, WA this winter. France had never sought much outside help on his swing in the past but quickly realized during his first couple of outings at Driveline how much he had to clean up.

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Fast forward to today, France enters the spring not just re-tooled, but confident. He discussed how his swing is in a much better place with a much more efficient path to the ball. And that’s not all. France also mentioned that he has added 3.5 MPH of bat speed this offseason. That is significant.

For reference, France’s bat speed in 2023 was on par with David Fletcher’s, a contact-hitting middle infielder with barely a lick of pop in his bat. Yet as of today, it is equivalent to Jose Altuve’s. Does that make you sit up in your seat at all?

If France finds his old form and is just the Mariners’ No. 6 or 7 hitter, Seattle will be in a fantastic spot.

Los Angeles Angels Bounce-Back Candidate: Mike Trout, CF

2023 Stats: 82 G, 362 PA, 18 HR, .263/.367/.490, 134 wRC+, 3.0 fWAR

It doesn’t even feel right typing this out, because an .858 OPS season would be a career year for most players, yet it was the worst of Trout’s career. The best player of the last decade is now 32 years old, has dealt with a flurry of injuries and has seen his production take a dip.

But this is Trout, and he could snap back to superstardom at any moment. Yes, he hasn’t played 140 games since 2018, while only cracking the 100-game mark once in the last four years. Back issues continue to linger. Still, if Trout can find a way to stay on the field for 130+ games in 2024, he will almost certainly see his production rise. 

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Last year was the first time in his career his OPS was below .900. It was the first time his wRC+ sat below 160. He is the modern-day Mickey Mantle and all but a shoo-in to be a unanimous Hall of Famer.

So yes, Trout’s play through 82 games last season was subpar for his standards. But you can’t ever count out Mike Trout. Even as he continues to age.

Oakland Athletics Bounce-Back Candidate: Seth Brown, OF

2023 Stats: 112 G, 378 PA, 14 HR, .222/.286/.405, 92 wRC+, 0.0 fWAR

Seth Brown broke out in 2022. Despite playing on a non-competitive club, he popped 25 home runs with a 116 wRC+, showing that he was a force to be reckoned with. Yet, one of the lone bright spots in the 2022 A’s lineup didn’t replicate his performance the following season, hitting just .222 with a 96 wRC+.

Brown was walking more than 9% of the time in 2022, a career-high rate, but that didn’t carry over to 2023. His walk rate dipped down to 7.2%. As a result, he wasn’t posting an on-base percentage above .300 anymore. On the bright side, he still displayed some power, hitting 14 long balls in 112 games.

To that end, Brown’s batted ball profile leaves room for optimism. While he racks up his fair share of strikeouts, he hits the ball hard on a consistent basis and has no trouble finding the barrel (79th percentile in Barrel% in 2023). 

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He has never thrived against southpaws, but if he can beef his numbers back up against right-handed pitching (and his peripherals suggest that he can), Brown could serve as a driving force in the A’s lineup in 2024.