Healthy bounce-back players in 2023

Over a 162-game MLB season, it’s only natural that various maladies pop up across the league. For some players, injuries are no more than a brief setback, but for others, they can derail an entire season or more.

With that in mind, here’s a look at 8 players who dealt with an injury-marred 2022 but are healthy and thriving again so far this year.

All stats are through Tuesday’s games.

From 2019-21, Lowe looked like one of the best second basemen in baseball, posting a 138 OPS+ and 9.5 WAR (per FanGraphs) en route to an All-Star nod and two top-10 AL MVP Award finishes. Then came 2022, when Lowe hit .221 with eight home runs and 25 RBIs while being limited to 65 games, mostly due to back issues.

Now Lowe has emerged as a powerful force for a red-hot Rays team and is making that traumatized season look like a distant memory. His OPS+ is back up to 142, and he’s in the 99th percentile in barrel rate and the 93rd in hard-hit rate.

Dustin May, SP, Dodgers
3.07 ERA, .167 opponents’ BA

After managing to throw only 30 innings last year in his return from Tommy John surgery and back tightness, May has already thrown 29 1/3 innings in 2023. He’s been effective, too. May opened this season with seven scoreless innings against the D-backs — the longest start of his career — and he’s gone more than five innings in each of his five starts, while allowing no more than two runs in four of those.

May doesn’t rack up a ton of strikeouts, but his 97 mph sinker is generating a 75% ground-ball rate and yielding only a .148 batting average and .259 slugging percentage. That’s been big for a Dodgers team without its usual rotation depth.

After 10 years with Tampa Bay — the last of which saw him limited to 63 games by a hip injury — Kiermaier was elected to stay within the AL East when he signed a one-year contract with the Blue Jays over the offseason. That decision has worked out so far: The ranged center fielder has produced at the plate while continuing to provide stellar defense, highlighted by an incredible catch against the Tigers on April 11.

A three-time Gold Glove Award winner, Kiermaier racked up 71 Outs Above Average from 2016-22 — the highest mark among MLB outfielders over that span. He has already been worth 2 OAA (95th percentile) this year, while ranking above the 90th percentile in sprint speed, arm strength and outfield jump.

Another former Tampa Bay Ray who struggled through injuries in 2022, Zunino batted . 148 with 17 hits in 36 games before undergoing season-ending surgery in June to correct thoracic outlet syndrome. Now, before we even reach May, Zunino is only six hits away from topping that total. Seven of those hits have gone for extra bases, and his .842 OPS is a far cry from the .533 mark that Guardians catchers combined for last season.

Zunino, who signed with Cleveland for $6 million last December, has also shown much more patience at the plate than he typically does. He currently boasts a walk rate of 18% (96th percentile), more than 7 percentage points above his previous career high.

Flaherty’s stuff hasn’t been the problem — it’s been staying in the field. He made a total of 23 starts from 2021-22, spending significant time on the shelf last year with shoulder injuries. Now he’s back, fully healthy and leading a Cardinals rotation that’s been missing Adam Wainwright. While he’s struggling with his command (19 walks), Flaherty has found ways to work around that traffic.

Flaherty’s outing against the Mariners on Sunday was the sort that the Cardinals are hoping to see more of: The 27-year-old right-hander struck out nine in a quality start and picked up the win despite a rough second inning. The start was Flaherty’s 30th in a row in which he allowed six or fewer hits, the longest active streak in MLB.

Jorge Soler, RF/DH, Marlins
.253/.337/.544, 5 HR, 10 RBIs

There’s no doubt that Soler hits the ball hard, but his production always seems to come in spurts. After a trade to Atlanta in 2021, a magical postseason run ended with him winning World Series MVP honors, which he parlayed into a three-year, $36 million contract with the Marlins. His first year in Miami was a struggle, though, when he batted .207 in 72 games before his season ended in July due to pelvic and back issues.

Through the first month of 2023, Soler has looked more like the 2019 and ’21 versions of himself. He’s recorded 13 extra-base hits in 22 games and is in the 93rd percentile or better in hard-hit rate, exit velocity and expected slugging on a Marlins team that desperately needed an infusion of offense.

Grandal missed about a month and a half last year due to knee and back injuries. He looked lost when he was healthy, batting . 202 with five home runs and 27 RBIs in 99 games. But so far, the 34-year-old has put that behind him and looks more like the version of Grandal who raked for the White Sox in 2021 (155 OPS+, 23 homers).

The biggest surprise has been Grandal’s penchant for hitting doubles, already matching his 2022 total of seven. He’s also been better defensively, going from -12 blocks above average (second lowest in MLB, per Statcast) to +3 (sixth best).

But DeSclafani has made his triumphant return in 2023. Entering his outing against the Cardinals on Wednesday, he led the NL in strikeout-to-walk ratio and paced the Majors in walks per nine innings (0.8), having issued only two free passes across 24 innings.

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