The accolades just keep on coming for the 2018 Atlanta Braves. This time, the recipient is one Jonathan William Venters:
Congratulations to Jonny Venters for being named the 2018 National League Comeback Player of the Year! pic.twitter.com/Ples5OfRt5— Atlanta Braves (@Braves) November 20, 2018
The award comes after Venters made it back to the majors in 2018 after a hiatus of five entire seasons from big league action. After two dominant years to begin his career in 2010 and 2011, where he made a combined 164 appearances and pitched 169 innings, Venters saw somewhat diminished usage and effectiveness in 2012 before undergoing an intense threshing of injuries. Between 2013 and 2017, he underwent two full Tommy John Surgeries, and another ligament reattachment procedure. (Those were his second, third, and third-and-a-half procedures of his career.) He didn’t pitch in professional ball at all in 2013, 2014, or 2015 due to the surgeries and the necessary recovery, and saw only limited minor league action in 2016 and 2017.
Still, he never gave up the attempt to return to the big leagues, and over 2,000 days since his last major league appearance, he was recalled to a major league roster when the Tampa Bay Rays activated him from Triple-A Durham.
Venters was traded to the Braves in July 26, where he continued to function as an effective middle reliever. Over the entire 2018 season, he posted an 85 FIP- and 92 xFIP-; with the Braves, he made 28 appearances spanning 20 and a third innings of 87 ERA-, 80 FIP-, and 95 xFIP- ball. As expected, he was tough on left-handed batters, allowing only a sub-3.00 FIP and 3.13 xFIP against them. But, the stats are somewhat beside the point — the real message of note here is that Venters made it back to the majors after a procession of tribulations, and not only succeeded at getting an old-timer’s curtain call, but pitched meaningful innings for a contender as part of his comeback trail.
Despite being 33 years of age, Venters is still arbitration-eligible given his lengthy hiatus from the majors, as he has fewer than six years of control. The Braves may very well choose to bring him back next year for another middle relief or left-handed specialist role.
I’m not sure if there was ever a bigger comeback in baseball in terms of sheer length of time between appearances, so this award is well-deserved by its literal interpretation on its face. Congratulations, Mr. Venters!
This is the second time this particular award has gone to a Brave. Tim Hudson won it in 2010 after missing much of the 2009 season with injury.