The White Sox had three players put together outstanding comeback seasons this year, but none of them won the AL Comeback Player of the Year. Alex Rios, Adam Dunn and Jake Peavy can thank Rays closer Fernando Rodney for breaking an MLB ERA record, netting him the honor.
Jim Thome won AL Comeback Player of the year in 2006, the second year of the award's existence. Generally, the honor goes to a previously-established player who's coming off an injury-plagued and/or down year and rebounds to a successful level, which pretty well describes Thome's 2005 and 2006.
But looking through the last 20 years, Thome's bounce-back in 2006 wasn't the best among White Sox players. That title goes to the guy who arguably had the best case of the trio of Sox players to win the award this year.
Below is a list of players who have rebounded from down years with the White Sox. We're going by Baseball-Reference's WAR here, and cutting things off at +3 from one year to the next. Young players who had breakout years -- like John Danks in 2008 -- and journeymen veterans who did the same -- like Esteban Loaiza in 2003 -- aren't in this conversation.
With all that in mind, here's the list:
Alex Rios, 2011-2012: +6.3 WAR
Rios went from .227/.265/.348, 13 home runs and below-average defense in center field to .304/.334/.516, 25 home runs and above-average defense in right. His resurgence didn't get the attention of Dunn's 40+ homers or Peavy's Cy Young bid, but it was just as -- if not more -- important to the success of the White Sox in 2012.
Albert Belle: +5.1 WAR
Belle became the highest-paid player in baseball when he signed a five-year, $55 million deal after the 1996 season, but turned a major down year by his standards in 1997. He regained his status as an elite hitter in 1998 and left as a free agent after the year, invoking a clause which gave him that right if he wasn't one of the three highest-paid players in baseball at the time.
Jose Valentin: +4.7 WAR
The White Sox run to an AL Central title in 2000 couldn't have happened without the shrewd trade to acquire Valentin and Cal Eldred from Milwaukee for Jamie Navarro and John Snyder. Valentin only played in 89 games in 1999, but was healthy in 2000 and hit 25 home runs with 19 stolen bases.
Jim Thome: +4.5 WAR
Thome actually won comeback player of the year honors in 2006, his first year with the White Sox after being displaced by Ryan Howard in Philadelphia. After nagging injuries limited Thome to 59 games in 2005, he hit 42 home runs with a 1.014 OPS for the 90-win White Sox in 2006.
Jermaine Dye: +4.3 WAR
Despite being banged up and struggling a bit at the plate, Dye was the subject of plenty of trade rumors as the Sox floundered in the summer of 2007. But the Sox signed him to a two-year extension that August, and he rewarded the team with a solid 2008 to help the Sox win the AL Central.
Jake Peavy: +4.1 WAR
In the final year of his contract, Peavy turned in his best year since winning the NL Cy Young in 2007. He started 30 games and threw 219 innings with a 3.37 ERA after posting a 4.92 ERA over just 111 2/3 innings in 2011.
Adam Dunn: +4.0 WAR
While 2012 didn't turn out to be vintage Dunn -- his OBP was just .333, 48 points lower than his 2001-2010 average -- he did hit 41 home runs and looked far more together at the plate than in 2011, which looks like one big aberration at this point.
Mark Buehrle: +3.9 WAR
Buehrle was lit up in 2006, allowing 36 home runs and finishing with a career-worst 4.99 ERA. But he was back to his usual self in 2007, posting a 3.63 ERA over 201 innings.
Frank Thomas: +3.8 WAR
Thomas finished second in AL MVP voting behind Jason Giambi in 2000 -- something which still has plenty of White Sox fans sore -- after setting career highs with 43 home runs and 143 RBIs. The year before, though, Thomas hit a then-career-low 15 home runs and failed to drive in 100 runs for the first time in his career.
Robin Ventura: +3.6 WAR
A gruesome ankle injury limited Ventura to 54 games in the year of the white flag trade, but he put together a fine campaign (21 HR, .263/.349/.436) in 1998 to close out his playing career with the White Sox.
Roberto Hernandez: +3.6 WAR
A decent 1995 gave way to one of the best years for a reliever in White Sox history, as Hernandez compiled a 1.91 ERA and only allowed two home runs in 84 2/3 innings.
Carlos Quentin: +3.4 WAR
After a breakout year in 2008, a banged-up Quentin struggled in 2009, posting a .779 OPS. But he played in a career-high 131 games in 2010 and hit 26 home runs, pacing the White Sox' torrid stretch in June and July.
Javier Vazquez: +3.4 WAR
Vazquez turned in his best year with the Sox in 2007, posting a 3.74 ERA with 213 strikeouts in 216 2/3 innings. That was, however, sandwiched between ERAs of 4.84 in 2006 and 4.67 in 2008.
A few others: Kevin Tapani (+3.3, 1995/1996), Darrin Jackson (+3.1, 1993/1994)