The biggest Sox comeback seasons in the last 20 years

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The biggest Sox comeback seasons in the last 20 years

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 andor 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
2011: -2.1
2012: 4.2

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
1997: 1.9
1998: 7.0

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
1999: 0.0
2000: 4.7

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
2005: 0.1
2006: 4.6

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
2007: -1.9
2008: 2.4

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
2011: 0.9
2012: 5.0

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 23 innings in 2011.

Adam Dunn: 4.0 WAR
2011: -3.1
2012: 0.9

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
2006: 2.0
2007: 5.9

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
1999: 2.0
2000: 5.8

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
1997: 1.9
1998: 5.5

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
1995: 0.4
1996: 4.0

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 23 innings.

Carlos Quentin: 3.4 WAR
2009: -0.8
2010: 2.6

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
2006: 2.5
2007: 5.9

Vazquez turned in his best year with the Sox in 2007, posting a 3.74 ERA with 213 strikeouts in 216 23 innings. That was, however, sandwiched between ERAs of 4.84 in 2006 and 4.67 in 2008.

A few others: Kevin Tapani (3.3, 19951996), Darrin Jackson (3.1, 19931994)

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Bears DL Akiem Hicks making the most of a chance the Saints never gave him

Bears DL Akiem Hicks making the most of a chance the Saints never gave him

Living well is indeed the best revenge, and sometimes nothing feels sweeter than proving doubters wrong. Akiem Hicks is savoring that exact feeling.

When the New Orleans Saints made Hicks their third-round pick in the 2013 draft, they typecast their big (6-5, 318 pounds) young defensive lineman as a one-trick pony.

“There were people in New Orleans that said, ‘You can’t rush the passer,’” Hicks recalled after the Bears’ win Sunday over the San Francisco 49ers. “They told me from my rookie year, ‘You’re going to be a run-stopper.’”

This despite Hicks collecting 6.5 sacks and 3 pass breakups as a senior at Regina in Canada. The Saints forced Hicks into the slot they’d decided he fit – nose tackle – then eventually grew disenchanted with him and traded him to New England last year – where he collect 3 sacks in spot duty.

Interestingly, Bears GM Ryan Pace was part of the Saints’ personnel operation. Whether Pace agreed with coaches’ handling of Hicks then isn’t known, but when Pace had the chance to bring Hicks to Chicago for a role different than the one the Saints forced Hicks into, Pace made it happen.

Pace likely saw those New England sacks as a foreshadowing or a sign that the New Orleans staff had miscast Hicks. The Bears defensive end now is under consideration for NFC defensive player of the week after his 10-tackle performance against San Francisco. Signing with the Bears last March 13 as a free agent was the career break Hicks has craved. For him it was a career lifeline.

“They have given me the ability to go rush the passer,” Hicks said. “So I love this organization – [GM] Ryan Pace, coach Fox, Vic [Fangio, defensive coordinator] – for just giving a guy the capability to put it out there and do what you feel like you can do.”

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Hicks has been showing what he can do, to quarterbacks. For him the best part of win over the 49ers was the two third-quarter sacks of 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick.

Those sacks gave the massive lineman, who the Saints said couldn’t rush the passer, 6 sacks for the season – more than any member of the Saints defense this season. It has been a classic instance of putting a player in position to maximize his skills, not jam someone into a bad fit.

“Akiem has been in a couple of different types of packages before with New Orleans and New England,” said coach John Fox. The Patriots switched from a long-time 3-4 scheme to a 4-3 but “we’re more of a New England-type style. But we’re playing him more at end; he played mostly a nose tackle [in New Orleans]. He’s fit really well for us as far as his physical stature.

"But he does have pass rush ability. It shows a little about his athleticism. So he’s got a combination of both.”

That “combination” has been allowed to flourish at a new level, and the Bears’ plan for Hicks was the foundation of why he wanted to sign in Chicago as a free agent. The Bears do not play their defensive linemen in a clear one-gap, get-upfield-fast scheme tailored to speed players. Nor do they play a classic two-gap, linemen-control-blockers scheme typically built on three massive space-eaters on the defensive line.

They play what one player has called a “gap and a half” system, which requires being stout as well as nimble.

One Hicks rush on Kaepernick featured a deft spin move out of a block, not the norm for 336-pound linemen. He got one sack with a quick slide out of a double-team.

“I’m not freelancing,” Hicks said. “But I’m rushing ‘fast.’ There’s a portion of the defense where you have the [run] responsibility and don’t have the freedom or liberty [to rush]. It’s a great system for me and I love what they’ve let me do.”