Thursday, April 17, 2008

C.C. and the Cy Young Hangover

It's been pretty brutal for C.C. Sabathia this year. He got hammered again last night, and right now stands at 0-3, with an ERA of 13.50. He has struck out 14 in 18 innings, but has walked just as many. And he's fooling no one, giving up 32 hits -- five of them homers -- in that time.

Obviously it's early, and C.C. has time to right the ship (well, at least if he can figure out why it has capsized in the first place), but with a line as ghastly as that, he also has a chance to experience the worst post-Cy Young year ever.

And that's no small feat, because there are actually a lot of pitchers who put in bad seasons immediately following a Cy Young win. A sampling of the worst:

Bob Turley
Cy Young Year: 1958
Following Year: 8-11, 4.32 ERA
Analysis: Just came back to Earth, really. And to be honest, he wasn't as good in 1958 as a lot of other guys. Wasn't even the best guy in his team's rotation. He was just the only one to get 20 wins. After that year, however, he would never win 10 games in a season again.

Sandy Koufax
Cy Young Year: 1966
Following Year: Retired
Analysis: This is a cheat, of course, but I kind of like C.C. Sabathia, so he should be comforted by the fact that there are things far worse than getting shelled in your post-Cy year, such as a career-ending injury. Of course, posting a 13.50 ERA and giving up hits like you're pitching BP is indicative of someone with a potentially career-ending injury, but we shant dwell on that.

Jim Lonborg
Cy Young Year: 1967
Following Year: 6-10, 4.29 ERA in the alleged Year of the Pitcher
Analysis: Impossible Dreams take a lot out of a guy. After 1967, it would be five years before he would post 200 IP in a season again, and that was back when 200 IP wasn't that big a trick.

Mike McCormick
Cy Young Year: 1967
Following Year: 12-14, 3.57 ERA in a year when that was considerably below average.
Analysis: Like Turley in 1958, he was a "wins" Cy Young winner. He wasn't even in the top 5 in ERA in 1967, didn't strike out that many guys, and walked an awful lot. He wasn't a fluke, of course, in that he had a couple of really solid seasons earlier in the decade, but by 1968 the smoke and the mirrors weren't working anymore, and the toll of a lot of innings at a young age -- McCormick was a phenom once upon a time -- were probably taking their toll.

Jim Perry
Cy Young Year: 1970
Following Year: 17-17, 4.23
Analysis: 1971 wasn't an atrocious season, but Gaylord's older brother walked nearly twice as many batters in just about the same number of innings the year after taking home the hardware, and that proved to be the difference.

Vida Blue
Cy Young Year: 1971
Following Year: 6-10, 2.80 ERA
Analysis: 300 IP at age 21 will do that to a fella. He would bounce back and have several more productive seasons, but he certainly wasn't the same after 1971.

Steve Carlton
Cy Young Year: 1972
Following Year: 13-20, 3.90 ERA
Analysis: Carrying a team can hurt your back. The Phillies actually improved by 12 games the year after Carlton's otherworldly season, but Carlton suffered the worst year of his prime in 1973. If C.C. is worried this morning, he may take some comfort in the trajectory of Lefty's career, because after a couple of pedestrian (for him) years, he became Steve freakin' Carlton again in 1976 and would go on to win three more Cy Young awards.

Jim Palmer
Cy Young Year: 1973
Following Year: 7-12, 3.27 ERA
Analysis: Elbow problems explain this. Palmer would rebound with back to back Cy Youngs in 1975 and 1976.

Tom Seaver
Cy Young Year: 1973
Following Year: 11-11, 3.20 ERA
Analysis: There's a fine line between dominance and mere competence, and Seaver stepped on it a bit in 1974 (not that scores of pitchers wouldn't have killed for a year like his). He still struck out 200 guys, though, and like Palmer, would bounce back and return to his usual stellar form in 1975.

Randy Jones
Cy Young Year: 1976
Following Year: 6-12, 4.50 ERA
Analysis: Injured himself at the end of his 1976 season and wasn't the same after that, but given his weak K/IP ratios even at his peak, he was bound for a fall, injuries or not.

Steve Stone
Cy Young Year: 1980
Following Year: 4-7, 4.60 ERA, out of baseball the year after that.
Analysis: According to Stone, he consciously built his Cy Young season on a foundation of arm-wrecking curveballs which, in fact, wrecked his arm. Stone idolized Sandy Koufax, though, so the quick track between Cy Young and retirement served as a nice homage.

Pete Vukovich
Cy Young Year: 1982
Following Year: 0-2, 4.81 ERA.
Analysis: He tore his rotator cuff in the spring of 1983 and that was pretty much that.

LaMarr Hoyt
Cy Young Year: 1983
Following Year: 13-18, 4.47 ERA
Analysis: While his peripherals weren't radically different in 1984, he did slip and his run support fell off pretty sharply. The Colombian marching powder probably didn't help all that much either.

Mark Davis
Cy Young Year: 1989
Following Year: 2-7, 5.11 ERA, 6 saves, $10M contract
Analysis: Unlike C.C., Davis knew that you're supposed to tank the year after you land that long term deal.

Bob Welch
Cy Young Year: 1990
Following Year: 12-13, 4.58 ERA
Analysis: LaMarr Hoyt's long lost brother? Like Hoyt, Welch suffered a death by a thousand cuts (fewer strikeouts, more walks, more hits, less run support). Like Hoyt, the fall seemed farther than it really was given that he wasn't as good as his record indicated in his Cy Young year. Like Hoyt, Welch was battling substance abuse problems. Correction: reader Mike reports that Welch had sobered up by 1990. A quick Googling bears this out, and I should have checked it beforehand. Let's just call Welch LaMarr Hoyt's more responsible younger brother.

Randy Johnson
Cy Young Year[s]: 1995, 2002
Following Year[s]: 5-0, but only 8 starts; 6-8 in only 18 starts
Analysis: Injury bug. He'd win four more Cy Youngs after the first bad season. He's certainly fallen off since the last one -- really only one year in which he was The Big Unit -- but turning 40 will do that to a guy. Right now? I'm guessing C.C. would kill to have an "off" season like Johnson's 2005.

Bartolo Colon
Cy Young Year: 2005
Following Year: 1-5, 5.11 ERA
Analysis: Like so many of these guys, a rotator cuff felled him. The weight hasn't helped. C.C. has lived with the latter problem for a long time. I'm guessing there are some people in Cleveland right now wondering if the former problem is affecting him as well.

So take heart, C.C.! You may be miserable right now, but you're certainly not alone!


Mike said...

Regarding Bob Welch, I think he had quit drinking before he came to the A's. Definitely had a problem early in his career, but I don't think his drinking can explain his post-Cy dropoff.

Craig Calcaterra said...

You're right, Mike. My mistake. I'll make a correction.

Anonymous said...

Didn't Lonborg break his leg skiing or something odd like that?

I was only 7 at the time, but that's the story I remember. Of course, I also remember having steak on Thanksgiving, but no one else in my family does.

cobweb said...

Some of those guys' years didn't look that bad. Like Vida Blue and Tom Seaver...their ERA's look really's just their sub-par records...which is the most stupid pitching stat anyway. Am I missing something?

Craig Calcaterra said...

I suppose it's all relative, cobweb.

In Blue's case, we went from 39 starts and 300 innings to 23 and 151, which is obviously indicative of health issues. His ERA, while still respectable looking, dropped precipitously when measured by ERA + (185 to 102, which is essentially average). That's nothing like what CC's suffering, but when you're a Cy Young winner, does it really have to be that bad to be considered a dropoff?

Seaver is more of a function of bad run support and a poor cast behind him, but he DID drop his ERA+ to 112, which was the lowest of his career to that point and the lowest he would have until he began his decline in the 1980s. A "bad" season? No, but certainly not what he was accustomed to.

cobweb said...

Alright, I like the ERA+ numbers better. I understand why you'd put them up there then. I think it's a nice addition when you have that stat up because the readers can put the ERA into the context of the know?

Chadillac said...

Is it just me or does Bob Turley resemble Patton Oswalt?

Ken Arneson said...

Blue didn't have health issues in 1972, he had a contract dispute with Charlie Finley. He held out, missed all of spring training, and didn't sign until May.

Craig Calcaterra said...

Ah. Thanks Ken! Wasn't aware of that.

Travis M. Nelson said...

I'm surprised you left out some of the best known examples: Roy Halladay went 8-8 in 133 innings the year after he won the AL CYA. Roger Clemens had a couple of big drop-offs after winning the award, once in 1999, and again in 2002. Pedro Martinez won three CYAs in 4 years, but then pitched only 116 innings in 2001. Brett Saberhagen in 1986 and 1990, Rick Sutcliffe in 1985, John Denney in 1984...the list is nearly endless, and a lot of them are because of injuries. Even the ones that weren't (like Mike Flanagan in 1980 or Sweet Music in 1988, could have been expected if only because of baseball performance gravity: What goes up, must come down. Or, in the case of ERA, the reverse.

ajnrules said...

Interesting list, but I was surprised you didn't include Bret Saberhagen in 1986 (7-12, with a 4.15 ERA, but a 102 ERA+.)