Baseball Bits #5: Porcello Struggling, Is This Typical of First Time Cy Young Winners?

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Rick Porcello did not look good in his start on Friday.  He did not even make it out the 5th inning, pitching only 4.1 innings and giving up 8 earned runs.  This is disappointing because Porcello just won the Cy Young and we were expecting a good year.  Is it the pressure on him that’s causing him to struggle?  There was a lot of pressure on him in 2015 as a new member of the Red Sox and he struggled.  That might be the problem with all the first-year Red Sox pitchers.  On the Sox, the expectations are high and the pressure is on because the team spent has spent a lot of money on this roster.  I thought the pressure was all on Sale this year but Porcello is under pressure as well.


Porcello looked spotless last year though when the pressure was not on him as much.  He won the Cy Young.  But is it typical of a first time Cy Young winner to thrive the next year?  That gave me an idea for more research.  The question is, how many of the first-time Cy Young winners improved their ERA the next year?  I also researched how many had an ERA under 3.25 the next year: here are the results dating back to 1956, when the award was founded.
The Research



Prior to 1967, there was only one Cy Young winner for the entire MLB.


The “Baseball Bits”

  •  Only 18 players (13 AL, 3 NL, 2 when only one MLB pitcher won) of the 75 first time winners had an ERA over 4.00 the next year (just 24%!).
    • Only 2 (Mark Davis and Bartolo Colon) had an ERA over 5.00 the following year
  • Only 6 players (1 AL, 2 NL, 3 when only one MLB pitcher won) of 75 first time winners have ever improved their ERA after winning their first Cy Young (just 8%!). They were:
    • Tim Lincecum (2008, improved from 2.62 to 2.48)
    • C.C. Sabathia (2007, improved from 3.21 to 2.70)
    • Brandon Webb (2006, improved from 3.10 to 3.01)
    • Sandy Koufax (1963, improved from 1.88 to 1.74)
    • Don Drysdale (1962, improved from 2.83 to 2.63)
    • Whitey Ford (1961, improved from 3.21 to 2.90)
  • 38 players (12 AL, 21 NL, 5 when only one MLB pitcher won) have held their ERA under 3.25 the next year. That’s 54.3% of the 70 players who were first-time winners that won with an ERA under 3.25
  • The last pitcher to have an ERA under 3.25 after their first Cy Young was Jake Arrieta in 2015
  • Not including Porcello, 2 of the first time Cy Young winners were on the Red Sox (Jim Lonborg and Roger Clemens). Lonborg was one of the 18 over 4.00, with an ERA of 4.29. But Clemens had an ERA of 2.97 the next year, which was not an improvement but was under 3.25.
  • No player has improved their ERA after their first time Cy Young year since 2008 when Tim Lincecum did it. The last time it happened in the AL was in 2007 when C.C. Sabathia did it.
  • The Cy Young was won 30 times by a multiple time winner. However, only 13 people have ever won the Cy Young multiple times.  That means that some of the 13 have won more than twice
  • No pitcher with an ERA over 3.25 when they won improved their ERA after their first Cy Young
  • If Rick Porcello turns it around and improves his ERA from last year, he would be the first first-time Cy Young winner on the Red Sox to do it. Right now that seems unlikely based on how he pitched on Friday.

The Verdict

Based on this research I would not expect Porcello to improve his ERA from last year, especially after his horrid Friday night performance.  But it is possible that his ERA will stay under 3.25.  That will be hard to do.  He put up an ERA of 3.15 last year when he won the Cy Young.  But it is possible.  Is Porcello at the level of those 38 pitchers who did keep their ERA under 3.25?  Maybe not when he’s under pressure because he has stunk under pressure.

Trading for Chris Sale helped strengthen the Red Sox rotation and you would think that would get the pressure off Porcello.  Maybe by winning the Cy Young Porcello has put more pressure on himself, especially now that David Price is injured.  With Chris Sale and David Price (who will be back in June) also in the rotation and Pomeranz doing well, the Red Sox should be able to allow Porcello time to adjust.  I think there’s a chance that we can see the kind of numbers we saw from him in 2016.  I don’t think his 22 wins will be repeated but I think his numbers can be at least respectable if he makes the adjustments necessary.

The research shows that most Cy Young first-time winners keep an ERA under 4.00 (76%).  I believe that Porcello can be part of this 76% because the Sox are one of the best defensive teams in the league and they should help steal a few hits and runs.

Stay tuned for my next Baseball Bits, where I will look at how top home run hitters impact their teams.  Thanks for reading.