As all Detroit Tigers fans are well aware, Justin Verlander‘s almost completely unstoppable performance last season won him the AL Cy Young award (as well as MVP). His 24-5 record, 2.40 ERA, and 250 strikeouts were worthy of a unanimous vote, the first such distinction since Johan Santana was a 2006 unanimous winner.
But with such dominance over the league last year, there’s certainly no way he can get better, right?
Santana finished the 2006 campaign with a 19-6 record, a 2.77 ERA and 265 strikeouts for the Minnesota Twins. In his next season for Minnesota, he went 15-13 with a 3.33 ERA and 235 strikeouts. The record is certainly worse, but perhaps run support was as well. He did allow a career high 33 HRs in 2007, but still managed to get some Cy Young votes anyway, despite the numbers (5th in the voting).
CC was 19-7 with a 3.21 ERA and 209 strikeouts in his Cy Young year. Just by looks, not exactly numbers that might jump out for a top pitcher. His next season was an indication of regression: at least up until he got traded. If you remember, CC was dealt to the Milwaukee Brewers in the middle of the 2008 season. Overall, he was 17-10 for the season w/ a 2.70 ERA and 251 strikeouts. That looks good, until it gets broken down this way. With the Indians, he started the season 6-8, with a 3.83 ERA, while down the stretch with Milwaukee, he was dominant: 11-2, with a 1.65 ERA. He was definitely a major factor for the Brew Crew, helping vault them into the postseason.
Lee’s Cy Young year was brilliant. He posted a sick 22-3 record, a 2.54 ERA and 170 strikeouts. A pillar of control, he only allowed 1.4 walks per 9 innings. But like Sabathia, a rough start to his next and last (partial) season for the Indians. With Cleveland, a 7-9 start with a 3.14 ERA and a 7-4, 3.39 finish with the Philadelphia Phillies. Records/numbers indicate again that run support with Lee and Sabathia were likely an issue in their time with the Indians.
With the Royals in 2009, Greinke posted a 16-8 record and a paltry 2.16 ERA, while posting 242 strikeouts. His next year? Not so good. 10-14, with a 4.17 ERA and 181 strikeouts. In his Cy Young year, he only gave up 55 earned runs versus the 102 he gave up the following season, making 2010 rather forgettable for Greinke.
Not too often that a 13-12 pitcher gets considered for, never mind winning the Cy Young, but he posted a 2.27 ERA and struck out 232. Hard to fault his sheer numbers playing for an offensively challenged Seattle Mariners ball club. His next year however, wasn’t nearly as good, especially down the stretch. He finished 14-14 last season with a 3.47 ERA, though he did strike out just 10 fewer than the previous season. The downside: 27 more ER allowed in 16 fewer innings pitched.
Now just by the simple numbers given, only Greinke proved to have a full regression filled season following his win of the Cy Young award. But no pitcher made any marked improvements on their next season, and in some cases, the team suffered as well. That said, there’s no real suggestion that the Tigers, or Verlander will have sub-par seasons in 2012, but there’s no reason to assume that Verlander will ultimately improve his numbers. I mean, he’d have to go 27-3 to make the common fanatic happy. And that fanatic probably whines about all 3 of those losses.
Verlander will probably suffer a “very mild” regression, but it will likely not hurt his stature or hurt the team’s chances of repeating as AL Central champs. Verlander turns 29 on Monday, and is in the prime of his career. Just because he probably won’t win 25 games doesn’t mean he’s not going to help his team pull forward. In all reality, it’d be scarier to think that he has the mentality that he has to do betterthan the previous season. Even the best of the best can’t expect to improve on near perfection.