From Tom Verducci’s column “Washington’s Monument” in this week’s Sports Illustrated:
“Of the 32 pitchers and 47 position players who received Rookie of the Year Award votes from 2007 to ’11, 59 had a worse ERA or OPS in their follow-up act – a 74% attrition rate.”
But so what? In order to receive ROY votes, you need to have had a phenomenal, better-than-ordinary season.
Do you know what usually happens after a great player has a great season?
They regress! Sometimes a little. Sometimes a lot. When you’ve had good enough numbers to receive a 1st place vote for the ROY Award, it’s likely that you just had a season in which you put up really great numbers. Really great numbers are also really difficult to repeat year in, year out.
To be honest, while looking at the sentence in Verducci’s column that seemed to state support of the sophomore jinx, I was left thinking “74% attrition rate? That’s all? I would’ve guessed higher.”
Never mind that OPS and ERA are not the greatest barometers for success. Let’s stick with Verducci’s stats and see what happened with MVP and Cy Young vote-getters from the same time period.
I’m considering all non-pitchers who received 1st place MVP votes and all pitchers who received 1st place Cy Young votes from 2007 to ’11 and then seeing if they dropped off in OPS or ERA the following year.
A couple of notes:
1. I’m excluding Brandon Webb from the ERA tally the year following his 1st place votes for Cy Young because he made just one appearance the following season. We’ll leave his 13.50 ERA out of this.
2. In the case of a couple pitchers who were traded between leagues (Sabathia, Lee), I am including their complete stats for the season, not just their NL (or AL) numbers.
For the more Sabermetrically inclined, I’ve also included WARb.
+ denotes that a player improved in this category the following year
– denotes that a player declined in this category the following year
* denotes that I am disqualifying the rate statistic due to lack of 125 PA or 50 IP in the following season
Well will you look at that! All this time we’ve been concerned with the sophomore jinx when what we should have been concerned with was the more general “Year After Being Considered for a Major Award Jinx!”
Okay, not really…
* Hitters who did not receive 1st place votes the year after receiving 1st place votes for MVP – 23 of 28, 82% attrition rate
* Hitters whose OPS tailed off the year following 1st place votes for MVP – 22 of 28, 79% attrition rate
* Hitters whose WAR tailed off the year following 1st place votes for MVP – 20 of 28, 71% attrition rate
* Pitchers who did not receive 1st place votes the year after receiving 1st place votes for Cy Young – 20 of 24, 83% attrition rate
* Pitchers whose ERA tailed off the year following 1st place votes for Cy Young – 14 of 23, 61% attrition rate
* Pitchers whose WAR tailed off the year following 1st place votes for Cy Young – 19 of 24, 79% attrition rate
Do you know why players who receive Rookie of the Year Award votes have numbers that drop off the following season?
For the exact same reason that players who received 1st place MVP and Cy Young Award votes have numbers that drop off the following season.
The answer? Because players who receive those votes have put up phenomenal numbers that season and phenomenal numbers are – by their nature – incredibly difficult to improve upon.
While I haven’t done it, I’m fairly certain that you could also see similar attrition rates among guys who were the HR leaders each season and guys who won MVP Awards in the NBA
I’ll even bet that the attrition rate of folks who had previously set a world record in the 100 meter dash is fairly high.
Exceptional performances are exceptional because they are rare and extremely difficult to achieve, let alone improve upon from one season to the next.
This is not evidence of a jinx of any sort. There is no sophomore jinx. There is no “year after” curse associated with awards. It’s all to be expected.
It’s hard to improve upon what was already amazing.