Reigning NL Cy Young award winner Tim Lincecum had a day he'd like to forget yesterday, giving up three runs on four hits in three innings in which he threw 78 pitches. The day before reigning AL Cy Young award winner Cliff Lee had a day he'd like to forget, giving up seven runs in five innings in a loss to Texas. Oh, and he had a sparkling 12.46 ERA in spring training too. Last March CC Sabathia, in his first start after winning the 2007 Cy Young award was touched for five runs on six hits in five and a third innings against the White Sox. If it wasn't for the strong showing Jake Peavy had to kick off 2008, we'd have the makings of a Cy Young curse.
But maybe we have one of those anyway, because there's a long history of guys following up Cy Young awards with pretty lousy seasons. 1958 winner Bob Turley went 8-11 with an ERA in 1959. Sandy Koufax had to retire after winning it in 1966. Jim Lonborg and Mike McCormick (both 1967) had a hard time in the alleged Year of the Pitcher. Vida Blue (1971) and Steve Carlton (1972) fell off from pretty lofty heights, though the former eventually bounced back a little and the latter a whole heck of a lot. More troubling examples are Steve Stone (1980), Pete Vukovich (1982), and LaMarr Hoyt (1983) all of whom fell off a cliff following their dance with greatness, be it due to injuries or, in the case of Hoyt, substance abuse. Mark Davis (1990) simply turned back into a pumpkin.
Of course I don't really believe in curses. I do, however, believe in regression to the mean. After a fabulous year, it's inevitable that there will be some sort of falloff, simply because only the most elite pitchers -- the Tom Seavers and Randy Johnsons of the world -- can perform at the highest of levels year-in-year-out. But even the non-elites bounce back from that sort of stuff all the time. Heck, look at Sabathia. He started 2008 0-3, with an ERA of 13.50, giving up 32 hits -- five of them homers -- in 18 innings, and he rebounded just fine. I'm guessing Lee and Lincecum will too.