At lunch Wednesday with Dodger publications director Jorge Martin, we marveled with glee not only at Clayton Kershaw's magnificent 2011 season, but our inability, despite knowing all about how hard the job of pitching is, not to expect him to dominate every time out in 2012. Our heads tell us he might not pitch as well this year as last. Our hearts tell us he can pitch even better.
It got me to wondering how pitchers with seasons like Kershaw's followed them up the following campaign. And the news isn't exactly good.
Here are two charts – the first an appetizer, the second the main course:
Top 20 individual Dodger seasons since 1958
* did not pitch enough innings to qualify for ERA title in following year
Top 50 individual MLB seasons since 1958, ages 21-25
As you can see, there's a host of great names on these lists, including Hall of Famers and Hall of Very Gooders. Just because there's a decline after a great season doesn't mean that there weren't great seasons in their future.
But a decline following a great season for a young pitcher is common, and on average pretty significant.
So the challenge for our dear Kershaw is to buck history. This much I'll say – if anyone can do it, if anyone can imitate Sandy Koufax (at a younger age), he can.