The World Series Hangover Effect

500 words on Michael Young
Yanks offense can overcome the pitching problems
Mark Buehrle knows what I'm talking about. (AP Photo/M. Spencer Green)

The World Series hangover effect is a relatively new phenomenon, at least in terms of public awareness given all the innings limits and pitch count stuff going on these days. I’m sure it’s been around a while, but it hasn’t gotten much publicity until recently. And no, I’m not talking about players celebrating too much during the offseason or anything like that, I mean pitchers seeing their performance suffer the year after a World Series appearance because of the increased workload.

Both Tim Kurkjian and Tracy Ringolsby recently penned articles focusing on the Giants and how their pitching staff will try to rebound after such a long and stressful season, each citing examples of pitchers who’ve seen their production decline the year after a World Series berth. They used things like wins and losses and ERA to prove their points, but we have better tools. So what I did was compile innings pitched, FIP, and fWAR data for every pitcher to start a World Series game in the Wild Card era, a sample consisting of 78 different pitchers and 111 individual pitching seasons. I looked at the two years leading up the World Series berth plus the two years after for comparison.

I should mention that I stopped at 2008; I didn’t include the 2009 and 2010 pitchers because it hasn’t been two years since their World Series appearances. The FIP and WAR are weighted averages based on innings pitched, and the innings is just a straight average. There’s a drop-off but not a huge one when you go from the World Series season to the following year or two, less than one-tenth of a run in terms of FIP and about four-tenths of a win. Nine innings is a lot, but not a complete red flag. Against, it’s certainly a drop-off, but not an extreme one.

However, as I was compiling the data, I noticed something: the same pitchers were in the World Series pretty much every year in the late-90’s. Blame that on the Yankees dynasty and the Braves thrice making it to the Fall Classic. As you know, those rosters featured some all-time greats like Greg Maddux, Tom Glavine, John Smoltz, David Cone, Andy Pettitte, Roger Clemens, etc.  Those guys were remarkable for their consistency from year-to-year, rarely seeing a significant change in production whether they pitched in the World Series or not.

So yeah, those guys were skewing the data, or last it appeared that they could be, so I went ahead and eliminated them from the sample. I instead looked at pitchers who started a World Series game from 2002 through 2008, eliminating all the Yankee repeats, the Braves guys, as well as the two freaks of nature Arizona featured in 2001 (Randy Johnson and Curt Schilling). None of those guys are normal pitchers, not in any way, so we shouldn’t lump them in with everyone else. Here’s what I get for the mere mortals…

Now we’re talking. Two-tenths of a run in FIP and almost a full win is a considerable drop-off, as is the 24 inning (!!!) decrease. The declines were evident in both veteran pitchers and young guys as well. Mark Buehrle went from a 3.42 FIP and 6.3 fWAR in 2005 to 5.27 and 1.9 in 2006, respectively. Mike Mussina went from a 3.09 FIP and 6.4 fWAR in 2003 to 3.95 and 3.3 in 2004, respectively. He experienced a similar drop from 2001 to 2002 as well. Young guys like Jeff Francis and Jeremy Bonderman went from career years and a World Series appearance to the disabled list and eventually the surgeon’s table within a year or two. The examples go on and on.

There are certainly exceptions, of course. Some pitchers never feel the consequences of the high workload and continue to pitch well, others actually got better the next year. These guys aren’t all created equal, but as a whole they experienced a decline from a World Series year to the next. Also keep in mind that it’s not just the increased workload that effects the pitcher, it’s the smaller recovery time. Reaching the World Series extends your season by a full month, which means their offseason is that much shorter.

One thing I found interesting was how performance peaked during the World Series year. You need a lot of things to go right to win a World Championship, especially on the pitching side, and this supports that theory. Sometimes a Jeff Weaver or a Jeff Suppan or a Josh Fogg or a Brandon Backe has to turn into an ace for a few weeks to make these things happen. And then they quite often turn back into Weaver or Suppan or Fogg or Backe the next year. It’s not as simple as compiling the best staff on paper and running them out there, performance isn’t guaranteed.

Joe already looked A.J. Burnett‘s workload in recent years and how that may have effected him in 2010, and the 2009 World Series appearance certainly factors into that equation. Pettitte had been through the whole World Series thing a bunch of times before and he showed no ill effects last year. Joba Chamberlain went from starter to reliever while Phil Hughes did the opposite, so it’s tough to get a read on if/how the long ’09 season effected them. CC Sabathia is a freak, and I mean that in the nicest way possible. He’s big, strong, fat, and absurdly durable, and even if the World Series dragged him down last year, it was hardly noticeable.

Obviously this doesn’t really tie into the 2011 Yankees at all, other than Hughes’ considerable increase in innings (which would have been true even if they missed the playoffs), but I’ve been meaning to look into this for a while and figured it was about time to do. It shows you why the Yankees were eager to acquire Javy Vazquez last winter (protect against injury), and why it’s so damn hard to repeat these days.

500 words on Michael Young
Yanks offense can overcome the pitching problems
  • jsbrendog (returns)

    but mark buehrle has a ring?!

    • Ryan Tenpenny

      Yes he does, he a got a World Series ring for the White Sox, his first MLB team won the 2005 World Series.

  • Steve H

    If you were team that expected to contend every year, would you consider having your guys throw thru the full month of October? I know throwing on the side isn’t the same as pitching in the playoffs, but could it be worth it to try and train your pitchers (and more importantly their arms) into thinking that it is a 7 month season and not a 6 month season? It’ll never happen because it’s too unconventional, but I wonder if the positives would outweigh the negatives.

    • Ted Nelson

      I have no idea, but you could argue that it would just wear out their arms every season.

      • Steve H

        Yeah, I doubt we’ll ever find out if it would be a help or be a hindrance.

    • MattG

      Not only will this not never happen, but it most certainly will happen. There are already coaches out there that are proponents of throwing year round, and I bet there are already individual players doing this.

    • Ed

      I think the downside of that is that pitchers are just too fragile to begin with. The extra wear and tear is risky.

      Also, most players are rather banged up at the end of the season. You’re giving up recovery time to get that extra conditioning. Who knows which is more valuable.

  • Fabio

    I’m not sure I see any evidence for this hangover effect. This looks just like something you should expect to happen. Teams that won the WS more likely than not overperformed over the year, and therefore should regress. Injury risk, for instance, would appear as a smaller quantity of IP, but comparing the years before and after the WS you don’t see any meaningful difference. If anything, it is skewed in the opposite direction.

    • FachoinaNYY

      I think you make some really good points here where the data seems to support the idea of a hangover effect, but might not be the case.

      Made me think, nice comment.

    • MattG

      I was going to post something similar, but I would also add that the pitchers in question are 1 and 2 years older when we are seeing their decline, which is a factor. And once you’ve removed the special pitchers, you are leaving behind the others that rarely show any consistency year-to-year to begin with. Some portion of this data is due to them pitching better than they should in the World Series years, rather than worse than they should after World Series years. The data from the 2 years prior supports this.

      • Brian in NH

        I would agree with you on the point that Fabio makes, but with the age point, I don’t agree as much. Mike said that, outside of the absolute premier pitchers, age wasn’t a factor as the declines affected both young and old alike. If you had a 25 year old pitching on your world series team, wouldn’t you expect that as he nears his age 27-30ish season he would actually get better? Those are the best performance years afterall.

    • Accent Shallow

      I’m more or less with you here, especially since Mike had to pare down the data. Not that it’s not useful, but it’s like xFIP — useful for the vast mass of players (“we can typically expect this for the entire population”), but not quite as useful for individuals.

  • Johnny O

    I’m surprised at how much more the drop off is in year 2 after the world series. I would’ve guessed that after a down year 1 after WS, that year 2 after WS would be a nice little bounce back. so could AJ Burnett be even worse this year??? Shudder….

    • bakekrukow412

      Cue the Jaws music.

    • The Real JobaWockeeZ

      He only had one playoff start so if he sucks even more which is possible I don’t think it has anything to do with that start though.

    • vin

      “I’m surprised at how much more the drop off is in year 2 after the world series.”

      Maybe the pitchers are suffering from a hangover 2 years later… or maybe they’re just two years older and are less effective than they were during the WS runs due to age, recent injuries, etc.

      There’s more than one factor in play here.

  • aaron

    could age be a confounding factor? these guys are also two years older when they are two years out from the WS. how does this look if you control for age?

    • vin


    • fire levine

      What about pitchers who are younger in their WS year. Theoretically they should Be entering their prime 2 years later. Meaning, if a pitcher is 26 during his WS years he should be better when he’s 28. Not worse

  • Dustin P

    I think AJ and Joba just are not that good.

    • brockdc

      Bingo. They’ve been overvalued from the start.

  • Russ has a last name

    I would be interested to see the numbers if this were expanded to LCS berths as well.

    You think there would be much of a difference?

  • Tom Zig

    If you look from year to year Cole Hamels is a good example of the WS hangover effect. His ERA+ dropped by 45 points from 08-09.

    • Mike Axisa

      His strikeout, walk, and homerun rates were basically identical though. His FIP was in fact identical (3.72) in 2008 and 2009.

      • Tom Zig

        Weird. So I guess it is true, he was just unlucky. All the other stats are the same across the board, except BABIP. His BABIP jumped 60 points.

  • MattG

    Granted, pitchers that go deep into the playoffs have extra innings and a 4 month off-season (as opposed to a five month off-season), but no one is sitting on the couch eating bon-bons. Assuming there is a hangover, in 4 months, there should be ample time to craft an off-season training program to mitigate this.

  • Fair Weather Freddy

    Very true. Although I wonder if Tim Lincecum will have arm trouble down the road with that violent delivery of his and his realatively small frame, especially if he pitches deep into October in the next couple of seasons

  • RL

    Nice article and some great comments. While on the surface the extra workload would appear to contribute the to “hangover”, age and normal pitcher inconsistency year-to-year (pitching “over their heads” in a WS year) could also be contributors. Not sure if any stats could identify if these contribute to the change in stats. Another article that makes you think and brings out the best in RAB posters!

  • misterd

    Have you considered the possibility that the pitchers are in the WS precisely because they are having career years, and what follows is a normal regression?

  • tim randle

    could it not be the other way around? prehaps there is no hangover effect after the WS, but you happen to win the WS when your pitching peaks.

  • Mike Myers

    Good thing we got Javy to eat up innings. Or, to get eaten up by the innings….ZING!

  • Samuel

    By eliminating all the really good pitchers, the Yankees guys, the Braves hurlers plus Schilling and Johnson, you finally got what you wanted to show.

    Basically you kept moving around the number until you found something to skewer your findings to the answer you wanted.

    That more innings SOMETIMES led to worse production.

    Typical sabermetric garbage.

    • Mike Axisa

      Are you serious? I presented both sets of data and showed that hey, these historically great pitchers are skewing things. Perhaps we should not include them because they are extreme cases.

    • Urban

      Sorry, didn’t see this before I posted. You’re sort of saying the same thing I am below, although it’s hardly “typical sabermetic garbage.” The point of sabermetrics is to analyze baseball through objective evidence. Mike A. presented both data sets.

    • the Other Steve S.

      Looks like a government poll. I hear there’s no inflation and unemployment is down to 9.0%.

  • Urban

    Interesting study, Mike, although I wonder if by eliminating the true studs, the study further focuses on a group that will include a greater percentage of second-tier pitchers, who are more vairable. So what you might be showing is not a hang-over effect as much as proving, as you said, that “a lot of things to go right to win a World Championship, especially on the pitching side.” These guys peaked, which is why they won their teams made it to the World Series, yet they were also bound to regress the following year, regardless of their pitching load.

    • Samuel


      Great pitchers pitch great.

      Good pitchers usually throw pretty well.

      And bad to mediocre pitchers have their 15 minutes of fame once in a while which helps lead to a World Series appearance due to their improved performance during one season.

      It has nothing to do with workloads.

  • Davor

    you need to make some further calculations. First, you have to separate all the pitchers who were in minors or on innings limit in y-1 and y-2 and present them and the rest of the pitchers. Those pitchers may influence y-1 and y-2 results. Do [b]not[/b] take out established pitchers who were injured of were so bad they were in the minors, only young ones who had no chance pitching full season in the majors.
    Also, you need comparable sample. Take, for example, pitchers from the first team that didn’t get into playoffs in both leagues. Make the same sample – best four starters, full group, separate legends and those who were in WS in y-2 or y-1, and separate young guys (y-2 or y-1 wasn’t full season) and rest. Then compare results with these.

  • Zack

    I will say this about 01… it wasn’t like we were lighting up the scoreboard on nights Schilling and Johnson weren’t pitching…