#2 – Dwight Gooden: Best Young Pitchers

Opening Day 2011 will be the 50th Opening Day in Mets history. To honor that, around here we’ll be counting down the top 50 Mets in team history, one every weekday from now until we’ve done ‘em all. Today, #2, Dwight Gooden:

The best pitchers by age 19:

Rk Player WAR From To Age W L ERA ERA+ Tm
1 Bob Feller 10.1 1936 1938 17-19 31 21 3.78 124 CLE
2 Gary Nolan 6.8 1967 1967 19-19 14 8 2.58 147 CIN
3 Dwight Gooden 5.4 1984 1984 19-19 17 9 2.60 137 NYM
4 Larry Dierker 5.3 1964 1966 17-19 17 17 3.28 103 HOU
5 Rube Bressler 3.5 1914 1914 19-19 10 4 1.77 148 PHA
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Play Index Tool Used
Generated 3/23/2011.

Bob Feller is the best teenage pitcher in baseball history, coming up at age 17, but maybe not the most dominant. Feller led the league in strikeouts (240 K) as a 19 year old, but didn’t have any control, as he also led the league in walks (208 BB). As 19 year olds, Dwight Gooden led the league in strikeouts and Gary Nolan led the league in strikeout rate, and both of them had strikeout-to-walk ratios above 3.3. Feller succeed through effective wildness, while Gooden and Nolan were perhaps more refined products.

The best pitchers by age 20:

Rk Player WAR From To Age W L ERA ERA+ Tm
1 Bob Feller 18.7 1936 1939 17-20 55 30 3.43 133 CLE
2 Dwight Gooden 17.1 1984 1985 19-20 41 13 2.00 176 NYM
3 Gary Nolan 10.2 1967 1968 19-20 23 12 2.51 141 CIN
4 Bert Blyleven 8.4 1970 1971 19-20 26 24 2.95 123 MIN
5 Christy Mathewson 7.5 1901 1901 20-20 20 17 2.41 138 NYG
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Play Index Tool Used
Generated 3/23/2011.

At age 20, Feller cuts his walks from 208 to 142 — a figure that still leads the league — and strikes out 246. Gooden, on the other hand, has one of the best seasons in history, leading the NL in wins, ERA, strikeouts, and complete games. Feller still leads by nature of his high inning total, but inning for inning, Gooden is the more effective pitcher. Gary Nolan starts to drop off the list, as a pair of Hall of Famers, Blyleven and Mathewson, join the party.

The best pitchers by age 21:

Rk Player WAR From To Age W L ERA ERA+ Tm
1 Bob Feller 28.1 1936 1940 17-21 82 41 3.19 140 CLE
2 Dwight Gooden 21.5 1984 1986 19-21 58 19 2.28 155 NYM
3 Frank Tanana 13.2 1973 1975 19-21 32 30 2.88 120 CAL
4 Bert Blyleven 12.9 1970 1972 19-21 43 41 2.86 122 MIN
5 Gary Nolan 12.2 1967 1969 19-21 31 20 2.74 131 CIN
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Play Index Tool Used
Generated 3/23/2011.

Feller and Gooden still hold down the first and second spot, but Feller starts to move ahead. Feller is still getting better at age 21, leading the league in just about everything (except walks, for the first time in two years); Gooden has the third best season of his career, but is beginning a sharp decline into a lesser pitcher. Blyleven and Nolan hang on to spots in the top five, while Frank Tanana makes an appearance.

The best pitchers by age 22:

Rk Player WAR From To Age W L ERA ERA+ Tm
1 Bob Feller 35.6 1936 1941 17-22 107 54 3.18 136 CLE
2 Dwight Gooden 25.3 1984 1987 19-22 73 26 2.46 146 NYM
3 Bert Blyleven 22.1 1970 1973 19-22 63 58 2.76 132 MIN
4 Frank Tanana 20.4 1973 1976 19-22 51 40 2.73 125 CAL
5 Larry Dierker 19.8 1964 1969 17-22 55 50 3.00 111 HOU
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Play Index Tool Used
Generated 3/23/2011.

Gooden is just treading water at this point, failing to reach both the 200 inning and 200 strikeout marks for the first time in his career, though he still owns the best ERA+ on the list. Feller throws a league leading 343 innings as a 22 year old, and also leads in hits allowed, walks and strikeout, and Blyleven starts to make a serious push. But you can make a case that Gooden is the most dominant pitcher in baseball history through his age 22 season, based on his ERA/ERA+ lead.

The best pitchers by age 23:

Rk Player WAR From To Age W L ERA ERA+ Tm
1 Bob Feller 35.6 1936 1941 17-22 107 54 3.18 136 CLE
2 Bert Blyleven 29.3 1970 1974 19-23 80 75 2.74 134 MIN
3 Dwight Gooden 28.6 1984 1988 19-23 91 35 2.62 135 NYM
4 Frank Tanana 28.1 1973 1977 19-23 66 49 2.69 131 CAL
5 Christy Mathewson 25.4 1901 1904 20-23 97 59 2.21 139 NYG
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Play Index Tool Used
Generated 3/23/2011.

Blyleven passes Gooden; Feller’s totals are frozen as he goes off to the military, but no one catches him anyway. Gooden throws 248.1 innings as a 23 year old, but hitters aren’t missing anymore, as he sets a career high in hits allowed and fails to strikeout 200 batters again. His ERA+ has also dropped into the pack, though he still has 91 wins as a 23 year old.

The best pitchers by age 24:

Rk Player WAR From To Age W L ERA ERA+ Tm
1 Walter Johnson 36.9 1907 1912 19-24 115 90 1.69 165 WSH
2 Bob Feller 35.6 1936 1941 17-22 107 54 3.18 136 CLE
3 Bert Blyleven 35.1 1970 1975 19-24 95 85 2.78 133 MIN
4 Christy Mathewson 34.5 1901 1905 20-24 128 68 2.02 150 NYG
5 Frank Tanana 30.9 1973 1978 19-24 84 61 2.86 124 CAL
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Play Index Tool Used
Generated 3/23/2011.

Gooden falls off the list here. So the question is: Was he on a Hall of Fame track before his career was derailed? Some of the best pitchers in baseball history appear on these lists — Feller, Mathewson, Blyleven, Johnson — but you also have a handful of burnouts — Nolan, Tanana, and Gooden himself. Success at a young age, particularly as a pitcher, is not a great indicator for sustained success in the major leagues. Gooden could have been on a Hall of Fame track, but it seems just as likely that he was not.

But Gooden, along with Feller, is one of the two best young pitchers in baseball history, and he is the second best player in Mets history.

2 Comments

Filed under Mets, Words

2 responses to “#2 – Dwight Gooden: Best Young Pitchers

  1. Because of the drug problems, there’s always the sense with Doc that he really hurt his own career, as compared to other guys who weren’t ever as effective or who got injured. Among Met fans I hear a degree of bitterness as a result when it comes to Gooden, that I don’t hear with others (Well, except for Doug Sisk, as you shared. He was the Mets’ Ed Whitson for some reason.) I mean, if a kid gets hurt, he gets hurt; or maybe he just wasn’t as good as we thought. Drugs? That makes people irrational, as if he hit the cocaine just to spite others.

    Of course Doc himself also had an injured throwing shoulder, possibly from being overworked.

    • Patrick Flood

      That’s generally my thought on Gooden, too. He was already in decline before the drugs were reported to come in. He was overworked at a young age, and when the league finally adjusted, he never adjusted back.

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