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New York Mets: Building the greatest rotation in team history

By Jason Dye
DENVER, CO - JUNE 18: Jacob deGrom #48 of the New York Mets pitches against the Colorado Rockies in the first inning of a game at Coors Field on June 18, 2018 in Denver, Colorado. (Photo by Dustin Bradford/Getty Images)
DENVER, CO - JUNE 18: Jacob deGrom #48 of the New York Mets pitches against the Colorado Rockies in the first inning of a game at Coors Field on June 18, 2018 in Denver, Colorado. (Photo by Dustin Bradford/Getty Images) /
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1988: Dwight Gooden of the New York Mets pitches during a game in the 1988 season. ( Photo by: Mike Powell/Getty Images) /

The Ace

Dwight Gooden – 1985

Dwight Gooden’s signature season of 1985 was truly one for the record books. A year after taking New York and the sports world by storm as a nineteen-year-old rookie phenom, who seemed to be striking everyone out (his 11.4 K/9 was more than twice the league average at that time), earning himself the surgical moniker, ”Dr. K”, in the process, he was actually ready to kick it up a notch as a twenty-year-old.

Doc only needed two tools in his medical bag to perform surgery; an electric fastball and a ridiculous hook. These two brilliant tools were more than enough to slice up the National League in 1985, however.

Although a case could be made that Dwight’s fastball was actually four separate pitches. Hear me out.

As overpowering as his dynamic fastball was, hitters could not cover the entire plate but would, rather, have to focus on a single side of the plate, or even quadrant of the strike zone. If you step into the box looking to turn on a high inside heater and he, instead, darts the corner low and outside you’re looking for the wrong pitch, even though both pitches are fastballs.

Each quadrant was essentially a different pitch and Gooden could throw gas to all four corners equally well in 1985.

And if the good doctor was also controlling his diving curveball, you can just pack up and go home now because you don’t stand a chance. The pitch was barely hittable and if you did luck out and make some kind of contact it certainly wasn’t anything resembling hard contact.

I don’t believe that they measured spin rate back in 1985, but it’s just as well as Doc’s curveball may have broken the machine.

And then, of course, the two pitches played so well off of each other. Both coming from the same over-the-top arm slot with the same slinging arm motion. Yikes!

Tommy Lasorda may have said it best when speaking about Doc in ’85, calling Gooden the ”right-handed Sandy Koufax” because of his wicked fastball, curveball combination.

We certainly want to consider the ”showtime” factor here as well. When Dr. K toed the rubber it was an event and was easily the hottest ticket in town (in a town with a lot of options).

Everyone expected greatness every time out and in 1985, what the shy kid from Florida lacked in charisma off the mound he more than made up for when on it.

Let’s also not forget the fact that ”The Kid”, Gary Carter, stepped into the picture in 1985 and had a wonderful in-game influence on the young phenom making Doc a more comfortable and confident pitcher.

Gooden’s new battery-mate had caught the rookie in the All-Star game the year before (in addition to being named the game’s MVP) and Dwight thrived, to say the least. This chance 1984 meeting simply foreshadowing his 1985 success.

A physical specimen, Gooden had the perfect pitcher’s frame – tall and slim, with long, powerful legs, large hands, and an explosive right arm.

His pitching motion was exaggerated but fluid and consistent. A high leg kick (even from the stretch) where his left knee met his hands at shoulder level and danced briefly before they separated once again, opening up his hips and triggering his long, powerful right arm, propelled by his lower half, to whip over the top with either a lightning bolt or a looping knee-buckler.

Think fast.

But the numbers paint a picture as well. In 1985 Doc lead the National League with twenty-four victories (becoming the youngest pitcher ever to hit the 20-win plateau), sixteen complete games, 276.2 innings pitched, 268 strikeouts, and a 229 adjusted ERA (12th all-time), to go along with his eight shutouts and 0.97 WHIP on the season.

In recent years many sabermetricians and major league executives alike have utilized WAR as the metric of choice to measure a player’s contribution to the most important thing in baseball – winning games. A single, distilled number which rates a given player’s value.

Let’s do the same to help us put Gooden’s 1985 season in perspective by utilizing this measure.

Gooden’s WAR in 1985 was a whopping 13.3. Again for perspective, this is the second highest single-season WAR in the last hundred years behind only Babe Ruth’s 1923 season in which the Sultan of Swat had his personal single-season high in WAR at 14.1 and won the one and only MVP award of his mythical baseball career.

And speaking of MVP awards, Dr. K finished fourth in National League MVP voting in 1985.

So, when using WAR as a measure, Gooden’s 1985 campaign (at twenty-years-old) rates higher than all but one of the great Bambino’s seasons. Impressive.

Maybe Doc should have been higher in the MVP voting.

But we don’t have to go back to 1923 to get perspective. Last season Jacob deGrom won the Cy Young Award with only ten wins on the entire season on the strength of his sterling 1.70 season ERA. ERA being deemed the most important stat to measure a pitcher by because limiting earned runs is the most essential and crucial job a pitcher has.

That being said, Gooden’s 1.53 ERA in 1985 is the third lowest in the last hundred years behind only Bob Gibson in 1965 (a ridiculous 1.12 ERA) and Walter Johnson in 1919 (1.48 ERA).

With all of the above considered, 1985 Dr. K has to be the ace of this staff.

It has nothing whatsoever to do with the fact that my first big league ballgame was Doc’s twenty-second win that season in which he pitched eight innings without allowing an earned run and hit his first major league home run against the Pittsburgh Pirates. (Thanks, mom!)

Gooden’s 1985 campaign did eventually end, however, and the innocent young pitching star, with perhaps the best raw ”stuff” in the history of the game, that we knew and loved never returned again.

Instead, a combination of sky-high expectations, possible over-usage, and partying clouded things on and off the field, no longer allowing his thoughts to simply revolve around baseball while also compromising his body in the process.

Doc’s career actually continued for another fifteen years during which he threw a no-hitter and won a World Series (both with the crosstown Yankees nonetheless), but was never the dominant pitcher he was in his first two seasons again. For the purposes of what we’re looking for here (one magical season), however, 1985 Dr. K is the ace of my Mets’ staff every day of the week.