2. Jerry Koosman, 1968
Jerry Koosman threw 22 abysmal innings in 1967 but maintained his rookie status entering the 1968 season. Kooz followed Seaver’s ROY campaign with a brilliant one of his own, though he was eked out in the Rookie of the Year award race by some guy named Johnny Bench.
Koosman might have been the Mets’ best pitcher in 1968. He went 19-12 with a splendid 2.08 ERA over 263.2 innings. Koosman and Seaver were likely the two best pitchers in the N.L. that year not named Bob Gibson, who lit the world on fire with a 1.12 ERA and 258 ERA+ (no, you don’t need glasses) in 304.2 innings. After that season, MLB lowered the pitching mound.
Koosman’s 145 ERA+ was third–well, second amongst non-Gibsons–in the N.L. that season and his 178 strikeouts ranked 10th. Kooz even received a few MVP votes at the end of the year, finishing in 13th place.
Though Koosman never won a Cy Young in his career, his 6.3 bWAR is still the best in Mets history. But while that’s quite impressive, it is not the eye-popping beautiful resplendence that is number one on this list…
1. Dwight Gooden, 1984
Perhaps I never should have been born.
Wait, let me explain.
From 1996 until his retirement 4 years later, Dwight “Doc” Gooden was quite pedestrian. A 4.91 ERA, 1.536 WHIP, and measly 1.38 K-BB ratio is nothing to celebrate. That’s what Doc did in the final five years of the millennium. That’s what Doc did after I was born.
Before I was on this Earth, Dwight Gooden was a machine.
The first 9 rookie seasons on this list interest me because they–for the most part–clearly present the capabilities of a player’s future. We saw this last year, with Ronald Acuña Jr. and Juan Soto, who are now expected to be superstars until they disappear from the majors.
Gooden, however, hit his peak of excitement in his first year in the business. He was elite for years after, but nothing quite compares to his 1984 masterpiece.
Gooden’s career K-rate is 19.6%. As a Met, for 11 years, it was 21.1%. But in 1984, Dwight Gooden struck out 31.4% of the batters he faced. That’s not a ludicrous feat now, but at that time, no pitcher had ever struck out such a high percentage of hitters in that many innings. No one.
Today, 22 pitchers have achieved a K% over 30% in 41 separate seasons, although Gooden’s full accomplishments require some even deeper diving. There are only 16 seasons in which a pitcher threw 210+ innings with a sub-2.70 ERA, a K% over 30%, and an OPS allowed under 65:
- Dwight Gooden, 1984
- Randy Johnson, 7 times
- Pedro Martinez, 3 times
- Johan Santana, 2004
- Clayton Kershaw, 2015
- Max Scherzer, 2018
- Justin Verlander, 2018
- Jacob deGrom, 2018
This is a list of all-time starters, but the most ridiculous thing about Doc’s 1984 is that he was 19 years old for the whole damn season. Nineteen.
As baseball advances as a sport and business, as it enters a statistical and digital world ripe with opportunity, I think it’d be unfair of us as baseball fans to forget our past, whether or not it was our experience. I never watched Doc pitch for the Mets live, but even a spreadsheet of his performance makes my mind explode. Every number is a story. Every number is a dot of paint on the portrait of his career.
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As is the case for all the other rookies who’ve come to the Mets, and all of those who will in the future.