Dwight Gooden: Hall-of-Famer?
Dwight Gooden had one of the finest seasons in major-league history in 1985 at the tender age of 20. In my opinion, he also has a stronger Hall-of-Fame case than he has been given credit for.
The first table below presents Dwight Gooden's career as measured by Player won-lost records.
Basic Player Won-Lost Records
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|CAREER (reg. season)|| || |
Those are very good numbers. In fact, Gooden's career totals, especially the pWOPA (and pWORL) numbers are enough to warrant serious Hall-of-Fame consideration.
Most Similar Players to Dwight Gooden
I recently introduced a set of tables that identify the players who were most similar to a particular player at a given set of ages based on Player won-lost records. The twenty most similar players in career value to Dwight Gooden among players for whom I have calculated Player won-lost records are shown in the next table.
That's a fairly impressive group of comps. The player whose career was most similar in value to Gooden's was a teammate of Gooden's for both New York teams, David Cone. Cone is not in the Hall of Fame, but he is in the Hall of Merit. The second, third, and fourth players on the list, are all in the Hall of Fame. Overall, of the 20 pitchers in the above table, 7 are in the Hall of Merit (Cone, Newhouser, Lemon, Hubbell, Pierce, Reuschel, and Koufax) and 5 (Newhouser, Lemon, Hubbell, Gomez, and Koufax) are in the Hall of Fame.
Looking at the numbers here, it's certainly not obvious that Dwight Gooden had a Hall-of-Fame worthy career. But it's also not obvious that he didn't.
Young Dwight Gooden
Dwight Gooden burst onto the scene like few, if any, others have before him, leading the major leagues in strikeouts as a 19-year-old rookie in 1984 and having one of the greatest seasons ever the next season at age 20. At age 21, Dwight Gooden was the ace of a World Series winner.
The next table shows the ten players most similar to Dwight Gooden in Player won-lost records through age 28 (1993 for Gooden).
Now that's a list! Eight of the nine eligible players in the table are in the Hall of Fame. But Dwight Gooden's career didn't end in 1993.
Old Dwight Gooden
The next table shows the players most similar to Dwight Gooden in Player won-lost records from age 29 to the end of their career.
With all due respect to him, who the heck is Alex Kellner? It turns out he was a pitcher for the Philadelphia and Kansas City A's in the 1940s and 1950s.
Anyway, compared to the previous list, that's a whole lot of yuck. Gooden earned more pWORL in one year at age 20 than he did in the last seven years of his career.
One player in the above table actually makes for a fairly decent comp with Gooden. Fernando Valenzuela also burst onto the scene winning a Cy Young award at age 20. He also finished top 5 in Cy Young voting three more times, the last at age 25. In fact, Valenzuela actually shows up number one on a list of players most similar to Dwight Gooden through age 25. The next table compares Gooden and Valenzuela in Player won-lost records by age.
| ------ || ------ || ------ || ------ || ------ || ------ || ------ || ------ || ------ || ------ || ------ || ------ || ------ |
|Ages 19 - 25||211||105.1||77.9||0.574||18.7|
|Ages 26 - 28||90||39.8||37.9||0.512||3.1|
|Ages 29 - 36||132||39.1||40.2||0.493||0.2|
Both Valenzuela and Gooden were excellent through age 25 and mediocre from age 29 on. In both cases, however, Gooden was probably better (although not by much in the latter case). Perhaps the biggest semantic difference is from ages 26 - 28, when Gooden was still pretty good (but certainly no longer great), while Valenzuela had already fallen to his post-28 level of mediocre.
Overall, while the shapes of their two careers are vaguely similar, there's not really much comparison in terms of quality: Gooden had a much better career than Valenzuela.
Best Pitcher of the 1980s?
Jack Morris was almost elected to the Hall of Fame, in large part based on a claim that he was the best pitcher of the 1980s. The most common piece of evidence in support of this position is that Morris had the most pitcher wins in the 1980s. In addition to pitcher wins, Morris actually also has the most pWins of any pitcher in the 1980s. But that total barely makes the top 40 among all players. Personally, I think the pro-Morris argument is stronger than a lot of other sabermetric-inclined fans tend to think, but, that said, it's an argument of quantity (most innings, complete games) over quality.
Dwight Gooden was 15 years old when the 1980s began. He wasn't even drafted by the Mets until 1982 and he didn't make his major-league debut until the fifth season of the 1980s. Here are the top 10 players in pWOPA from 1980 through 1989.
There's only one pitcher on that list.
Switching from wins over positional average to wins over replacement level gives a bit more weight to quantity over quality. The next table shows the top 20 players of the 1980s in pWOPA.
Gooden manages to make the top 20 players of the 1980s even against replacement level, although four other pitchers manage to slip past him on the list: Dave Stieb, Fernando Valenzuela, the aforementioned Jack Morris, and Bob Welch.
But still, one could make an argument that perhaps Dwight Gooden was the best pitcher of the 1980s.
The Hall-of-Fame Case for Dwight Gooden
So, where does all of this leave us? Dwight Gooden had one of the best seasons in major-league history, an opening to his career that matched up with some of the best pitchers of the past sixty years, and an overall career that is comparable to a few guys who are on the borderline of the Hall of Fame.
I tend to be a pretty big-Hall guy. I also tend to be fairly open-minded about the type of player I support for the Hall-of-Fame, although if I have a preference, it's for peak cases over career cases (which obviously favors Dwight Gooden). Basically, if you can build a credible Hall-of-Fame case for a player - not a borderline case, but a clear "he belongs in the Hall" case - I'm inclined to support him, regardless of exactly how that case is built.
So what is Dwight Gooden's Hall-of-Fame case?
Dwight Gooden's Hall-of-Fame case is clearly a peak case and he clearly looks stronger in pWins than in eWins. In terms of Player Wins, Dwight Gooden's Hall-of-Fame case comes down to two tables.
The first table shows the top 10 players in pWOPA and pWORL for the 10 seasons from 1984 - 1993.
The second table shows the top 75 players in career pWOPA.
Being arguably the 2nd-best player in major-league baseball over a ten-year period and among the top 75 players over the past 80+ years certainly is enough to get you into the Hall of Fame conversation. But is it enough to put him in? Coupled with Gooden's one-year (1985) and three-year (1984-86) peaks, I lean yes. Not that my opinion matters, of course.
All articles are written so that they pull data directly from the most recent version of the Player won-lost database. Hence, any numbers cited within these articles should automatically incorporate the most recent update to Player won-lost records. In some cases, however, the accompanying text may have been written based on previous versions of Player won-lost records. I apologize if this results in non-sensical text in any cases.
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