In 1984, a 19-year-old rookie, who flashed an upper-90s fastball and nasty stuff, took baseball by storm.
Before he’d even left his teenage years, the Mets’ Dwight Gooden had struck out a league-best 276 batters, won Rookie of the Year honors, and was halfway through one of the most dominating pitching stretches in baseball history. In that rookie season, Gooden struck out 31.4% of the batters he faced, which led baseball by a mile. Only one other pitcher was even over 23%, and that was a guy who you might know a little bit from his strikeouts: Nolan Ryan. And even he was 5.5 percentage points behind Gooden!
Gooden was worth a whopping 8.3 WAR in 1984, and upped that to 8.9 in 1985. It was an incredible stretch of pitching, and it started when he was just 19 years old in that 1984 season.
Only Kid Nichols and Matt Kilroy posted a greater rookie season WAR in baseball history, but each was older than Gooden in his rookie season. Oh, and those guys pitched before 1900, back when the game was so fundamentally different that Nichols threw 424.0 innings in his rookie season. Kilroy threw 583.0 innings!
Injury and off-field issues beset Gooden in the years that followed, probably limiting what otherwise might have been a clear Hall of Fame career.
Dwight Gooden turns 52 today.