>Nuthin’ but a “K” Thang: Doc Gooden’s 1985

>Since I refuse to be bothered by thinking about the present-day Mets, instead a look at Mets’ HOF-er Doc Gooden’s 1985.

With the Mets starting pitching options dwindling, especially with my favorite, Joel Pineiro, signing with the L.A. Angels*, I think it’s more calming to look back at the past, to simpler times, back when men were men, the Great Plains were just being settled, when moose and squirrel united to fight communism, when George Washington was in his first term, and when it would have been laughable to suggest the George Lucas would slowly destroy his movie legacy one sequel at a time. Way back in 1985, when the Mets saw Doc Gooden pitch the single greatest season ever thrown by a Met pitcher. 

*The Angels are like that kid you knew in school who always pulled straight A’s, but you could never decide if they were actually smart or just sort-of lucky. The Angels win division title after division title, but then you look at some of the decisions that they make – 5 years/$50mil for Gary Matthews Jr. EDIT: speak of the devil and Omar Minaya will trade for him . . .  – and the number of outs Mike Scioscia runs them into on the bases, and it makes you wonder how they’re pulling all that off. Well, I mean, I do know how – good pitching and they only have to beat out three other teams in their division. But when they had five outfielders signed to multi-year deals in 2008, it made you wonder how they’re pulling it off.

Mets-Angels-Yankees comparison fact for no reason at all: According to Cots Baseball Contracts, the Mets have $44 million dollars committed to their 2013 payroll. The Angels have just $1 million dollars committed to 2013. The Yankees lead with $94.5 million already committed for a season four years in the future.

Today’s blast from the past honors another new Met HOF-er, Dwight Gooden, MD, for his brilliant surgical removal of hitters during the 1985 season. Baseball-projection.com lists Gooden as a 11.7 WAR pitcher that year, ranking his work among the greatest single season performances by a pitcher of all time – of the top 20 pitchers by career WAR, 14 of them never had a season as good as Doc’s ’85, and 2 that did pitched in the 1880’s. The great Tom Seaver never broke 10 WAR in a season.

Gooden went 24-4 with a 1.53 ERA, and an ERA+ of 228. He led the league in wins, ERA, innings pitched, strikeouts, FIP, WPA, “clutch” WPA, and complete games. He was second in win-loss percentage, WHIP, H/9, K/9, and shutouts. He made the top eight in BB/9, K/BB, and HR/9. The league OPS+ against Gooden was 48. His ERA in 6 September/October starts was 0.34, giving up 2 earned runs over his final 53 innings. He had an ERA of 2.89 in his four losses. He even got the running game under control. Sort of. Base-stealers stole 47 bases off Gooden in ’84, being caught just 5 times. They were 22 for 32 in 1985 – you can’t do everything well I guess.

I ranked Gooden’s five best games from ’85 by something I’m going to call “leveraged game score”, which is exactly what it sounds like – technical notes follow. Skip the next two paragraphs if you don’t care. You don’t miss much – I took the Bill James “Game Score”* and multiplied it by the average leverage index next to it on the BR page. In less geek terms for those readers that like to “spend time outside” or “interact with other members of the human race”, I’m taking a rating of Gooden’s performance in each game and raising or lowering it based on how close the game was. For example, a 2-0, complete game shutout will be rated higher than a 10-0 complete game shutout. Gooden gets a higher score for pitching well in tighter games – it sort of gives credit to the pitcher for “keeping the game close.” In addition, I figure that someone pitching with a 10-run lead has an easier job to do because they can attack the zone with fastballs more and they’re less inclined to pitch around anyone, among other things. Blowouts can sort of artifically raise one’s game scores, so I’m trying to account for that. I haven’t played around with this enough to decide if it’s a more or less valid way to look at a pitcher’s performance, but at least it’s another way.

*To calculate a starter’s game score, start with 50 points, add 1 point for each out, 2 points for each inning completed after the fourth, 1 point for each strikeout, then subtract 2 points for each hit, 4 points for each earned run, 2 points for each unearned run, and 1 point for each walk. 

I think it’s useful for evaluating well-pitched, tight games – for example, Johan Santana’s performance in the second-to-last game of 2008 has a game score of 87, which is good-but-not-great. If you watched that game, you know that Johan pitched an absolute gem in a nail-biter – Cody Ross still wakes up at night in a cold sweat thinking about those changeups. If Santana gets credit for the closeness of the score, his “leveraged game score” jumps up to 102. 102 is a great leveraged game score – but Doc Gooden broke 100 ten times in 1985. He was ridiculous. Here are his five best:

5. September 6, Mets @ Dodgers. Mets win 2-0 in 13 innings.

Gooden – 9 IP, 0 ER, 5 H, 10 K, 0 BB, Leveraged Game Score (LGS) 124

Something unrelated about 1985: Tetris is released. No one ever does work again.

No decision for Gooden here because he matched up against Fernando Valenzuela, who pitched 11 shutout innings himself. Gooden retired the first four batters he faced, allowed a single, and then retired the next eight batters, striking out the side in the fourth. He allowed a single to start the fifth and then immediately eliminated the runner with a double play on his way to retiring another seven consecutive batters. The game was sent into extra innings on a strike-em-out-throw-em-out double play to end the Dodgers ninth inning, and Gooden was removed for a pinch hitter in the top of the next inning. The Mets would take the lead on a 2 out, 2-RBI double by Darryl Strawberry in the top of the 13th and Jesse Orosco stayed in to lock it down in the bottom of the inning. Keith Hernandez, who scored the go-ahead run in the 13th, didn’t arrive at Dodger Stadium until the fifth inning. He had testified in the cocaine trials in Pittsburgh earlier in the day. Thankfully, that was the last time baseball would ever have a controversy about drugs . . .

4. September 11, Cardinals @ Mets. Cardinals win 1-0 in 10 innings.

Gooden – 9 IP, 0 ER, 5 H, 9 K, 3 BB, LGS 130

Something unrelated about 1985: The world’s most philosophical cartoon six-year-old, Calvin of the comic strip “Calvin and Hobbes”, makes his first appearance when the strip debuts in 35 newspapers.

Another brilliantly pitched no decision for Gooden in another duel that went into extra innings. It’s stunning that Doc won 24 games and still had two consecutive games where nine shutout innings netted him a no decision in each. He was better than his 24-4 record indicated, if that’s even possible. Gooden would throw a shutout victory in his next start, part of a 31 inning scoreless streak during which he went 1-1 with two no-decisions. 

Gooden retired the first ten batters to face him and fought his way into and out of a bases loaded jam in the eighth. Jesse Orosco allowed the games only run on a lead-off home run in the tenth to Cesar Cedeno. John Tudor pitched all 10 innings for the Cardinals and got the win. I believe there is now a Showtime series based on the pitching Tudor and his family, though I’ve never seen it.

3. May 30, Mets @ Giants, Mets win 2-1

Gooden – 9 IP, 1 ER, 6 H, 14 K, 1 BB, LGS 130

Something unrelated about 1985: The “Unabomber” was keeping busy in 1985, sending out multiple explosive packages.

Doc finally gets a win. His one walk was surrendered to the game’s leadoff hitter, but he finished in style, striking out the side in order in the
ninth, and in between surrender a lone solo shot. The Mets scored their runs on a George Foster home run and a Gary Carter RBI single.

Davey Johnson missed the end of the game – he was ejected in the eighth after accusing the umpires of trying to bait Keith Hernandez, who had himself been ejected the game prior.

2. July 14, Mets @ Astros, Mets win 1-0

Gooden – 9 IP, 0 ER, 5 H, 11 K, 2 BB, LGS 138

Something unrelated about 1985: The Discovery Channel launches on July 17th. Sadly, Shark Week doesn’t debut until two years later. David Wright Week doesn’t debut for another 25 years.

This was the final game of an eleven game road trip during which the Mets went 10-1. The Mets scored their one run in the eighth, when Astros second baseman Bill Doran threw the ball away on what should have been an inning-ending double play – a hard Lenny Dykstra slide ruined Doran’s throw. The ball rolled into right field, allowing Ronn Reynolds to score from third. Kelvin Chapman, the batter who grounded into the potential double play, tried for a little league home run but was thrown out at the plate by Astros’ RF Jerry Mumphrey.

No RBI or earned runs for either team in this game.

1. June 19, Cubs @ Mets, Mets win 1-0

Gooden – 9 IP, 0 ER, 6 H, 9 K, 2 BB, 154 LGS

Something unrelated about 1985: The first “Back to the Future” movie is released. Audiences wonder why that one kid in Biff’s crew is always wearing 3-D glasses.

Mets scored the game’s lone run on a fourth inning Howard Johnson groundout. 51,778 people poured into Shea to watch Gooden pitch that night, the largest crowd the Mets had in eight years. It had become clear by June that the 20-year-old Gooden was doing something special in 1985, and Gooden pleased the packed audience by going the distance and shutting down the Cubs. Gooden did cause a little drama in the ninth when he allowed back-to-back pinch hit singles to start the ninth, but induced two popups and struck out Thad Bosley to end the game.


Every game reaction quote of Gooden’s I could dig up from 1985 is some dull variation of “I felt great out there”, “I felt I pitched great”, “my fastball felt good” – not particularly interesting or informative stuff. All of the useful insight into Gooden’s performances came from Davey Johnson or Gary Carter. A September NY Times article written about Gooden’s phenomenal season contains only quotes from Carter and not a single word from the Doctor himself. I don’t know if it’s that because Gooden didn’t have anything interesting to say about himself, or rather because he may have been uncomfortable saying anything at all. Things like his “oversleeping” for the parade in 1986 and not showing up to pick up his Cy Young Award are often attributed to his drug troubles, though I wonder if maybe both his flakiness, the drugs, and the dull quotes could all be related to the shyness and not just the drugs alone.

Of course, now he just signs his name wherever he pleases, so maybe he’s over the shyness.

Whatever you want to think about Doc Gooden, these two things are true:

A. His story is a sad one thus far.

B. Doc’s 1985 was the greatest single season performance by a Mets player.
Hopefully his induction into the Mets HOF is a signal that he finally has everything turned around.


Two final things:

According to Gooden’s father, “Doc D” was Gooden’s nickname since childhood, and it was changed to “Doctor K” when he joined the Mets. I have no idea if that’s true.

Finally, real quickly, and for no reason at all, five random pitching “Docs” who do not hold medical degrees, at least when they were playing. Actually, it’s entirely possible the last two were actually turn-of-the-last-century doctors and got their nickname from that:

1. Dwight “Doc” Gooden
2. Roy “Doc” Halladay – he’s going to pass Gooden this season to become the all-time leader in doc WAR    
3. Dock “I threw a no-hitter on” Ellis “D”
4. Doc Ayers
5. Doc Newton

EDIT: Commentor below let me know about Doc Medich, who was an actual doctor. According to his BR Bullpen page, he once went into the stands to perform CPR on a fan. Wikipedia says he actually performed CPR on fans twice.

1 Comment

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One response to “>Nuthin’ but a “K” Thang: Doc Gooden’s 1985

  1. Anonymous

    >Don't forget Doc Medich, who played for the Yankees, Pirates and Brewers. He later actually graduated medical school.

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