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The first year I really started paying attention to baseball was 1985. I was seven years old and living in Northern New Jersey. My father was a Mets fan and my grandfather a Brooklyn Dodgers fan, so when it came to choosing between the two New York ball clubs you could say I was destined to root for blue and orange.
Out of all the players on that Mets team I instantly gravitated to Dwight Gooden, or Doc as he would come to be called. I fought to wear his number 16 for every team I played on and I spent many a waking hour trying to mimic his windup and trademark leg kick.
Doc didn't just burst on to the baseball scene. He exploded with the force of super nova. At 19 years old, Gooden was utterly dominant, winning 17 games while striking out 276 batters (11.4/9 innings) and posting a 1.07 WHIP. In 1985 (or "The Summer of Doc"), the 20-year old Gooden put together one of the greatest seasons by a starting pitcher the baseball world had ever seen, posting a record of 24-4, striking out 268 batters (8.7/9 innings), and compiling a WHIP of 0.956 and an ERA of 1.53 (good for an ERA+ of 229). In 1986, at 21-years old, he finished the season with 17 wins, 200 strikeouts, and a WHIP of 1.10 all while anchoring the starting rotation of one of the greatest single season teams ever and winning the World Series.
He was, as the graphic above illustrates, arguably the greatest young pitcher out of the gate we have ever seen. The graphic above shows the top 25 pitchers in terms of rWAR over their first three seasons, age 17-23.
No one else (and that includes a host of Hall of Fame pitchers) comes close to Doc.
I took the list of pitchers above and created a heat map with some key statistics in addition to rWAR over their first three seasons. The darkest green indicates that pitcher had the best statistics for a particular metric, dark red indicates the worst:
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Doc dominates, or is near the top, in almost every category.
It's sad to think what could have been with Doc--and I'm certainly not the first person to say this. He had unquestioned talent and proved that he could dominate the very best in the game. Many younger fans outside of the New York metro area don't really appreciate how good Doc truly was. They don't know that he was Stephen Strasburg four years before Strasburg was born. They have no idea about Lord Charles and how many knees he buckled. All they know is that every few years they hear a story about the former pitcher entering rehab or getting arrested yet again.
And that's a shame.
Data obtained through the Baseball-Reference Play Index (link to the specific query)