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SportsColumnistsAnthony Rieber

Jacob deGrom had an all-time great season, but not as great as Dwight Gooden in 1985

New York Mets pitcher Dwight Gooden in action

New York Mets pitcher Dwight Gooden in action in 1985.  Credit: AP/Ray Stubblebine

As the innings piled up and the near certainty of an NL Cy Young award grew for Jacob deGrom this season, Mets manager Mickey Callaway had to reach deep into his bag of hyperbole to describe the amazing performances he was getting from the righthander every five days.

From calling deGrom “the best pitcher on the planet” to musing about where his season fits in Mets and baseball history, Callaway didn’t disappoint when it came to pumping up his player. Especially before deGrom’s final start of the season on Wednesday, when he finished with a flourish with eight shutout innings and 10 strikeouts in a 3-0 win over the Braves.

“I think if he finishes the way he’s been doing it,” Callaway said, “it’s going be the best season ever, in my mind, with the caliber of play and how hard it is to pitch these days.”

Best season ever?

Was it?

According to two advanced metrics, it was not. It wasn’t even the best season in Mets history. That honor still belongs to Dwight Gooden’s 1985 campaign.

DeGrom went 10-9 with a 1.70 ERA in 32 starts. He struck out 269 in 217 innings. He threw one complete game. He was locked in all year. He was unbelievably good.

Just not as good as 1985 Doc.

DeGrom had an “adjusted ERA plus” of 217, according to ERA plus is a metric that takes a pitcher’s ERA and adjusts it according to the pitcher's ballpark and the ERA of the pitcher's league. A league average ERA plus is 100.

You like WAR? Not everyone does, but deGrom’s Wins Above Replacement (according to Baseball-Reference) was 9.6.

Now for Gooden. In 1985, Gooden went 24-4 with a 1.53 ERA. In 35 starts, he threw 16 complete games, eight shutouts, 276 2/3 innings and struck out 268. 

Gooden, who was 20 years old, had an ERA plus of 229 and a WAR of 12.5.

Gooden’s season is 11th all-time in ERA plus since 1900. DeGrom’s is tied for 19th.

Ron Darling, Gooden’s teammate in 1985 and a current SNY broadcaster, disagrees with the metrics.

“I never thought I’d see another season like Dwight’s,” Darling said. “As far as run prevention, being on point with every pitch, mentally being there for six months, I’ve never seen a better performance than Jacob’s. I think as far as precision and stuff, he mirrored to me a Pedro Martinez season. And that’s good enough.”

Speaking of Pedro Martinez, he owns the single-season record for highest ERA plus with a 291. In 2000, when he was with the Red Sox, the future Hall of Famer went 18-6 with a 1.74 ERA. In 29 starts, Martinez threw 213 1/3 innings and struck out 284. His WAR was 11.7.

Why was Martinez’s ERA plus so high? Well, the average AL ERA in 2000 was 4.92, which is the highest of this century. So Martinez’s 1.74 ERA was more than three runs per game better than the league average.

Here are some other notable pitching seasons and how they stack up in ERA plus:

* Bob Gibson’s 1968, the year of the pitcher: 258 (sixth all-time). Gibson went 22-9 with a 1.12 ERA and 13 shutouts. 

* Ron Guidry’s 1978: 208 (tied for 31st all-time). Guidry went 25-3 with a 1.74 ERA with nine shutouts.

* Steve Carlton’s 1972: 182. Carlton went 27-10 with a 1.92 ERA for a 59-97 Phillies team. It stands out as the best season ever for a bad team, but ERA plus was not as impressed because the NL’s average ERA was 3.26.

* Blake Snell’s 2018: 216. Here’s one you probably didn’t expect to see. Going into Saturday night’s start against Toronto, the Tampa Bay lefthander was 21-5 with a 1.90 ERA. Snell is the favorite to win the AL Cy Young award and was one behind deGrom in ERA plus.

In case you’re wondering, the best pitching WAR season was Walter Johnson’s 1913, when he earned a 15.0 WAR by going 36-7 with a 1.14 ERA in 346 innings. Johnson made 36 starts with 29 complete games and 11 shutouts. He also made 12 relief appearances and had two saves. His ERA plus was 259 (fifth all-time).


2018        Season    1985

32           Starts        35

10-9        Record      24-4

1.70         ERA       1.53

1      Complete games  16

217     Inninings 276 2/3

xxxxx Strikeouts xxxxx

xx.x   WAR 12.5

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