Letting Loose on Use vs. Abuse
In a recent interview with Bert Blyleven, I asked the man who ranks fifth in career strikeouts and ninth in shutouts how Felix Hernandez compared to Dwight Gooden. Blyleven's following response caused several readers to reply in the comments attached to the article and via email.
Again, let's see how Felix does in his next start and how he finishes the season. Baseball has always compared this player to that player. Hernandez has made only two major-league starts. It's not fair to him to start comparing him to Gooden or any other pitcher. "Doc" Gooden had a very bright future in the game of baseball but ruined it by taking drugs. We will never know how good he could have been over a long career because of his choices.
More than a few readers blamed Mel Stottlemyre for Gooden's subsequent decline. In reaction to those comments, I said pointing the finger at Stottlemyre for Gooden's problems would be like finding fault with Darryl Strawberry's hitting coach as the reason he fell short of the high expectations placed upon him.
To get another perspective, I asked Bob Klapisch, who has covered baseball in New York for more than 20 years with the New York Post, New York Daily News, The Bergen Record and ESPN.com, "Do you believe Dwight Gooden's failure to put together a Hall of Fame career is due to overuse, drugs, or some combo of the two?"
Here is what Klapisch, the author of five baseball books (including High and Tight: The Rise and Fall of Dwight Gooden and Darryl Strawberry) had to say:
Definitely drugs and drinking. All the Mets failed to take the game seriously back then, but Doc and Darryl were the worst offenders. They thought it was cool to show up to the park hungover. I remember when Kevin Elster gave it one last go-round with the Yankees in spring training in '02. He still had great hands, but he was like some alien creature to the other players - showing up two minutes before everyone had to be on the field, still smelling of beer and cigarettes. Everyone else had already been in the complex for two hours working out, but Elster - like all the other Eighties Mets - never believed in that. Gooden especially.
Klapisch, who also co-authored a book with Gooden (Heat: My Life on and Off the Diamond), knows as much or more about the 1984 NL Rookie of the Year and 1985 NL Cy Young Award winner as any writer in the business. He witnessed and reported on Doc's good years as well as the bad.
Although not directly related to Gooden per se, I thought Bill James made some poignant comments regarding pitcher usage on the SABR-L board last Monday. With Bill's permission, I am reprinting his post in its entirety:
Since my research has been cited in the discussion of pitcher longevity, I thought perhaps I should take a moment to put my views on the issue on record. Sabermetrics prizes knowledge and despises opinion. Over the last thirty years, many serious people have made sincere and dedicated efforts to understand the relationship between pitcher usage patterns and pitcher injuries. It seems to me that, despite these efforts, there is very little about the subject which is actually known. What we have is more along the lines of research-based opinions.
Given the results of Hernandez's last two outings, it will be interesting to see if Seattle opts to shut him down for the remainder of the year. He has already acquired a lot of valuable experience and the Mariners are going nowhere fast. As such, it seems like there is more to lose than to gain by pitching Hernandez the final two weeks of the season.
As history and the above commentary demonstrates, pitcher usage is an inexact science. Every pitcher and situation is different. Some can handle the increased loads better than others. How Blyleven and Gooden responded is a matter of record. What becomes of Hernandez remains to be seen.
[Additional reader comments and retorts at Baseball Primer.]