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1984 Topps Rick Sutcliffe

I was only 7 years old at the time, so by all means, someone please come forward and convince me that I “just had to be there to see it”. Otherwise, I can’t get my head around the fact that the writers/voters unanimously picked Rick Sutcliffe over Dwight Gooden that year.

Gooden: 31 GS, 218 IP, 2.60 ERA, 31.4 K%, 8.3 BB%, 8.3 fWAR

Sutcliffe (NL only): 20 GS, 150.1 IP, 2.69 ERA, 25.7 K%, 6.5 BB%, 4.9 fWAR

Sutcliffe (overall): 35 GS, 244.2 IP, 3.64 ERA, 20.7 K%, 8.3 BB%, 6.1 fWAR

Ok, so a few things worked for Sutcliffe and against Gooden. These things are not things that I would personally consider in this type of vote, but many voters do:

  • Sutcliffe’s Cubs made the playoffs, beating out Gooden’s second place Mets.
  • Gooden was a rookie.
  • Sutcliffe had more “Wins” by the end of the year (albeit fewer Wins in the NL).

But these are the facts that should have (in my opinion) made things a little less definite for the voters:

  • Sutcliffe played the beginning of the year in the AL. And he played poorly. In 15 starts for the Cleveland Indians, Sutcliffe had an era of 5.15 and an fWAR of 1.2. (Not that a 1.2 fWAR is bad, by any means; it’s just hardly an Award-winning pace).
  • Even when Sutcliffe came over to the NL and played well, his NL numbers (Wins, ERA, fWAR, strikeouts) fell short of Gooden’s.
  • Sutcliffe only made 20 starts in the NL (150.1 IP).
  • For those who love “clutch”: Gooden allowed only 2 earned runs in his final four starts combined in the September stretch run. This included a 1-hit shutout over the Cubs on Sept.7.

I will fully acknowledge that a surprisingly good run from an unexpected player that helps a team make the playoffs is impressive and exhilarating for voters. But while Starting Pitchers have the most influence on a team’s success, their influence is still limited to one or two games a week, so a team’s final record should not have an impact on an individual award. Especially in this case, when the pitcher with the better numbers was also on a good team: the second-place (90-game winning) Mets.

Perhaps what surprises me the most is the unanimous nature of the voting. Were even the New York voters so swayed by the playoff run that they put the hometown hero (Gooden) in second place? Was it the rookie thing? Were voters mesmerized by the 16-1 W-L record Sutcliffe had in the NL? There have been worse Awards decisions in recent MLB history (Welch over Clemens, Colon over Santana), but this one was particularly odd.