HOUSTON,TX - APRIL 20: Former Houston Astros player and manager Larry Dierker throws out a ceremonial first pitch before the game between the Los Angeles Dodgers and the Houston Astros on April 20, 2012 at Minute Maid Park in Houston, Texas. (Photo by Bob Levey/Getty Images)
Journey back to the weird, wild times of 1969. Back then, baseball was simpler. You could brush guys off the plate, demolish Ray Fosse at home plate and be lauded for it and take as many greenies as you wanted. People wouldn't even care when Willie Mays was seen with amphetamines in his locker.
Like I said, a simpler time.
Back then, the fledgling Houston franchise had been around for seven seasons, but hadn't ever had that most elusive of round numbers: the 20-game winner on the mound. Someone like Warren Spahn could put up 13 of them by himself, including one when he was 42 years old (thanks Aflac Trivia!), but no Astro had topped that mark.
Part of that was Houston wasn't particularly good in any of those years, only winning more than 70 games twice during that stretch. Dierker debuted at the tender age of 17 after being drafted in 1964 and played varying amounts for the next five seasons.
The '68 season was really a breakout year for Dierker, as he went 12-14 in 233 innings, setting career marks for wins, strikeouts and innings pitched. That was nothing compared to what he'd snap off in '69.
Dierk threw 300 innings that year, going 20-13 in 39 games and 37 starts at the age of 22. He struck out 232, walked just 72 and had an ERA+ of 152. Oh, and he had 20 (20!!!) complete games with four shutouts.
Sadly, the Cy Young voting back then seems to have just been for first place, so Tom Seaver got the majority of the votes with Phil Niekro stealing one of the 24 total votes. But, that doesn't mean Dierker's season wasn't historically good.
His 9.0 bbWAR was a franchise record and has only been topped once by any player, pitcher or hitter, in the last 50 years. Craig Biggio did it once, in 1997. His 20 wins stood as a franchise record until 1979, when Joe Niekro won 21. No other pitcher in franchise history has topped 300 innings in a season.
Okay, one more stat about how awesome Dierk's '69 season was. That 9.0 bWAR? That ranked as one of the top 50 seasons any pitcher has every had in the major leagues. Ever. Back to the days of Walter Johnson.
It also ranks as one of the top five season by a pitcher 22 years old and younger in history. The only guys with better bWAR totals than Dierk's? Guys like Doc Gooden in '85, Smoky Joe Wood in 1912, Bob Feller, Big Train and Bert Blyleven.
Sadly, that was Dierker's best season of his entire career. We know a lot more about pitching injuries since 1969 and maybe it wasn't the best idea to ask a 22-year old to throw 300 innings or 20 complete games. Of the 10 guys to post ERA+ totals of 150 or more at Age 22 or younger, only Bert Blyleven manage to pitch effectively into his 30s. Guys like Gooden, Mark Fidrych, Vida Blue, Sudden Sam McDowell, Mark Prior, Bruce Ruffin, Don Drysdale and Ralph Branca were never as good after they hit that 30-year old mark. Fidrych and Prior wouldn't even get past Age 25.
But, boy, was Dierker brilliant for that one summer.