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Pedro Martinez: The Best Ever?

Pedro Martinez: The Best Ever?

Pedro Martinez pitching for Boston Red Sox

Pedro Martinez: The Best Ever?

During the same week that it was revealed Ryan Braun failed a drug test and John Rocker admitted using performance enhancing drugs during his career, the player I thought most about was Pedro Martinez.

Martinez officially announced his retirement earlier in the month. To be fair, most thought of him as retired after he didn’t pitch in 2010. So now that now that we can officially do a retrospective on his career, how good was Pedro Martinez?

With the explosion of offense in the nineties, and its subsequent depression since MLB instituted PED testing, I think Martinez’s accomplishments look even better. Of course, I assume he was clean; perhaps an impossible statement, but one I feel comfortable making in our “innocent till proven guilty” society.

If you go to Baseball-Reference and search for the Top-5 starting pitchers all-time using ERA+, the results are:

Rk Player ERA+ ▾ IP GS CG SHO W L SV H ER BB SO ERA
1 Pedro Martinez 154 2827.1 409 46 17 219 100 3 2221 919 760 3154 2.93
2 Walter Johnson 147 5914.1 666 531 110 417 279 34 4913 1424 1363 3509 2.17
3 Roger Clemens 143 4916.2 707 118 46 354 184 0 4185 1707 1580 4672 3.12
4 Addie Joss 142 2327.0 260 234 45 160 97 5 1888 488 364 920 1.89
5 Brandon Webb 142 1319.2 198 15 8 87 62 0 1200 479 435 1065 3.27
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Play Index Tool Used
Generated 12/14/2011.

Yes, Pedro Martinez is at the top of the list.

I think using ERA+ is the best way to judge since it measures his total performance against his peers that season and ballpark. It puts every pitcher in context versus the era they played.

His stock falls a bit (18th all-time) when you use Wins Above Replacement (WAR), as there were many seasons where Martinez was a 6-inning pitcher that relied heavily on his bullpen. That’s probably why he finished with only 219 wins in his career, which ranks him 40th.

Back in August I called Martinez the “Sandy Koufax of our generation.” From 1997-2004 he averaged 17 wins a season and 203 innings. His record during that period was 134-45, with a 2.43 ERA and 11 Ks/9. His 2000 season (18-6, 1.74) produced an ERA+ of 291, the best all-time. Check out how he compared to his peers over those 8 seasons:

Rk Player ERA+ IP GS CG SHO W L SV H ER BB SO ERA
1 Pedro Martinez 194 1625.0 232 35 12 134 45 0 1202 438 376 1988 2.43
2 Randy Johnson 171 1847.0 255 51 22 142 64 0 1439 552 522 2452 2.69
3 Kevin Brown 146 1499.0 219 24 7 102 53 0 1308 473 373 1329 2.84
4 Curt Schilling 142 1824.1 249 55 11 132 71 0 1612 656 347 1945 3.24
5 Greg Maddux 142 1815.2 272 30 14 140 70 0 1741 617 282 1273 3.06
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Play Index Tool Used
Generated 12/14/2011.

The only knock on Martinez could be his inability to pitch deep into games; but is that fair? Not really when you factor in the use of steroids, the Designated Hitter, and pitching in hitter-friendly American League ballparks. Anyone who watched the game closely also saw hitters with great patience and umpires shrink the strike zone. It was all offense, all the time. Don’t forget the $80 million dollar Boston investment, which made it almost necessary to baby Martinez during the prime of his career.

When you look at it historically, Koufax and Gibson pitched in a polar opposite era. Pitchers never had the deck stacked in their favor more than in the 60s. Greg Maddux won 355 games, but he never strung together the period of dominance like Martinez. Roger Clemens? We all know what his deal was. As for Walter Johnson, don’t get me started about a pitcher who dominated during a dead ball era and never faced a man of color. Maybe you could make an argument for Randy Johnson, but he was actually starting to drop-off a bit until he was traded to the National League. Some current pitchers like Roy Halladay and Tim Lincecum are crafting interesting cases, but it’s too soon to judge their narrative.

As I have said before, “best ever arguments” are so difficult and a bit unfair. Statistics only show so much, but when you really digest how the odds were stacked against pitchers the last two decades, it makes what Martinez accomplished even more impressive.

By Mike Silva
Wednesday, 14 Dec 2011

 

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Boston Red Sox, Cy Young Award

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