The Statistical Dominance of Pedro Martinez
In baseball, there are Hall-of-Famers. Then there are legends. Then there are legends who dance wearing the masks of fictional characters and nothing else. Pedro Martinez is the latter.
Pedro used to dance around the Mets clubhouse naked in a Yoda mask. Just a suggestion for the induction ceremony.— Peter Botte (@PeterBotte) January 6, 2015
As if he couldn't get any cooler.
Despite this, Martinez was not sent to Cooperstown because of his top-notch exhibitionism. Rather, Martinez got in on the first ballot because he's the filthiest of the filthy.
He may not have had as long of a career as Randy Johnson had or reached the playoffs as often as John Smoltz did. Pedro, rather, was quite possibly the most dominant pitcher in the history of baseball over a short span. And that, my friends, is enough to classify him as a legend.
Let's break down the greatness of Pedro by putting his numbers in a historical context. We'll start with a broader lens before focusing in on possibly the sickest two-season span ever.
Pedro from 1997 to 2003
Some of the Pedro detractors will use the argument that he didn't have the longevity of other guys against him. The problem with that assertion is that he simply didn't need that longevity. In a seven-year span, he accomplished more than many of the league's greats accomplished in their entire careers.
Over these seven seasons, Martinez compiled a fWAR (Wins Above Replacement using Fangraphs' calculations) of 58.2. Johnson, coincidentally, was the only other pitcher to have an fWAR above 50 over this time as he finished at 54.0. Only eight pitchers topped the 30-win mark in this time frame.
Let's pretend these were the only seasons Pedro played. This means we would ignore three other season in which he posted an fWAR above 5 which book-ended this run. He also led the league in this category if you include those seasons, besting Johnson, 74.8 to 68.9. But again, we'll ignore those and hone in on just from 1997 to 2003.
If he were to just use those seven years, Martinez would rank 36th among all pitchers in fWAR from 1950 to present. This would put him above notables such as David Wells, Sandy Koufax, David Cone, Whitey Ford, Dwight Gooden, Jack Morris, Cliff Lee, Justin Verlander, Johan Santana and Jamie Moyer (although Moyer's rookie season may have occurred prior to the 1950 cut-off). That's their entire respective careers compared to one stretch of Martinez's.
The crazy thing about these seasons for Pedro is that he averaged an 8.31 fWAR over that time. This (obviously) means he had years better than this. That would include his 1999 and 2000 seasons, which may have rivaled only his jerry curls in their beauty.
Possibly The Most Dominant Seasons Ever
I hope y'all hydrated well before this section because Pedro's about to make you drool.
In 1999, Martinez's second year in Boston, he schooled some fools on his way to posting a 2.07 ERA. This was, quite obviously, the best total in the American League. The second best mark was Cone's 3.44, meaning Martinez's ERA was almost 40 percent lower than the runner-up. That ain't right, doe.
His 11.9 fWAR that year is the second best season for a pitcher since 1901. Only Steve Carlton's 12.1 fWAR in 1972 topped Pedro, and he started 41 games that year to Pedro's 31 appearances.
If we just look at Martinez's 29 starts that year (he made two relief appearances), he finished with a Fielding Independent Pitching (FIP) of 1.33. This evaluates a pitcher based on the number of strikeouts he records and home runs and walks he allows. This ranks sixth in MLB history, dating back to 1871. Martinez is the only player in the top 21 in the category who was born in the 20th century.
Since 1910, Martinez is the only player to finish with a FIP lower than 1.69. That was Gooden's total in 1984. They are the only players post-1910 to rank in the top 40 in the category for a single-season all time. Who's the next? Clayton Kershaw's 2014 season at 1.81. He might end up being all right, too.
Then Y2K happened, and Martinez took a step backward. That year, he only posted an fWAR of 9.9. Clearly, things could never be the same.
Because his 2.07 ERA in 1999 just wasn't good enough, Martinez decided to better that in 2000. He finished with a 1.74 ERA, which was 53 percent better than Roger Clemens in second at 3.70.
Then we get to the strikeouts. He may not have had as many as Johnson had in his career, but he still managed to have a few.
Since 1901, there have only been 20 occasions in which a qualified starting pitcher has averaged 11 or more strikeouts per nine innings. Of those 20 seasons, only twice did that pitcher also manage to average fewer than two walks per nine. The first was Martinez's 1999 season in which he averaged 13.20 strikeouts and 1.56 walks per nine. The second? Well, that was Pedro, too, in 2000 when he averaged 11.78 strikeouts and 1.33 walks per nine. Pedro respectfully rejects your mortal statistics and proposes these as a proxy.
If the preceding statistical savoriness isn't enough to warrant prancing around wearing only a Yoda mask, then I have no idea what does. Remember that none of this discussion has included the other great years Pedro posted. And there were others. But none, not by him nor any other pitcher, matched up to these.
I'm not trying to make the argument that Martinez is the greatest pitcher of all time. I'm just saying that he was one of the most dominant for an extended period of time, and it's a beautiful thing that future generations of baseball enthusiasts will get to recognize that through his canonization into the Hall of Fame.