I was recently asked by a friend what I thought of Pedro Martinez. Why did his career end so abruptly? Did I think he had a chance to be an effective pitcher this season if he signed with someone? And finally, what is his place amongst the greats of the game? Here are my thoughts on each matter.
(1) Why has his career basically ended so abruptly?
I actually don’t think it ended abruptly at all. Basically what has happened is that guys like Randy Johnson and John Smoltz have spoiled us into thinking that every top-flight pitcher can pitch effectively into their 40′s. The truth is, they cannot. Pedro might have “lost it” compared to the two guys we just mentioned, but he won 15 games with a 2.82 ERA as a 33 year old, and that certainly isn’t a bad effort at all. Pedro then started to suffer from shoulder issues, hardly a surprise for a guy who stands 5’11″ and weighs about 175 lbs and threw a 95 mph fastball for years. The fact of the matter is that his body just wore out, a rather normal occurrence for a man who has tossed nearly 2,800-innings in his big league career.
(2) Can he be effective this season?
I don’t see why he couldn’t be a better hurler than a ton of arms currently employed by major league clubs, even at age 37, as long as he is healthy. Certainly he won’t be able to recapture his past glory, but I don’t see why he couldn’t be an effective reliever, that is if his body could stand the transformation from throwing every five days as a starter. Pedro was always a “pitcher” who threw hard and not a hard thrower who tried to pitch. He might not be able to hit even 90 on the gun anymore, but I bet he could still pitch his way to some outs.
(3) What is his legacy?
This was the portion of the question that had me most intrigued. Let’s take a look at Pedro in a handful of categories and see how he stacks up against the all-time greats.
Wins and Loses
Pedro has 214 victories, tied for 86th all-time. Given that he has lost only 99 games, that leaves him with a superlative .684 winning percentage which just so happens to be the seventh best mark in baseball history. If remove pre-1900 hurlers he moves up to fourth on the all-time list. He may not have the volume of wins that others have, but it’s obvious that he was nearly as effective as any man who ever climbed the hill.
Pedro’s overall ERA of 2.91 is the 61st best mark in the history of baseball for a man who has tossed at least 2,000-innings. While that is impressive, it certainly doesn’t speak to just how dominating that Pedro was in his career. I touched on an idea called “normalization” in an earlier piece entitled Some People Never Learn. You can read more about the idea there, but the basic idea is this – raw numbers mean nothing until they are placed in context. When Pedro pitched there was a ton more offense in the game then when Cy Young was on the hill, so comparing their raw ERA’s to one another wouldn’t really tell you much of anything. The only way to know how effective a player is would be to compare him to his contemporaries who played the game under the same conditions that he did. To that end – Pedro has posted a 2.91 ERA in his career. When we adjust for his competition by comparing his ERA to the league average during his career (4.45), and adjust for the parks he pitched in, we come up with an ERA+ of 154. What this means is that Pedro was 54% better than a league average pitcher during his career which just so happens to be the best mark in baseball history amongst starting pitchers. Cy Young who had a raw ERA of 2.63 in his career comes in with an ERA+ mark of 138, good enough for 18th all-time.
Since he began his career in 1992 Pedro is the only pitcher in baseball who has thrown at least 1,500-innings who allowed less than 10 base runners per nine innings at 9.90 (Greg Maddux is second at 10.08). Moreover, Pedro’s raw WHIP of 1.05 is the third best mark of any hurler, post-1900, who has thrown at least 1,250-innings in the history of the game.
Pedro is tied with Bob Gibson for 13th all-time in strikeouts with 3,117 in his career (Smoltz is 101 behind). If we move to the ratio category of K/9, Pedro’s career mark of 10.08 is the second best in baseball history for hurlers who have tossed 1,500-innings trailing only the 10.62 mark of the Big Unit, Randy Johnson.
I don’t know if Pedro will come back this season, but I can tell you this without reservation – you may not know it, heck you may not want to admit it, but I think a plausible argument can be made that Pedro Martinez was one of the 10 greatest starting pitchers who ever lived, period. Care to disagree?
By Ray Flowers