pedro marTINez
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How Good Was Pedro In 2000?

 

Imagine Carlos Delgado had batted .454 last year. Or suppose his on-base percentage had been .570. Both marks would have set major-league records -- easily. Would the Toronto Blue Jays first baseman have won the American League’s Most Valuable Player Award? Do you think he would have received at least one first-place vote?

Oakland’s Jason Giambi received the most votes cast by the Baseball Writers Association of America, but Boston pitcher Pedro Martinez -- whose 1.74 ERA was the equivalent of those lofty offensive numbers above -- was the AL’s MVP for the 2000 season.

Martinez finished fifth, behind Giambi, Frank Thomas, Alex Rodriguez and Delgado. Only two out of the 28 voters placed Martinez in their Top Three. Eight voters ignored him entirely. In 1999, Martinez received the most first-place votes, but lost the award to Ivan Rodriguez. Two writers -- George King of the New York Post and LaVelle Neal of the Minneapolis Star-Tribune -- left him off their ballots. King defended himself, claiming the "MVP is for everyday players. Pitchers have their own award." Interestingly, King’s 1998 MVP ballot listed two pitchers -- David Wells and Rick Helling.

In any event, King is wrong. The rules stipulate that pitchers are eligible and must be considered. In fact, as we shall see, Martinez turned in the finest season of any major league pitcher since the mound was moved back to 60 feet 6 inches from home plate.

In the mid-1990s, Sports Illustrated called Atlanta’s Greg Maddux the greatest right-handed pitcher since Walter Johnson -- and his 1994 and 1995 seasons rank as two of the most dominant of all-time. Referring to Martinez as the greatest pitcher since Maddux doesn’t sound very impressive, but there is something unprecedented going on in Boston that, for all of the adulation over Pedro, has not being properly appreciated.

Sammy Sosa won the 1998 National League MVP over Mark McGwire. Sosa received 30 first-place votes, McGwire only two. One theory was that since Sosa led the Cubs to a wildcard berth while McGwire’s Cardinals finished 19 games out of first place, Sosa was more valuable. This reasoning is bizarre at best, even forgetting that Chicago was swept by Atlanta and went home for the winter.

I think I know why McGwire lost. His season was so amazing, so enormous, so valuable that the majority of the voters could not appreciate it. His performance went beyond the scope of their comprehension, so they dismissed it. Instead, they focused on Sosa, who had a fantastic year, and performed within the boundaries of what a player should logically produce.

The voters in 1999 and 2000 experienced the same kind of vertigo when it came time to assess Pedro Martinez. The American League ERA in 2000 was 4.91, so Martinez’s ERA of 1.74 was 64.5% lower than the league. If we applied that standard to batting average or on-base average, a batter performing at 64.5% above the league average would hit .454 and have an on-base average of .570.

Martinez went 41 innings without issuing a walk (August 2, 7th inning to September 4, 2nd inning). What if a walk was eight balls now [as it was in 1880 when Tim Keefe had the only season that could rival Pedro's 2000 -- the plate was 45 feet from the mound]-- could Pedro go the entire season without passing a batter?

He allowed 5.31 hits per 9 innings - second-place Hudson allowed 7.52 base runners. Only three pitchers allowed fewer than 8 hits per 9 innings; only nine allowed fewer than nine. Martinez’s mark of 5.31 is fourth all-time, behind Nolan Ryan (5.261 in 1972), Luis Tiant (5.296 in 1968) and Ryan again (5.306 in 1991). However, when we adjust for performance against the league, Martinez again comes out on top ...

A closer look at Martinez’s 2000 season.

Martinez allowed only 6.636 walks and hits per nine innings. That broke Guy Hecker’s mark of 6.923, which had stood since 1882. They are the only two pitchers in history below 7.00. (Greg Maddux 1995’s mark of 7.296 is 6th all-time.)

On June 14, after twelve starts, his ERA was 0.99. Let me say that again: Martinez’s ERA was 0.99 -- in mid-June! Up to that point, he had allowed 10 earned runs in 91.2 innings. His ERA never rose above 1.81 (September 14) and he finished at 1.74.

Martinez faced only three batters in 112 of his 217 innings. He faced 3 or 4 batters in 179 innings -- 82.5% And he faced five or fewer batters in 206 of 217 innings -- a mind-boggling 94.9%. His other 11 innings were: 6 batters six times, 7 batters 3 times, eight batters once and nine batters once.

Martinez registered at least one strikeout in more than 80% of his innings (177 of 217). He struck out the side 10% of the time (22 of 217). He never went more than two innings without at least one strikeout in an inning. A string of two K-less innings happened only four times:

April 4: 6th and 7th innings May 17: 6th and 7th innings June 8: 4th and 5th innings August 2: 2nd and 3rd innings

Working in a league where the average team scored 5.3 runs per game, Martinez allowed more than 3 earned runs only twice in 29 starts (June 25 and August 24). He allowed 2 runs or less in 21 starts and 1 run or less in 17 starts.

Here are the numbers on his six losses:

0-6, 2.44 ERA -- 48 IP, 30 H, 13R, 8 BB, 60K

In these six games, while Pedro was on the mound, his teammates scored a total of 4 runs -- an average of 0.75 runs per nine innings.

Batting Against Pedro:

American Leaguers hit .167, 60 points lower than second-place Tim Hudson.

American Leaguers had a .213 on-base average, 78 points lower than second-place Mike Mussina.

American Leaguers had a .259 slugging percentage, 121 points lower than second-place Bartolo Colon.

Left-handed hitters had a .150 batting average, 56 points lower than second-place Roger Clemens.

Right-handed hitters had a .184 batting average, 26 points lower than second-place Orlando Hernandez.

With men on base, batters hit .160, 21 points lower than second-place Jeff Nelson.

His ERA at home was 1.84 -- second-place Mike Mussina’s home ERA was 2.90.

His ERA on the road was 1.66 -- second-place David Wells’s road ERA was 3.24. Only seven pitchers had a road ERA under 4.00.

He allowed 7.2 base runners per 9 innings -- second-place Mussina allowed 10.8 base runners. Only five pitchers allowed fewer than 12 base runners.

He allowed 1.33 walks per nine innings -- only David Wells allowed less, 1.21. But Wells allowed more hits than any other major league pitcher, 266.

The voting rules say pitchers must be considered for the Most Valuable Player award. But what about the argument that a pitcher is less valuable because he’s on the field only once every five days?

In 2000, Pedro Martinez appeared in 29 games, but Jason Giambi played in 152 games -- more than five times as many. Why should we treat them as equals?

The Oakland Athletics had a total of 6,310 plate appearances last season (to make things easy, I simply added at-bats and walks). According to that rough count, Giambi had 647 (actually 664) of those appearances, or 10.25%.

Boston’s pitching staff totaled 1452 innings and Martinez pitched 217 innings of them, or 14.94%. Red Sox pitchers faced approximately 6,288 batters (IP times 3 plus hits and walks). Accordingly, Martinez faced 811 (actually 817) batters, or 12.9% of the Red Sox’s opponents.

In addition, Giambi was 28th in the AL in plate appearances and 47th in MLB. Martinez was 27th in the AL in batters faced and 59th overall in MLB.

Since reducing runs scored is just as important as scoring them, Pedro Martinez actually had more opportunity to affect the game's score than Giambi did.

The difference was more pronounced in 1999. Ivan Rodriguez had 9.96% of Texas’s plate appearances. Martinez pitched 14.85% of Boston’s innings and faced 13.56% of the opposing batters. ...

Roger Clemens’s ERA [second to Pedro] was more than twice Martinez’s. That difference of 1.96 was the largest in history. Applying that difference to the rest of the qualifying pitchers, Clemens was actually closer to #38 [Rolando Arrojo, 5.63 ERA] than he was to #1.

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