An Insufficient Glance Back At Pedro Martinez

BOSTON: Jason Varitek #33 of the Boston Red Sox greets Pedro Martinez after Martinez threw out the ceremonial first pitch before the game against the New York Yankees during Opening Night at Fenway Park in Boston, Massachusetts. (Photo by Elsa/Getty Images)

Pedro Martinez is in the news again, as he's announced that he's set to officially retire. This gives us an excuse to mess around on his Baseball-Reference page. Here are some of the results.

The last time that Pedro Martinez threw a pitch in Major League Baseball was November 4, 2009. He started for the Philadelphia Phillies, in Game 6 of the World Series against the New York Yankees. Martinez and the Phillies lost, and the Yankees celebrated their latest championship on their own home turf.

Martinez hasn't been seen since. But now he's back in the news. Not because he's going to attempt a comeback, like Manny Ramirez - rather, because he's announced his official retirement. Or, because he's announced that he'll announce his official retirement. It's just a matter of time now before Martinez formally signs the papers.

This doesn't really mean much, in baseball terms - though there was the occasional whisper, no one was counting on Martinez making a return. But what this does is give us an excuse to reflect on his incredible and colorful career. Pedro Martinez was one of a kind, in so many ways, and there are worse ways to occupy the mind.

What follows is not a Pedro Martinez career retrospective. I don't think I could write a Pedro Martinez career retrospective without first securing a book deal. There are a lot of things to say about Pedro Martinez that I am not going to say. Instead, what follows is a completely insufficient Pedro Martinez career retrospective, as noted in the headline. All this really is is me highlighting five numbers and talking about them a little bit.

I promise that they are at least interesting numbers, so please join me. Although I will understand if you do not.

I think it's safe to say that Pedro really hit his career peak in 1997, and then he kept it up through 2003. He was a good pitcher before that, and he was a good pitcher after that, but he was something else entirely over those seven years with Montreal and Boston. Those seven years roughly coincided with baseball's offensive explosion, and yet over that span, Pedro posted a 2.20 ERA. Baseball's next-best ERA over the same span belonged to Randy Johnson, at 2.70 - a full 0.50 points higher.

It's unthinkable how much Pedro managed to do, especially in the American League, starting so many games in Fenway. On July 18, 1999, Pedro allowed nine runs to the Marlins. In no other start that season did he allow more than four runs, and he allowed four runs only once. On April 12, 2003, Pedro allowed ten runs to the Orioles. In no other start that season did he allow more than five runs.

Greg Maddux went on a run of absolute silliness between 1992-1998. Over those seven years, Maddux posted a 2.15 ERA, good for a 191 ERA+. Pedro's ERA+ at his peak was 213. The best single-season ERA+ Sandy Koufax ever posted was 190. Pedro posted a better ERA+ over seven seasons.

This point is actually less about celebrating Pedro, and more about driving home a statistical principle. I'm sorry. It's the only one. In 1999, Pedro started 29 games for the Red Sox. He walked 37, he struck out 313, and he finished with a 2.07 ERA. Each of the last two numbers led the league. Pedro was dominant, unhittable, peerless. That season he also allowed a .325 batting average on balls in play. He allowed a higher BABIP than guys like Brian Bohanon, Scott Karl and Gil Heredia. Yes, pitchers have some degree of influence over their BABIPs. This is evidence enough to suggest that they do not have very much.

If you'll indulge me, I'm the Mariners guy, so I had to include a Mariners fact in here somewhere. Pedro had more success against the Mariners than he did against any other regular opponent over the course of his career. Over 103 innings, he posted a 1.57 ERA, and didn't allow a single unearned run. More improbably, Pedro earned the win in each of his first 13 appearances against Seattle - 12 starts, and one game out of the bullpen. Between 1998-2004, Pedro faced the Mariners 13 times, and Pedro picked up 13 wins. The 14th and final time Pedro faced the Mariners came on June 18, 2005. Pedro allowed four runs in six innings and lost to this.

I mentioned earlier that Pedro struck out 313 batters in 1999. It was the second time in Pedro's career that he'd surpassed 300 strikeouts, and the first and only time he'd do it in the AL. He's also the last pitcher to do it in the AL. The closest anyone has come since is Pedro, with 284 the next season. Justin Verlander reached 269 in 2009. Johan Santana reached 265 in 2004. Verlander reached 250 in 2011. But nobody's reached 300, and nobody's gotten particularly close.

I'm not going to say that it will never be done again, because you can't predict talent and you can't predict in which direction the game will go, but it certainly doesn't look like anyone will do it for a long while. Pedro faced 835 batters that year, and he made nearly two-fifths of them turn right around.

Pedro Martinez had that peak during which he burned as hot as the sun. He was not always as good as he was at his best. Nobody is. But one shouldn't focus on his peak at the expense of his entire body of work, because his entire body of work is spectacular. Pedro did end up breaking down in his late 30s. He didn't get to do what Randy Johnson did, or what Roger Clemens did. That's not really Pedro's fault, and he did last more than 400 starts, and nearly 3,000 innings. Over all of those starts and all of those innings, Pedro posted a 154 ERA+. He posted an ERA that was 54 percent better than the league. It is the highest career ERA+ for a starting pitcher in baseball history.

If you look at the Baseball-Reference ERA+ leaderboard, Mariano Rivera and Pedro Martinez are looking down at everybody else. It's just the way it ought to be, and we have been blessed to have seen these pitchers pitch.

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