Year Inducted: 2015 (BBWAA, ballot #1, 500/549)
Carl Hubbell in the 1934 All-Star Game may have had more fame with his outing, but it wasn’t the only dominating pitching performance. In 1999, with the Game at Fenway Park and MLB celebrating all of its living legends with the All Century Team, the National League sent up Barry Larkin, Larry Walker, Sammy Sosa, Mark McGwire, Matt Williams and Jeff Bagwell in the first two innings. The only player not to strike out was Williams, who reached on an error by the second baseman. What pitcher was the master behind this gem? That would be Red Sox ace Pedro Martinez.
Martinez’s case is a lot like Sandy Koufax’s. Neither had a very long period of dominance, but when they were at their peak they were among the best ever. Martinez tossed roughly 2800 innings in his career over 18 seasons. Petey won 219 games against only 100 losses, striking out 3154 batters and posting an ERA of only 2.93. Martinez tossed a lot of innings in Fenway Park, which is one of the best hitter’s parks in all of baseball, and did so at the height of the Steroid Era. As such, Martinez’s ERA is outstanding and explains why his ERA- of 66 is the lowest among starting pitchers of all-time. Along with his great ERA, Martinez held batters to a .212 average, carried a WHIP of only 1.05 and gave up only 0.76 HR/9. Pedro shut batters down at a time when the league ERA was roughly 5.00, a feat that seems unfeasible in hindsight.
In that 1999 season, Pedro put up possibly the best year ever. In addition to winning 23 games with only 4 losses, Martinez struck out 313 batters, walked 37, gave up 9 homers all season long, and pitched only 213 innings. He struck out 100 more batters than the total number of innings that he threw, and didn’t even break 50 walks. He may not have had the innings that a guy like Koufax would throw in a given season, Martinez stymied batters like no one ever had. And, while that season would be nearly impossible to replicate, Martinez was nearly as good the next year with a 1.74 ERA and 284 strikeouts in 2000.
The innings are really the only mark against Martinez when it comes to his numbers. From 1996-2005, Martinez was worth at least 4.9 fWAR each year, with an 11.6 season in 1999. However, in that span the most innings that Martinez ever threw in one season was 241 with most years being in the low 210’s. Pedro was on the smaller side as a player, only 5’11” and less than 200 pounds, so stamina was always going to be an issue with him. After signing with the Mets, Pedro had several years where he had to navigate around injuries to various parts of his body in order to pitch, and as such ended up providing very little value after the first year of his deal. After 9 mediocre (for Pedro at least) starts for the Phillies, Martinez retired as one of the greatest pitchers ever.
With the lack of innings for Martinez (who threw fewer innings than all other pitchers with 3000 or more strikeouts), the Hall of Fame was not necessarily a guarantee. Koufax only gained 87% of the vote, but didn’t have nearly the competition that Pedro faced when he came on the ballot, with players like Tim Raines, Craig Biggio, Barry Bonds, Roger Clemens and Jeff Bagwell being holdovers and debuting at the same time as Randy Johnson and John Smoltz. Still, the BBWAA did the right thing and voted him in easily. Pedro Martinez will always be one of the most dominant pitchers of all-time, and has turned into a decent analyst on TV as well, showcasing the enthusiasm and joy he has for the game that made him a legend.
Stay tuned for the next updates.
On deck 12/6/16:
#29- The Left Arm of God
#28- The Yankee Clipper