Thursday, January 17, 2013

Best Pitching Season of the 2000s

Martinez was at the top of his game in 2000 (FanNation)
After selecting the best offensive seasons of each decade last March, which I will link to at the bottom of each page, I think the time has come to choose the best pitching seasons of each decade.

The 2000s will be remembered for performance enhancing drugs and high levels of run-scoring, but the truth is that there were a host of incredible pitching performances during the aughts as well. Randy Johnson, Johan Santana, Zack Greinke, Tim Lincecum and Roy Halladay, to name a few, all put up some remarkable numbers. But none of them can hold a candle to the maestro who spoiled the Fenway Faithful with his electrifying starts.

2000 Pedro Martinez (11.4 bWAR)

I feel pretty comfortable saying that during the late 1990s and first few years of the new millennium  Pedro Martinez was the best pitcher on the planet. I would even go so far to claim that, during his prime, he was the best pitcher in baseball history. Better than Sandy Koufax, Greg Maddux, Tom Seaver. More dominant than Roger Clemens, Nolan Ryan, and Justin Verlander. Given the context--Fenway Park as his home field, in a leaue with the Designated Hitter, during the highest offensive period in baseball history when steroids helped hitters put up videogame numbers--his performance represents the highest peak for any pitcher in baseball history.  Needless to say, Martinez should be a first ballot Hall of Famer when he comes up for election in 2015.

In the year Y2K, Martinez secured his third Cy Young award in four years, earning a unanimous vote (as he did the year before) for what I believe is the greatest season a pitcher ever had. He led the league in just about every category that matters and was the most valuable player in baseball that year according to bWAR. In many ways this season was even better than his masterful 1999 campaign, for Martinez had a lower ERA and WHIP, more bWAR, threw more innings, and maintained a higher K/BB ratio in 2000. The numbers are staggering, and they back me up:

  • Pedro posted the ninth highest single season bWAR total of any starting pitcher since 1900, including the fourth highest in the integrated era behind Steve Carlton (1972), Roger Clemens (1997) and Wilbur Wood (1971)
  • His 0.74 WHIP rates as the best of all time, as does his 291 ERA+ (discounting Tim Keefe's 1880)
  • Became the only pitcher in history to have more than twice as many strikeouts (284) as hits allowed (128)
  • is 8.88 K/BB ratio ranks as the fourth best mark in the modern era, trailing Bret Saberhagen (11.0 in 1994), Cliff Lee (10.3 in 2010) and future teammate Curt Schilling (9.6 in 2002), but rates as the best mark for an American League pitcher while his 5.3 H/9 also ranks fourth
  • On April 15th, his streak of ten consecutive starts with at least ten strikeouts, a major league record, came to an end when he whiffed nine Oakland A's. Interestingly, the streak originated against them on August 19th, 1999
  • Recorded double digit strikeouts in 15 of his 29 starts, and had 9 six other times
  • The Red Sox went 21-8 (.724) when Martinez pitched, 64-69 (.481) when he didn't. Somehow, he failed to receive a single first place MVP vote and finished fith behind sluggers Jason Giambi, Frank Thomas Alex Rodriguez, and Carlos Delgado
  • In his six losses, Martinez averaged eight innings per start and had a 2.44 ERA, 0.79 WHIP, and 60/8 K/BB ratio
  • On May 6th, Martinez came up on the short end of a 1-0 pitching duel with Steve Trachsel (the pitcher Mark McGwire took deep to break Roger Maris's home run record two years earlier) but fanned 17 Tampa Bay Devil Rays while going the distance. His next time out Martinez fired another complete game, this time wracking up 15 Ks in Baltimore as he two-hit the Orioles. His 32 whiffs in consecutive starts tied Luis Tiant's  American League record set in 1968, the Year of the Pitcher
  • His average GameScore was a 73
  • Held opponents to a .167/.213/.259 triple slash line. The batting average and OBP set new modern records
  • His best performance of the year came at the end of the summer in Tampa Bay. Facing the league's worst offense, albeit one that featured potent bats in Fred McGriff, Greg Vaughn, Jose Guillen and Aubrey Huff, Pedro began the game by plunking Gerald Williams. Williams charged the mound and dropped Martinez before Jason Varitek tackled his pitcher's assailant. Martinez got back up, dusted the dirt off his shoulders and proceeded to mow down the next 24 batters in a row. He took a no-hitter into the bottom of the ninth, only to lose it to John Flaherty, of all people, when the backstop roped a leadoff single with two strikes
  • A road warrior, Martinez went 12-1 outside of Fenway's friendly confines
  • Outside of a three-start stretch in the middle of the summer when he served up seven gopher balls, he allowed just ten home runs in his other 26 starts
  • His 1.74 ERA was the league's lowest since 1978, when Ron Guidry also posted a 1.78 ERA. Martinez's mark is truly remarkable considering the park-adjusted league ERA was 4.97. His ERA was nearly two full runs higher than second place Roger Clemens' 3.70 and never rose higher than 1.81 that year
  • Had just two starts all year--June 25th in Toronto and August 24th in Kansas City--when he allowed more than three earned runs. Look at his earned run breakdown:
    0 runs--10 starts
    1 run--7 starts
    2 runs--5 starts
    3 runs--5 starts
    4+ runs--2 starts
Best offensive season of the 2000s--Barry Bonds (2004)


  1. Plus, remember that Clemens' 3.70 ERA happened to have been achieved via performance-enhancing drugs, or else Martinez's ERA would have been over 2.00 runs better than the runner-up.

  2. ... great statistical rundown, by the way. And if Clemens was on PEDs in 1997, as was likely the case, then his bWAR that year should be invalidated.

    By the way, Jose Guillen would establish himself as a good hitter a few years later, but in 2000, he proved mediocre at best (probably sub-mediocre), and really no better than Gerald Williams.

  3. I can't rate Pedro as dominant as the numbers seem to appear for the simple reason that he was a 7 inning pitcher. What do you think his numbers would have been if he completed 25-30 games a year like Koufax, Carlton, Seaver, etc. did in their heydays?
    Put another way, what would their numbers have been if they were 7 Inning pitchers?