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  • Writer's pictureJoe Pace

New England Sports 366, #45: Pedro Martinez

There has never been a Red Sox player I've enjoyed more than Pedro. That's probably because he's the best pitcher they've ever had. Correction: the best pitcher anyone has ever had.

I will not argue this point (of course I'll argue it - and win that argument - below). The eyeballs of those of us fortunate to have witnessed it know the truth of the statement. Pedro in 1999 and 2000 was better than any pitcher has ever been. In a single baseball game against aliens to save the world, if I could have any starting pitcher at their peak, I'm picking 1999-2000 Pedro Martinez. In fact, I'm picking him from the night of the 1999 All-Star Game at Fenway when he absolutely humiliated the Hall of Fame National League lineup. Pedro was a spindly 5'11" and 170 lbs, barely the frame of a utility infielder let alone the best pitcher of all time, and one who relied on a blistering, overpowering fastball. He was 1% skin and bones and 99% heart. In 1999 when he came out of the bullpen despite a shoulder injury and stone-cold shut down that dominant Indians offense in Game 5 of the ALDS, it probably shortened his career while cementing his legacy as a total bulldog on the mound.

If you need numbers to back up the irrefutable evidence of our eyes, then fine. Here are some statistics:

In the 2000 season, Pedro put up a 1.74 ERA that easily led the American League. How easily? Roger Clemens came in second with an ERA of 3.70. Only five starters had an earned run average below four. This was the height of the steroid era, and Pedro mowed down those juiced-up sluggers in their DH-led lineups like they were legion teams. People will talk about Bob Gibson's 1.12 in 1968, but seven starters finished at 2.20 or better that year. In 2000, Pedro led the league in strikeouts and shutouts and had a 0.74 WHIP (walks+hits per innings pitched) which is the best any starter has ever had in major league history. He had nearly nine strikeouts for every walk he issued. His 2000 WAR (wins above replacement) was 11.7, which was far and away the best for any pitcher. It was the best for any player, period. Pedro won Cy Youngs in 1999 and 2000; he should have won the MVP both years too.

Pedro's 1997-2003 seven-season stretch is the most dominant any starting pitcher has ever authored. ERA+ is the most universally accepted tool for measuring pitching performance. It ignores the counting stats like wins and instead examines ERA relative to league and ballparks and opposing offenses. So an ERA+ of 100 is league average. From 1997 to 2003, Roger Clemens put up a 133, Randy Johnson a 170. Pedro's ERA+ over those seven seasons was an Olympian 213. his ERA+ in 2000 was 291. The next best that year was Randy Johnson with a 181.

Pedro in his prime was the best pitcher ever to touch a baseball. When he was elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame, he received 91.1% of the vote. 49 voters left him off their ballots. Tell me more about how Derek Jeter got disrespected.

Look, it's Valentine's Day. As a Red Sox fan, I loved every day Pedro took the mound. I'll always remember the Dominican flags in the bleachers, the K cards going up on the wall, the sublime feeling that something special was happening, the electricity and magic of a Pedro start. That he was part of the team that broke the curse and delivered that 2004 ring was poetic and perfect.

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