Pedro’s Peak

My general process of writing an article begins with a thought or question.  Last week, I asked myself whether or not hitters truly do perform worse following their participation in the home run derby.  From there, data entry and preliminary research to provide context to the numbers begins.  In the end, everything is combined into a neat little package to offer an analysis that, hopefully at least, offers an answer to the initial question while also explaining why it is important, why we should care, and/or what the hell I’m talking about.
There are occasions, however, when all of these “rules” fly out the window.  In looking at the peak of Pedro Martinez, the numbers spoke for themselves, and I didn’t need to conduct any real research regarding those years to understand how special they were for him.  We could debate which range of his career constitutes his peak, but the fact remains that his performance in 1999 and 2000 may be the best pitching in the history of baseball.  Yes, it sounds odd to suggest that someone still pitching could have produced a GOAT (greatest of all time) season, or peak, but the numbers do not lie.  On top of that, while I am an avid researcher and consider myself a baseball history buff and junkie, I hate how we automatically tend to write off the present while romanticizing the past.
In any event, here are some of his numbers in both years:

  • 1999: 29 GS, 213.1 IP, 160 H, 9 HR, 37 BB, 313 K, 0.92 WHIP, 2.07 ERA
  • 2000: 29 GS, 217.0 IP, 128 H, 17 HR, 32 BB, 284 K, 0.74 WHIP, 1.74 ERA

Let those sink in.  Seriously.
His average Game Score in 1999 was 69, and shot up to 73 in 2000.  In relation to the rest of the league, he posted a 243 ERA+ in 1999 and an all-time best 291 ERA+ the following season.  His strikeout to walk ratio in 1999 was 8.46, and a staggering 8.88 in 2000.  In 1999 his FIP was 1.39 while it “jumped” to just 2.16 the next year. 
A 1.39 FIP?  He produced a 1.39 FIP??  FIP, or Fielding Independent Pitching, calculates an ERA-like statistic using just BB, K, and HR, since they are the only three controllable skills for pitchers.  That means, based on his controllable skills, his ERA should have been more like 1.39 than the actual 2.07; essentially, his ridiculously low 2.07 ERA was a bit unlucky.  That sounds a bit ridiculous to say out loud, or type, but his controllable skills suggest he was even better than the ultra-low earned run average.
In terms of WPA/LI, or Context-Neutral Wins, there have only been 8 instances of a pitcher producing six or more wins over the last twenty seasons: Three of them belong to Pedro.  Of these eight, just three have been 6.40 or higher, and two of those three belong to Pedro in 1999 and 2000.  The other season is Greg Maddux’s 1995, in which he produced 6.86 context-neutral wins.  As high as the 6.86 may be, it pales in comparison to Pedro’s 2000, in which he produced an 8.09 WPA/LI. 
Greg’s 6.86 WPA/LI is at least about a half-win better than everyone else in the last 20 years, and Pedro’s 2000 season is over one full win better.  Additionally, in each of these years he ranked #1 in K/BB, FIP, REW (wins based on shifts in run expectancy), and WPA/LI.
These numbers tend to speak for themselves and don’t even need me to put on my best salesman pitch to spruce them up.  I’m curious, though, if anyone thinks a two-year stretch for any other pitcher is better than this… or, if Pedro’s 1999-2000 is the best pitching we have ever seen?

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2 Responses to Pedro’s Peak

  1. dan says:

    No argument here. Despite him pitching mainly for the Red Sox, I will argue for Pedro in any conversation about the best pitcher of all time.
    Posnanski has a poll on the topic on his blog.

  2. […] discussed here as well as at Statistically Speaking with regards to Pedro Martinez’s pitching in 1999-2000 as perhaps the best we have ever seen, […]

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