Top 50 Sox Seasons #19: Pedro Martinez, 2003

14-4, 2.22/1.039/.218, 186.2 IP, 206 K, 47 BB, 9.9 K/9, 4.4 K/BB, 7.1 H/9, 210 ERA+
Postseason: 4 G, 1-1, 4.76/1.27/.264, 28.1 IP, 23 K, 7 BB
CYA – 3

If only one could divorce the seventh and final season of Pedro Martinez’s historic run as baseball’s most dominant pitcher from the way the season ended in the seventh and final game of that season’s ALCS. At the time Grady Little – too late, oh so late – trudged to the mound that second time to remove the ball from Martinez’s hand, we had no way of knowing that just one year later it would all be better. Not forgotten, but better.

Unfortunately, Little’s disastrous decision to leave Martinez in for 123 pitches (a total neared or surpassed just four times in his 29 regular-season starts) overshadowed what in fact was another dominant season for the aging ace. It was, indeed, the last time Pedro would be Pedro.

For the fourth time in five years, Martinez led the league in ERA – Lefty Grove the only other AL pitcher ever to do so with such frequency. By leading the league in ERA+, Martinez became just the third AL pitcher do so four times in five years, joining Grove and Roger Clemens. Martinez also joined Greg Maddux as the only pitchers in baseball history to record a 160 ERA+ in seven straight seasons – but while Maddux posted a 191 ERA+ from 1992-98, Martinez posted a 213 from 1997-2003, the best seven-year peak in baseball history.

In those seven years, Martinez pitched six full seasons, and five times posted an ERA+ over 200 — or better than twice as good as the rest of the league. His 210 ERA+ in 2003 gave him the all-time record for most 200 ERA+ seasons by one player, topping the great Walter Johnson. Consider it this way: A pitcher has topped 200 just 32 times in baseball history (by 21 pitchers); Martinez holds 22 percent of those seasons.

When talking about 2003 itself, don’t let the 14 wins fool you. In Martinez’s 11 no-decisions, he posted a 1.75 ERA, allowing just 13 earned runs. Only 51 other pitchers have received fewer than 18 decisions while starting at least 29 games, and only Elmer Dessens for the 2002 Reds (142) recorded an ERA+ better than 140. It’s a safe assumption that in 2003 Martinez may have received the worst luck in baseball history at turning results into wins – certainly of any pitcher in Red Sox history and likely any pitcher since the birth of relief specialization.

Certainly some of this was caused by Martinez’s increasing inability to throw beyond 100 pitches, but consider these six no-decisions:

  • March 31, Game Score 74: Martinez allows one unearned run in seven innings and leaves ahead 4-1. The Red Sox lose, 6-4.
  • April 5, Game Score 76: Martinez allows one run in eight innings, leaves trailing 1-0. Red Sox lose, 2-1.
  • April 27, Game Score 66: Martinez allows two runs in seven innings, leaves ahead 4-2. Red Sox give up the lead before rallying to win 6-4.
  • June 21, Game Score 70: One run, seven innings. Sox lose 6-5.
  • July 7, Game Score 74: One run, seven innings. Sox lose 2-1.
  • July 12, Game Score 72: One run, seven innings. Leaves with game tied at 1.

Consider also that Martinez only had six starts in which he did not throw at least six innings or record a game score of 50, yet in 15 games he couldn’t record a win. On a playoff team with an historic offense, no less.

Key game: May 5. Consider this the final game of the Pedro Martinez Era. Pedro had plenty left in the tank that season and in 2004. He won a World Series game and a ring the next year, after all. But, excepting a shutout of the Devil Rays the next season, this is the last time Martinez utterly dominates an opponent. Back-to-back hits by Minnesota in the fourth are all to mar this gem, as Martinez gets plenty of run support to back his five-hit, one-run, no-walk, 12-strikeout performance. It’s the last time Martinez will strike out a dozen batters as a member of the Red Sox.

Oh, there’s that other game, too, and it’s probably more reflective of the frustration of the season. But you can read more about it here. I still don’t have the stomach.

14 comments… add one
  • you left out one key highlight of his career paul: his audition for “dancing with the stars” with don zimmer…that was a classic moment in sox history let alone pedro’s…kinda confirmed for me what kind of guy he was…

    dc March 17, 2008, 8:45 am
  • Oh I dunno dc, I thought the fact that he was hands-down the dirtiest head-hunter in the game kind of confirmed that long before that brawl. Besides, Zimmer did kind of charge him.

    AndrewYF March 17, 2008, 10:33 am
  • Come on, guys, don’t crap all over this exercise. Pedro was ridiculously good. It’s amazing he was part of only one championship, and in his last year. The guy was a supernova and in the AL East.

    A YF March 17, 2008, 10:44 am
  • no crapping ‘a yf’…i was just kidding, sort of…pedro was a great pitcher, but a bigger jerk…i was just reminding paul of that detail…he’s doing such a good job with these profiles, i just thought he’d want to complete the picture on this red sox great…

    dc March 17, 2008, 11:10 am
  • I always thought that being a dominant pitcher and being a jerk were one in the same. It’s hard to be great without knowing it.
    Clemens? Check.
    Ryan? Check.
    Unit? Check.
    Beckett? Check.
    The list goes on and on. Great pitchers know they own the plate and protect it. Regardless of which team they play for, they’re always going to instill some level of fear in a batter. It’s part of the makeup. Yeah, he was a jerk sometimes, but in the end, I’d rather he be a jerk with seasons like this, than be a nice guy getting hammered. I’d much rather have that guy that guys don’t want to get into the box against.
    Just me, though.

    Brad.. March 17, 2008, 11:50 am
  • Having only a superficial knowledge of Sox history, I’m thinking it will be quite interesting to if Pedro’s 1999 beats out Ted Williams’ .406 season.

    Nick-YF March 17, 2008, 12:15 pm
  • I was thinking about the same thing, Nick. Personally, I’d rather have Pedro’s year than any other pitching year in history, and since pitching wins (imho), I’d have to take the pitcher over the hitter every day of the week.

    Brad.. March 17, 2008, 12:59 pm
  • Good call Nick. I think Pedro’s 1999 season wins because it’s something most of us had never seen in our lives. Pedro completely dominated everyone he faced, and won both the Cy Young and MVP for it. Ted Williams’ .406 season was amazing too, but .406 is still just over 40% success. I know that’s an EXTREMELY simplistic way of looking at it (especially considering how difficult it is to bat even .300), but Pedro dominated the way no one else dominated.
    And yeah DC, what would you have done if someone charged at you? All Pedro did was throw him to the ground; many others would throw punches no matter who charges the mound.
    Also Brad, I wouldn’t call Nolan Ryan a “jerk”, he was just pretty fricken awesome.

    Atheose March 17, 2008, 1:54 pm
  • By the way, Colon started the inning off well (with 2 strikeouts, a walk and a hit) and then collapsed for 4 earned runs. Tavarez comes in for relief in the 1st. Ugh.
    At least Beckett’s back is coming along nicely, and Daisuke is set for opening day.

    Atheose March 17, 2008, 1:55 pm
  • I apologize for setting the wrong tone. Pedro was truly an amazing pitcher.

    AndrewYF March 17, 2008, 2:18 pm
  • Atheose:
    I only meant “jerk” in the sense of being a dominant inside pitcher that would occasionally plunk a guy for stepping too far in, or running his mouth. Guys feared him, like most great pitchers that have been mentioned. I’m sure he was a great guy, but on the mound, it was another story indeed.

    Brad.. March 17, 2008, 3:01 pm
  • One thing is for sure..
    Bartolo, no matter how well he’s pitching, can’t pitch against NY. They’re in his head.
    Lets just hope, for both teams, it doesn’t come down to a Mussina v. Colon matchup for any real purpose. ha.

    Brad.. March 17, 2008, 3:03 pm
  • Why the focus on Pedro’s 1999? Not to give anything away, but another debate we should be having is which season was better: Pedro’s 1999 or Pedro’s 2000. Does Williams’ 1941 top either, both or neither of these?

    Paul SF March 17, 2008, 3:22 pm
  • “…And yeah DC, what would you have done if someone charged at you? …”
    well atheose, is the someone 70-something years old? ….anyone who saw it with both eyes open realize that pedro instigated that incident, and could have backed off without any physical contact…you guys are still po-d at him [zim] for blowing ’78…pedro’s a jerk period….sorry my original joke rubbed you the wrong way, and brad’s attempt to gloss over and defend pedro’s nasty side comes up short…
    it’s possible beckett just didn’t want to make the trip…not complaining though theo, please don’t fine him or anything…

    dc March 18, 2008, 12:45 am

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