Top 50 Sox Seasons #1: Pedro Martinez, 2000

18-6, 1.74/0.737/.173, 217 IP, 284 K, 32 BB, 11.8 K/9, 1.3 BB/9, 8.9 K/BB, 5.3 H/9, 4 SHO, 291 ERA+
Cy Young, All-Star, Sporting News Pitcher of the Year, MVP — 5

Some day, as ERA+ and OPS+ become more and more acceptable to the mainstream sports commentariat, 291 will be to pitching what .406 is to hitting. Had Pedro Martinez merely put up a 191 ERA+ in 2000, it would have been tied for the 52nd-best mark of all time. But he exceeded that by 100 points.

Let me state this unequivocally: Not only did Pedro Martinez in 2000 post the best season by any player in Red Sox history, he posted the best pitching season ever in the history of baseball. His 1.74 ERA, stripped of all context, is still in the top 100. When considering the league-average ERA in 2000 was 5.07, the mind boggles. No hitter has ever bested the league-average OPS by 190 percent – no one’s really ever come close.

Martinez’s 2000 is generally recognized as one of the great seasons – it’s mentioned in a breath with Gibson’s 1968, any of Sandy Koufax’s final three seasons, Maddux’s 1994-95 campaigns. The only problem is that Martinez blows all of them away.

Thanks to Baseball-Reference’s stats neutralizer, we can look at what the stats for any season of any player would have looked like in any other year, in any other league, in any other ballpark. Here are seven of the best seasons ever by a pitcher – all with ERAs lower than Martinez’s in 2000:

  • In 1914, Dutch Leonard set the all-time record for ERA, at 0.96.
  • In 1968, Gibson posted the third-lowest ERA ever, with a 1.12.
  • Christy Mathewson in 1909 and Walter Johnson in 1913 set career lows at 1.14.
  • In 1908, Cy Young set his career-low ERA with 1.26.
  • Greg Maddux in 1994 posted a terrific 1.56 ERA in the strike-shortened season.
  • Koufax’s career-best ERA came in 1966, at 1.73.

Here’s how Martinez’s 1.74 ERA in 2000 would have looked in those environments:

  • Pitching for the Red Sox in 1914, it would have been 1.09 (with a WHIP of 0.577).
  • For the Cardinals in 1968, it would have been 1.01 (0.545 WHIP).
  • For the Giants in 1909: 1.12. The Senators in 1913: 1.22.
  • For Boston in 1908: 1.08.
  • For Atlanta in 1994, Martinez would have posted a 1.43 ERA.
  • For the Dodgers in 1966, Pedro would have posted a 1.15 ERA – better than half a run better than Koufax – and finished with a record of 22-3.

Put Martinez anywhere in the history of the sport, and he would top the best pitchers of the era. Pitching for the Dodgers in 1968, he would have posted a 0.98 ERA. For the Rockies in 2000, a still-sparkling 2.03. Martinez dominated, dominated, dominated.

Only twice in Pedro’s 29 starts that year did he leave the mound with a game score under 50 (a 44 on Aug. 14 and a 48 on Aug. 24). Eighteen times his game score topped 70; eight times it topped 80. His average game score of 73 is second only to Gibson in ’68 – when the league scored nearly two runs fewer per game. He allowed an OPS+ of 18, best in the Retrosheet era by far, and his WHIP of 0.737 is the all-time record, easily topping Walter Johnson’s 87-year-old mark. Martinez and Maddux are the only two pitchers outside the dead-ball era and the late 1960s to ever post a WHIP below 0.800. His 5.3 H/9 were fourth-lowest in history, and no one since has even allowed fewer than six.

Martinez did it with his lethal mix of four plus-plus pitches, all of which he threw with impeccable control. He struck out nearly 12 per nine innings, ninth-best in history. But none of those other eight (which comprises just three pitchers: Martinez himself, Randy Johnson and Kerry Wood) managed to walk fewer than 1.5 per nine, like Martinez did in 2000. No wonder then that his 8.9 K/BB ratio was the best ever among pitchers with at least 25 starts (later topped by Curt Schilling in 2002).

The temptation is to look at Martinez’s 1999 – with its gaudy win and strikeout numbers – and award the title of best-ever Red Sox season to that campaign. But it’s simply not true. Martinez could have won 21 games, but for three 2-1 losses. He was dominant from beginning to end – his ERA never topping 1.81. Only twice did he ever allow more than three runs in a game, and as a result posted a miniscule 2.44 ERA in his six losses – yes, that still would have led the league by better than a run.

It was during this time when Pedro alone packed the park. The possibility of a no-hitter was greater with him on the mound than anyone else in the league. Although Martinez somehow never threw one, fans saw a 15-strikeout two-hitter; a 10-strikeout, eight-inning one-hitter; a nine-strikeout four-hitter; a 15-strikeout six-hitter; and a 13-strikeout one-hitter. Only twice have big-league pitchers topped Martinez’s total of four shutouts since 2000, and they certainly weren’t members of the Red Sox.

Because no member of the Red Sox – not a hitter, not a pitcher – has ever dominated his opponents like Pedro Martinez did in 2000.

Key game: Aug. 29. Few words can describe this circus of a game – one so wild that the fact that Martinez is carrying a no-hitter into the ninth is almost overlooked. John Flaherty (John Flaherty?) breaks it up with a leadoff single in the final frame, but even so, it remains among the most memorable games played during the modern era of Red Sox baseball.

22 comments… add one
  • No argument from me on this Paul. As an aside, although there wasn’t much comment during this exercise of yours, I don’t think it was from lack of interest. Like many others, I’m sure, I was following along very closely to each of these posts. Simply amazing work with little to argue about. Great work man.

    LocklandSF April 1, 2008, 10:33 am
  • amazing, Paul.
    Not only a great choice for number one, but kudos to you for putting this line of posts together. A wonderful idea on your part, man.

    Brad April 1, 2008, 11:12 am
  • I too was following and even been listing each one on a list on the side bar of my blow with a link to each post…. Great job compiling this list.
    I also post a link to this one of a sports forum I chat on (they hate when I post sox threads, lol) Someone asked me to explain the stats neutralizer.

    TJ April 1, 2008, 11:22 am
  • As the above commenters note, we all owe Paul a HUGE debt for this truly amazing series. Also, let me reassure our readers that we’ll be creating a special link to it in our sidebar, so it remains an easily accessible part of our site for the future. Also, I believe a final post or two on the series is in the works.
    (Okay, Paul: Time to get crackin’ on the Yanks!)

    YF April 1, 2008, 11:54 am
  • Paul, this was amazing, amazing, amazing. I can’t imagine the time needed to do write-ups on every entry, let alone the research involved. Thank you so much!

    Devine April 1, 2008, 12:21 pm
  • “Red Sox first baseman Rico Brogna” is the start of one sentence in Jayson Stark’s article.
    Those were the days…

    SF April 1, 2008, 12:45 pm
  • EXCELLENT WORK — this would make a fantastic book.
    I share your belief that 2000 Pedro was the greatest pitching season of all time.
    The American League ERA in 2000 was 4.91, so Martinez’s 1.74 was 64.5% lower than the league. A batter performing at 64.5% above the league average would have hit .454 in 2000.
    Several years ago, I took a closer look at Pedro’s season. Check this out:
    On June 14, after twelve starts, his ERA was 0.99.
    Martinez faced 3 or 4 batters in 82.5% of his innings and he faced 5 or fewer batters in 206 of his 217 innings — a mind-boggling 94.9%.
    Martinez had at least one strikeout in more than 80% of his innings (177 of 217). He struck out the side 10% of the time (22 of 217). He went two innings without a strikeout only four times.
    Roger Clemens’s 2nd place AL ERA was actually closer to #38 (Rolando Arrojo, 5.63 ERA) than it was to Pedro.
    Eight voters left him off their MVP ballots.

    redsock April 1, 2008, 1:21 pm
  • “EXCELLENT WORK — this would make a fantastic book.”
    I agree with this 100%, considering that I printed out and read most of these in “the special room” where I do most my Red Sox reading.

    LocklandSF April 1, 2008, 1:36 pm
  • HAHA, that’s a little too much info Lockland.
    Like it’s stated above, these posts went largely uncommented but they were simply amazing. Paul you have gone above and beyond the norm for internet writers and you’re a huge asset to this website. It’s a pleasure reading anything you write on here.
    Also, you should seriously get this published. Throw in photos for each entry and expand on some of the earlier posts and you could EASILY stretch this out to 150 pages. And if you get a publisher to back you, you could get a chance to interview a lot of the players ;-)

    Atheose April 1, 2008, 2:39 pm
  • So many “Best of” or “Top #” books are schlock, but this one would kick ass.
    Excellent research — with intelligent stats — and well written.

    redsock April 1, 2008, 2:44 pm
  • Even that August 14th game he was quite impressive at the beginning. For the first 2 innings, he struck out 5 of the first 7 batters he faced, the 6th out was a groundout to the catcher and the 7th batter in those two innings (Steve Cox) had a single. At this point something happened to his shoulder and he left after 4 innings. If I remember correctly, they were saying that he had something in his shoulder start to bother him after the 2nd inning.

    Handshakes April 1, 2008, 2:50 pm
  • For anyone who wants a refresher as to what started the brawl in the August 29 game, here’s a link:
    Brings nostalgic tears of joy to my eyes hearing Pedro say “There’s no crying in baseball. If he wants to cry, let him cry.” God I miss that crazy Dominican.

    Atheose April 1, 2008, 2:55 pm
  • That’s a great clip, but my favorite was the 1993 Aaron Sele, George Bell, Mo Vaughn fight, simply because it always looked like Sele and Vaughn had it planned out. With Mo coming in and Sele getting out of the way just in time for Mo to run straight over the charging Bell.

    LocklandSF April 1, 2008, 3:11 pm
  • As I mentioned above I had posted this on a sports forum i chat on and I cant believe how much i have to defend this…. then again most people there are Sox haters but still.
    most people there are arguing that Boib Gibson had a better season in 1968.
    I just pointed out the comparison of Pedros ERA to the league average and then compared Gibsons 1.12 ERA to the 1968 average of 2.90
    Also only 6 hitters hit over .300 that year, two of them hit just .301 while in 2000 53 players hit over .300

    TJ April 1, 2008, 3:41 pm

    TJ April 1, 2008, 3:48 pm
  • Izzy gets vote for most creative mound charge lol

    TJ April 1, 2008, 3:50 pm
  • An awesome clip indeed.
    Thanks, all, for the kind words. In retrospect, the true thanks should go to my wife, who went to bed alone many nights so I could stay up and work on this until all hours. She’s a saint.
    Anyway, it was a joy to rank and research all the seasons. Thanks to SF and YF for providing the forum. Otherwise, this would have just been a testament to what a huge dork I am (not that it isn’t that already, but imagine if there was no hope of anyone reading it!).

    Paul SF April 1, 2008, 4:09 pm
  • We appreciate your dorkiness, Paul, we really do. :)
    I’ll just echo everyone else here – this has been a phenomenal read and a large part of why I finally decided to stop lurking and start being active in the comments on this blog. And you could absolutely get it published.
    Boy, Pedro was something, wasn’t he?

    Micah-SF April 1, 2008, 5:52 pm
  • I’ll add my compliments as well. These posts are something I’d like to refer back to once in a while. Would you consider a dedicated page on your site with links to each of them?

    Sean April 1, 2008, 6:02 pm
  • > Would you consider a dedicated page on your site with links to each of them?
    It’s in the works, Sean. We’ll post an article when it is done.

    attackgerbil April 1, 2008, 6:07 pm
  • Bravo, Paul! Indeed, these should be made into a book.

    Nick-YF April 1, 2008, 6:37 pm
  • Great post! Wow!

    Craig July 31, 2008, 1:11 pm

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