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.