The average 20th century Hall of Fame starting pitcher has 258.3 career wins. That number is dragged down by Sandy Koufax’ 165 victories, but he can’t be omitted from this exercise as I consider him the best starting pitcher to ever throw a baseball.
Former Boston Red Sox ace Pedro Martinez retired following the 2009 season with just 219 wins and only two 20-win seasons. Is it possible that he’s a first ballot Hall of Famer?
Looking at recent trends in history, it sure seems like a long shot. If the aforementioned list is narrowed down to the nine Hall of Fame starting pitchers that were active since 1980, the win average jumps to 306.6. Martinez didn’t come close to that number in his career—falling 87 wins short. So why are we even having this discussion?
Let’s dig deeper.
Martinez pitched seven seasons in the American League during the heart of baseball’s Steroid Era. In this period, Martinez won 101 contests, losing only 28 decisions. Randy Johnson (106) and Greg Maddux (105) were the only two pitchers with more wins in this span, yet Johnson lost 46 games and Maddux 55. To this point, Martinez’ career winning percentage is a kingly .687 (219-100), good for seventh all-time and second only to Hall of Famer Whitey Ford among pitchers with at least 200 wins since 1901.
Martinez led the league in ERA five times, twice finishing with a number under 2.00. Of the 124 pitchers since the beginning of the Steroid Era to compile at least 1,500 innings, only Pedro Martinez has a career ERA under 3.00 (2.93), accomplishing the feat with over 2,827 innings pitched. He is the first starting pitcher since 1986 (Tom Seaver) to retire with a sub-3.00 ERA and only the 14th in the last 90 years. Much of this success can be attributed to his yielding an average of only 7.07 hits allowed per nine innings, which ranks seventh all-time among starting pitchers.
While his relatively small frame (5’11”, 170 lbs.) might have suggested otherwise, Martinez was also a dominant power pitcher, leading the league in strikeouts three times. He also led in strikeouts per nine innings five times during his career, and his lifetime mark of 10.04 in that category ranks second all-time among starting pitchers behind only Johnson (10.61).
Using my own unique statistical formula, I ranked the ten most dominant individual seasons by a pitcher since 1930. Martinez showed up twice on the list. His 2000 season ranked ninth, while his unbelievable 1999 campaign ended up being right up there at the top of the list. That’s almost unimaginable considering the seasons that the pitcher-friendly 1960s produced as well as the fact that Martinez was likely facing a juiced lineup on any given night in his career. Koufax, by the way, finished second (1965) and third (1963) in my top 10.
Though his career totals may lack in comparison to many of the current members of the Hall of Fame, Pedro Martinez’ average output on the mound and dominance during the Steroid Era blows the competition away in many cases. Martinez should be a lock for the Hall of Fame, and he should get in on the first ballot. Agree or disagree?
(JM Catellier is the author of the book Fixing Baseball, a guide to restructuring the Hall of Fame. Follow him on Twitter: @FixingBaseball and Facebook, and check out his site: www.fixingbaseball.com)