Pedro Martinez's Dominant Prime Makes Him the Greatest Ever

Anthony Witrado@@awitradoFeatured ColumnistJanuary 6, 2015

AP Images

Pedro Martinez, the greatest pitcher ever. 

Not liking him is fine. Not every player in his era did. But denying his dominance at the height of one of the best offensive eras in the game's history is unjustified.

Even if that first statement is not agreeable, it is not arguable that Martinez is a first-ballot Hall of Famer. Anyone who left him off their HOF ballot, regardless of the reasoning, should have his or her privilege reviewed—and then maybe revoked.

Those people are few and far between, though. Martinez, in his first year on the ballot, was nearly a unanimous inductee Tuesday. He received 91.1 percent of the vote, the eighth-highest percentage for a pitcher in the history of the Baseball Writers' Association of America voting for Hall of Fame inclusion.

"I don't want to die and hear everybody say, 'Oh, there goes one of the best players ever,'" the normally blunt and sometimes cocky Martinez said during the 2009 postseason. "If you're going to give me props, just give them to me right now."

No one is great forever. Other pitchers threw the ball for longer, until they were nearly half a century old. Others, including Martinez's contemporary peers, bested him in the counting statistics. But for the time when any pitcher is considered to be great, for however many years that may be, none was greater than Martinez.

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Martinez does not have the accumulation stats of some of his peers, including fellow 2015 inductee Randy Johnson, who picked up his final 57 victories in his final five seasons when he also had a 4.28 ERA and was 46 years old. Martinez retired at age 37 and had not qualified for an ERA title since age 33, injuries sapping him while he still had the ability to be elite.

Injuries may have cut down Martinez's milestones, but they did not take away the dominance he provided. For a stretch of seven seasons, starting with his final one as a Montreal Expo up until his final one as ace of the Boston Red Sox, the Dominican right-hander was mesmerizing.

From five consecutive strikeouts in the 1999 All-Star Game to his 17-strikeout, one-hit performance in Yankee Stadium, Pedro's memorable prime, which includes a stellar age-33 season with the New York Mets, was better than anyone else's.

CHARLES KRUPA/Associated Press

Of the 15 starting pitchers who outdo Martinez in terms of accumulated WAR for their best seven seasons—they do not have to be consecutive seasons—only three, including Johnson, pitched after 1968, the season dubbed "The Year of the Pitcher" that prompted the mound lowered from 15 inches to 10. One of those is Bob Gibson, one of the pitchers who excelled through 1968 to propel the rule change. Aside from them, good luck finding a color picture of the other dozen who have better peak WAR marks than Martinez.

Those other three post-1968 pitchers threw at least 1,057 more innings than Martinez, greatly helping their WAR totals. But when Martinez's WAR total is prorated into a 200-inning box, he has greater value than any pitcher in baseball history (h/t to SI.com's Jay Jaffe for providing this barometer). His 5.9 WAR per 200 innings is better than Roger Clemens (5.7), Walter Johnson (5.6), Lefty Grove (5.3) and Johan Santana (5.1).

Also, Martinez's career 154 ERA-plus is the best ever. ERA-plus is a rate stat that values consistency rather than accumulations, such as strikeouts per nine innings, which Martinez is second of all time (10) behind Randy Johnson (10.6, minimum 2,500 innings).

Over a seven-year stretch, from 1997 through 2003, no pitcher in his era was better than Martinez by ERA-plus. Randy Johnson included. 

Highest ERA+, 1997-2003: 1 Pedro Martinez 213 2 Randy Johnson 170 .. 5 Curt Schilling 141 7 Roger Clemens 133 8 Mike Mussina 129

— High Heat Stats MLB (@HighHeatStats) January 6, 2015

His 1999-2000 seasons came in the midst of the highest-scoring era in baseball since the 1930s. They also came at the height of an era that now polarizes the Hall of Fame of which Martinez is now a member. He pitched in a time when performance-enhancing drug use was widespread and not policed by Major League Baseball. Ballparks shrank, hitters expanded and offense spiked.

But Martinez got better.

In each of those seasons, Martinez led the league in ERA, Fielding Independent Pitching (FIP), strikeouts, ERA-plus, WHIP, hits per nine, home runs per nine, strikeouts per nine and strikeout-to-walk ratio. He won the Cy Young Award each season as well as finishing in the top five of American League MVP voting. He came in second to Ivan Rodriguez in 1999, although it is widely recognized now that Martinez's season was better and likely helped Justin Verlander and Clayton Kershaw win MVP Awards.

For as good as 1999 was, Martinez was better in 2000. He posted the best single-season ERA-plus (291) since the mound was moved back to 60'6" in 1893—his ERA-plus in 1999 (243) is eighth-highest of all time. He finished fifth in MVP voting that season while accepting his third Cy Young Award in four years.

One stat that goes against Martinez's legacy is win total, though we are coming to a point when the majority of baseball people understand there are much better ways to evaluate a pitcher. Martinez did not have 300 wins, making him just the second pitcher since 1991 to be elected without membership into that exclusive club. The other guy, Bert Blyleven, needed 14 years on the ballot and a grassroots campaign to gain induction.

With Martinez's election this year, we can officially say the big gulp of voters has changed how pitchers and their statistics will be evaluated going forward. At least, we hope that to be true since win totals are so subjective. For perfect instance, Martinez did not get the win on June 3, 1995, when he retired the first 27 batters he faced through nine innings—normally a perfect game had his offense managed a single run during that time.

Physically, Martinez was a marvel. The product of deceptive arm speed, his changeup has an incredible case as the best anyone has ever thrown. He paired it with a mid-90s fastball that was just as deceptive since it came from a frame that was generously listed at 5'11", 170 pounds. Guys who actually are 5'11", 170 may laugh at those measurements if they ever stood next to Martinez during his prime. He later developed a slider, giving himself three top-shelf, run-preventing weapons.

He was the combative little guy with the arsenal to slay any monster who stepped into the box.

"Read the story of David in the Bible," Martinez said in a snippet of an interview that aired on MLB Network on Tuesday. "I'm the David of baseball."

He was also underappreciated in his prime, as he seemed to be in this HOF vote.

Pedro Martinez had 91 percent of writers' votes. Not sure how 49 voters leave him off their ballots, but hey, he's in, that's what matters.

— Jason Mastrodonato (@JMastrodonato) January 6, 2015

Because baseball did not fully understand or value advanced metrics at the time of his peak, Martinez's run could not be properly put into historical context. Now it can be. And it is, at the very least, as good as anyone who has pitched before or since.

For so long, names like Sandy Koufax, Walter Johnson and Bob Gibson were the historic pitching barometers. Now is the time to add Pedro Martinez to the list.

Advanced statistics courtesy of Baseball-Reference.com.

Anthony Witrado covers Major League Baseball for Bleacher Report. He spent the previous three seasons as the national baseball columnist at Sporting News and four years before that as the Brewers beat writer for the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. Follow Anthony on Twitter @awitrado and talk baseball here.

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