Seasons in Boston: 1998-2004
Honors: Member of the Baseball Hall of Fame, 2004 World Series Champion, 1997, 1999, and 2000 Cy Young Award Winner, 1999 Pitching Triple Crown, 5x ERA Title, 8x All-Star, 1999 All-Star Game MVP
Red Sox Numbers: 2.52 ERA, 0.98 WHIP, 117 W, 22 CG, 8 ShO, 1683 K, 53 ERA-, 51.9 fWAR
Signature Season (1999): 213.1 IP, 313 K, 23 W, 5 CG, 1 ShO, 2.07 ERA, 0.92 WHIP, 42 ERA-, 11.6 fWAR
Here we are at the end of this project. The introduction to my All-Time Red Sox roster came out on April 14 of this year, not too long after we learned we wouldn’t be having baseball for the foreseeable future. This exercise concludes right as we are about to have baseball again, perfect timing. We end with the unquestioned ace of this team and in my opinion the most dominant baseball player I’ve ever seen: Pedro Martínez. When I started dreaming up this roster years ago, his name was always the first I put down. The only legitimate debate you could have was whether or not you preferred his 1999 or his 2000 season. I prefer the former. I’ve always wondered in which Martínez felt most in command of his incredible powers.
There were so many attributes that made Martínez the most dominant pitcher in baseball, but if you have to boil it down to just three it was his heart, his stuff, and his command.
As Joe Posnanski describes in his write-up on Martínez for his 100 greatest baseball players series, when Martínez was being scouted as a 16 year old in the Dominican Republic he didn’t impress that many people. However, one voice, Eleodoro Arias, who had been a successful pitcher for the Dominican National team said, “Tiene el corazón de un león” translated, “He’s got the heart of a lion.” Martínez would sign with the same team, the Dodgers, which had signed his older brother and role model, Ramon, and begin his big league career.
By the time Martínez established himself as a big leaguer and began winning Cy Young awards in 1997 while with the Montreal Expos, the rest of the league knew that they were in trouble. Martínez’s stuff was just so filthy and he could put any pitch in his arsenal exactly where he wanted to at any given time and in any count. David Ortiz described what it was like to face Pedro before they became teammates.
“Pedro had the best stuff I’ve ever seen from a pitcher. Period. At best, most pitchers will have three great pitches. Pedro had four. He had a nasty cutter, a devastating changeup, a 12-6 breaking ball and a fastball that he could make look like a two-seamer or a four-seamer.”
His most devastating pitch was without a doubt his changeup, which Ortiz took some extra time to describe.
“Pedro’s changeup was the best I’ve ever seen. It was so good that he could have walked right up to the plate and told you, ‘Hey bro, I’m about to throw you the changeup.’ And you still wouldn’t be able to hit it. It would start right on the plate, then it would fade out. Most changeups have some movement, but Pedro’s would move about 10 inches away from you.”
Heart, check. Stuff, check. Now the command. Who better to describe the otherworldly command and control that Martínez had than the man himself? When talking to Sports Illustrated in March of 2000, he said, “I’m not afraid of hitting anyone, because I can put the ball where I want to. I only hit nine guys last year. When I do hit them, it’s usually just a nibble. I can nibble the jersey with the ball. That’s how much I can control the ball.” So there you have it. Three elements that add up to the perfect pitcher. One who, from 1997 through 2003, captured three Cy Young awards in two leagues while posting a 2.20 ERA, 0.94 WHIP, .196 BAA, and 47 ERA- over 1408 innings pitched while going 118-36.
So if Martínez was essentially a perfect pitcher, how was he traded twice, finally ending up on the Red Sox? On November 19, 1993, Martínez was traded by the Dodgers to the Expos for Delino DeSheilds. Dodgers executive Fred Claire had previously been on record saying “I won’t trade Pedro Martínez, I don’t care who they offer.” This all changed pretty quickly when the Dodgers needed a second baseman and his scouts convinced him Martínez was too small to hold up to a starter’s workload.
Martínez took a few years to get going, but when he finally got everything working in sync as a starter for the Expos, his magical 1997 season happened. He dominated the entire year, leading all of baseball with a 1.90 ERA, 0.93 WHIP, and 13 complete games while winning 17 games and striking out 305 batters. He was 25 years old and had just eclipsed 200 innings pitched for the second year in a row, and he would do so every year until injury struck in 2001. So much for not being able to handle a starters workload. He won the Cy Young over the second place Greg Maddux, who was just a year removed from winning four straight.
The Expos didn’t trade Martínez because they didn’t believe in his ability. They traded him because they didn’t believe they could pay him. Following his Cy Young season he was just a year away from free agency and the soon-to-be relocated franchise knew it couldn’t afford to keep him. In a stroke of genius Red Sox General Manager Dan Duquette offered top prospect Carl Pavano and a player to be named later which ended up being Tony Armas Jr., for the Expos young ace. They accepted on November 18, 1997 and the Red Sox changed the face of their franchise. Martínez then signed a six-year contract worth $75 million dollars making him, at the time, the highest paid pitcher in baseball.
The Red Sox had just finished their first season without former ace Roger Clemens and had finished fourth in the AL East, winning just 78 games. The team had some nice pieces with up-and-coming shortstop Nomar Garciaparra having just secured the 1997 Rookie of the Year award and with former MVP Mo Vaughn entering what was likely to be his final season with the team. It worked. In Martínez’s first year with the team he went 19-7 with a 2.89 ERA while leading the Red Sox to the playoffs as the wild card by winning 92 games. They unfortunately would be overpowered by an Indians club led by Manny Ramirez, losing in the ALDS three games to one. Martínez, of course, won his only start, striking out eight in the game one victory.
1999 was when things got very special very quickly with Martínez turning in what is, in my opinion, the most dominant season of all time. He had it all working from the start and would end up striking out 10 or more batters in 19 of the 29 games he started. He also tied a major-league record set by Nolan Ryan in 1974 with six games, striking out 15 or more batters in a single season.
Pedro had a legendary performance as the starter for the American League in the All-Star Game at Fenway that year, striking out five of the six batters he faced and earning the MVP Award. He struck out National League stars Barry Larkin, Larry Walker , Sammy Sosa , Mark McGwire , and Jeff Bagwell. Matt Williams was the only person to reach base and that was on an error. This performance was reminiscent of how the great Carl Hubbell had struck out five Hall of Famers in a row at the 1934 All-Star game at the Polo Grounds.
Following his exceptional performance at the All-Star game, Martínez had his lone bad start of the year, allowing seven earned runs against the Marlins. Over the entire season he would only allow more than three earned runs twice. He got his mojo back quickly with his last three 15 plus strikeout games coming on the road. He dominated the Twins for 15 on August 24th and the Mariners again on September 4. His finest performance, perhaps of his entire career, was saved for the Yankees at Yankee Stadium on September 10. On this legendary evening Martínez struck out 17 batters on the defending World Series champs, with everything working perfectly in this nine inning, one hitter.
In the playoffs, Martínez started Game One against the Indians in a rematch of the previous year. He pitched four shutout innings before leaving with a strain in his back. The Red Sox dropped the first game, but Martínez felt healthy enough to enter the decisive Game Five in relief with the game tied 8-8 in the bottom of the fourth. He then pitched six innings of shutout ball in the 12-8 win.
The Red Sox then went on to face a juggernaut of a Yankees team in the ALCS. The Red Sox would lose the series in five games, but Martínez dominated Clemens in Game Three, grabbing the only Red Sox win of the series 13-1 at Fenway. He threw seven innings of shutout ball while striking out 12 Yankee hitters. Martínez described how it felt at times during these performances in 1999 telling Sports Illustrated, “The plate, it looks so close. There are days when I first get out to the mound and it feels just like this, like the plate is closer than it’s supposed to be. Then I know right away. It’s over. You are fucked. Fucked.”
All told, Martínez’s 1999 season ended up being the best single season for a pitcher by FanGraphs WAR in history with a mark of 11.6. He claimed the only pitching Triple Crown of his career by winning 23 games, posting an ERA of 2.07, and striking out a Red Sox record 313 batters. Martínez’s 2000 season was perhaps even more memorable from a numbers standpoint as he set the major-league record for ERA+ by a starter at 291 and for WHIP by a starter at 0.74. His ERA for the season was 1.74 at a time when the American League average ERA was 4.91. Batters hit just .166 against him in 2000 which was the lowest mark for a starter in the Modern Era.
Martínez would continue to dominate while with the Red Sox, going 117-37 during his time in Boston while posting a 2.52 ERA. He would finish as the Red Sox all-time leader in ERA- at 53, K%-BB% at 25% (min 600 IP), and BAA at .204. He ranks second in WHIP at 0.98, third in FanGraphs WAR at 51.9, third in strikeouts at 1676, and seventh in wins, all while being a distant 16th in innings pitched at 1378 ⅔ . Although he would never dominate in the playoffs to the same degree he did in 1999, Martínez threw seven scoreless innings in Game Three of the 2004 World Series in a win over the Cardinals. He would play parts as both the tormentor and the tormented against the Yankees in the 2003 and 2004 ALCS matchups.
After the 2004 season where the Red Sox finally broke the curse Martínez signed with the Mets as a free agent. As much as I love Pedro, I was okay with this because he had done what he came here to do. He instilled an attitude of fearlessness when it came to the big bad Yankees saying in 2001, “I don’t believe in damn curses. Wake up the damn Bambino and have me face him. Maybe I’ll drill him in the ass, pardon me the word.” The curse was gone, and so was Martínez.
He would go on pitching until the end of the 2009 season finishing his career with 3,032 strikeouts. Martínez joined Tom Seaver, Walter Johnson, and Bob Gibson as the only pitchers with an ERA under 3.00 and more than 3,000 strikeouts. Martínez is also the all-time leader among retired players in both ERA+ at 154 and ERA- at 67. Clayton Kershaw is slightly ahead of Martínez in both marks, but is still active. Martínez also ranks fifth in winnings percentage by a starting pitcher in the Modern Era with a mark of .687.
On January 6, 2015 Martínez was elected to the Hall of Fame in his first year of eligibility earning 91.1% of the vote. He became just the second Dominican player ever elected, joining his hero Juan Marichal. There is so much more that could be said about Martínez and his fantastic career. Those of us who were watching during his prime were all so lucky to have witnessed his performances on the mound, his personality in the dugout, and his charity work off the field. Martínez epitomizes what it means to be a Hall of Fame player and a Hall of Famer person and he is without a doubt the ace on this All-Time Red Sox roster.