Clayton Kershaw is coming off what was legitimately one of the best starting-pitcher seasons of all time. Though he would miss a few turns due to injury, that problem was quickly forgotten, as Kershaw still approached 200 innings and finished with both an ERA and an FIP that were half the league average. There was one stretch where Kershaw didn’t allow a single run over four consecutive starts, and that stretch was bookended by a pair of one-run outings. Yet as amazing as Kershaw was, there was one game where he allowed seven runs in under two innings to the Diamondbacks. Those seven runs were 17% of Kershaw’s regular-season total. In July, I tried to investigate what went wrong.
Kershaw, in 2014, had one of the better pitcher seasons ever. Pedro Martinez, in 1999, had maybe the best pitcher season ever. Pedro posted the lowest FIP- ever by a starter, at 28. The next-best mark is 36, also posted by Pedro. The best non-Pedro mark is 45. Over the course of baseball history, that 1999 FIP- is a full five standard deviations better than the mean. Pedro’s strikeout rate that season was 5.4 standard deviations better than the mean. I should note that this doesn’t include what Pedro did in the All-Star Game, or in the playoffs. In the All-Star Game, he struck out five of six batters, with one reaching on an error. In the playoffs, Pedro spun 17 shutout innings, allowing five hits and a .267 OPS. Pedro Martinez, that season, was probably the best that any starting pitcher has been. The statistics are unreal even before you remember to adjust them for the era.
Yet on July 18, Pedro faced the Florida Marlins and couldn’t get out of the fourth. His final line shows nine runs on a dozen hits, with no other season run total exceeding four. That year’s Marlins had one of the worst offenses in either league, and they’d lose 98 games. Just as Kershaw’s disaster was fascinating, so, too, was Pedro’s, particularly in retrospect. How did one of the best pitchers ever, in probably the best pitcher season ever, get killed at home against a bad team on the wrong side of a fire sale?