Pedro Martinez on the Art and Science of Pitching

Pedro Martinez was a genius with a baseball in his right hand. One of the most dominant pitchers of all time, he didn’t just overpower hitters. He outsmarted them. When he was on top of his game – as he often was – he was almost unhittable. No starting pitcher in history has a better adjusted ERA.

Martinez might be best described as a thinking man’s power pitcher. His pure stuff alone would have made him a star. His ability to read hitters and maximize his talent put him on a whole new level. The Hall of Fame awaits.

Martinez – currently a special assistant for the Red Sox – shared the wisdom of his craft earlier this week at the site of some his greatest glory, Fenway Park.

——

Martinez on the art and science of pitching: “Pitching is both [art and science] and you have to put them together. You have to study a lot. You have to study the movement of your pitches – the distance your pitches move compared to the swing paths of batters. You have to learn to read bat speed against the speed of a fastball. You can tell a slow bat or a long swing, or a short, quick swing. You counter those things. If a hitter has a slow swing, I don’t want to throw him anything soft. I want to go hard against slow. If he has a quick bat, I probably want to be soft more than I want to be hard. You have to be able to repeat your delivery and be deceiving at the same time.

“You repeat – you try to be consistent – until they start to figure out what you’re doing. If they don’t, that’s great. Just go through your routine and repeat, repeat, repeat. I wish I could have just thrown fastballs, but that wasn’t the case. I went along with the way the hitters and the game was going. I let the game come to me. I executed whatever I had to execute.”

On being a student of the game: “I would say the second half in 1996 is when I [made the transition from thrower to pitcher]. After that I felt I was on top of my craft. I felt like I could do what I wanted to do. I’d have off games sometimes, but everybody does. But most of the time I’d be around where I wanted to be. That’s when I feel I was becoming who I wanted to be as a pitcher.

“So much goes into it. You spend as much time as you can watching the game. You watch what the players do and how they do it. That’s how you become better. You never learn how to play ball on your own. If you follow the ball, the ball should teach you. You see over and over, and you repeat over and over what’s going on with the ball – the ball curves, the ball bounces bad, the ball bounces good, the ball is caught, the ball is thrown, the ball is hit. Everything is around the ball.”

On the importance of feel: “Pitching is feel. Your hand and the ball is a marriage that should never end. The pitcher and the ball should be married forever. Hands, fingers, the ball – they should be married forever. It’s like caressing your wife. It’s touching and getting that feel to know her, alone. It’s the same thing with a baseball.

“I can tell you right away the difference between two balls. If you put them in my hands I’ll tell you this one I like because of this, this one I don’t like because of that. I would throw them back. Unless I felt comfortable with a ball I wanted to throw for a certain pitch, the umpire was going to get it back. If I was planning to throw a curveball, I wanted the seams to be sticking up. Some balls have bigger seams than others. And I didn’t want a dry, slippery ball with a bad rub, or really flat seams for any pitch. I wanted to be on top of what the ball was going to do when I threw it.”

On weather effect: “Sometimes the weather is a factor. If you have a strong wind in front of you and you throw a ball and expect to see it break… if you’re used to seeing it break a foot, and the wind knocks it, it might break only half a foot. You delivered the ball right, but it broke six inches. That’s mother nature.

“Throw a knuckleball in front of wind. Ask R.A. Dickey or Tim Wakefield, or Charlie Hough. They’ll tell you what happens to a knuckleball with wind in front of them. Same with a changeup, because the rotation on a changeup is backwards. Sometimes it’s in circles going away from the hitter. If the wind is coming from the north – from your right – it might have a certain impact on the rotation of the ball.

“[Exact[ movement you never know. Gravity is a factor. That’s why everything is together. Science. Everything we’ve talked about is part of it. Mother nature. I liked hot, humid, sticky days to pitch. I hated windy days. Looking back, I think in 40 percent of my games it rained it before, during, or after the game. It was always something with the rain for me.”

On commanding the ball: “I didn’t always throw to the mitt. I had different targets I threw to. One was the ear flap on the catcher. I’d use that as guidance for height. I looked for hands; I’d throw right below the hands on certain hitters. For some others I would look knee high, or even lower. Sometimes I’d throw off the black, away by three or four inches. It depended on the hitter and the movement. I knew on a given day how my ball was moving.

“I pitched to my strength with whatever I had that day. The feel was something I woke up with. One day you might wake up with a great breaking pitch. Other days you wake up with a good changeup but not a breaking pitch. Maybe you just wake up with your fastball. I had three pitches I could normally rely on, but they weren’t always all there. On the days they were, it would be a shutout. Maybe it would be a one-hitter, something special.”

On his changeup and his fastball: “I had control over how much my changeup was going to move. I could command it. I’d have to say I tried to throw a strike with it about 50 percent of the time. It depended on the situation. If I was ahead in the count, the strike zone wasn’t an issue. Sometimes I wanted the ball out of the strike zone. But the times the count was 3-2 and I flipped that changeup, I wanted to throw it for a strike. And I would change speeds on it. You can’t always throw the same thing. Would you go to the movies to see the same one all the time?

“My fastball was my best pitch. I was a power pitcher for most of my career. My fastball had a natural tail. I threw four-seams and two-seams, but predominately fours. My four was a power fastball that I could ramp up when I needed to. I could spot it.

“I needed [velocity] when I was younger. I didn’t have it late in my career, but I was mature. I was old. I was wise as far as pitching, so I didn’t have to throw as hard. The equalizer was age.”

On mechanics and arm action: “I changed [my mechanics] over my career. I was always studying and always trying to improve. I looked at a lot of video and not only of myself. I looked at everybody who pitched and made comparisons. I was a patch. I wasn’t gifted with everything I had. I was a patch of everything I learned from so many players.

“My arm action stayed the same until I got older. It got a little slower and my arm angle got a little lower. But it was good enough to pitch. You can change things as you learn. How do you study medicine? As a kid, you have that passion and you study it. How do you become a ballplayer? You practice it. Repetitions, repetitions, repetitions. You keep learning and getting better. I never stopped trying to learn.”



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David Laurila grew up in Michigan's Upper Peninsula and now writes about baseball from his home in Cambridge, Mass. He authored the Prospectus Q&A series at Baseball Prospectus from February 2006-March 2011 and is a regular contributor to several publications. His first book, Interviews from Red Sox Nation, was published by Maple Street Press in 2006. He can be followed on Twitter @DavidLaurilaQA.


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Displaced Fan
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Displaced Fan
2 years 6 days ago

As a six year old, I watched Clemens like I was watching a superhero, but it was Pedro that made me fall in love with the game of baseball. Thanks for this!

Spit Ball
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Spit Ball
2 years 6 days ago

Spoiled we were watching those 2 back to back.

frivoflava29
Member
frivoflava29
2 years 6 days ago

Same here, I genuinely feel like I might cry every time I see footage of him

John
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John
2 years 6 days ago

Fantastic interview

Hurtlocker
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Hurtlocker
2 years 6 days ago

Very, very interesting! What a great pitcher.

14
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14
2 years 6 days ago

This is great- Pedro’s reflection reminds me a lot of Sadaharu Oh’s Zen Baseball.

srpst23
Member
srpst23
2 years 6 days ago

Thanks for the great article. I had forgotten how utterly dominant his 1999 season was until this article. He had an FIP of 1.39 (FIP- of 30), K%-BB% of 33.1. It had to be (and was according to War)the best pitching season in the past 20 years. And because it came during the steroid era, it will be tough to beat when adjusting to the overall scoring environments of today.

bawfuls
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bawfuls
2 years 6 days ago

Plenty of people consider it (or perhaps his 2000) as the best pitching season ever.

Catoblepas
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Catoblepas
2 years 5 days ago

With very little doubt, the best consecutive years ever.

a eskpert
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a eskpert
2 years 5 days ago

Fergie Jenkins 1970-1971.

Orsulakfan
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Orsulakfan
2 years 6 days ago

Pedro was one of those guys where it wasn’t about “how many pitches does this guy have”. We tend to say this guy has 4 pitches (2 fastballs, curve, change), this guy has 3, etc. But Pedro was so inventive that he could throw a whole slew of different kinds of the same pitch by changing the grip ever so slightly on all the pitches he threw. So he had like 4 changeups, 4 fastballs, 3 curveballs, etc. I’m sure most major league pitchers do this to some extent, but Pedro’s feel was unbelievable. I wonder if all the sophisticated pitch data we have would ever do justice to the diversity of Pedro’s arsenal.

Spit Ball
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Spit Ball
2 years 6 days ago

Maybe the pitcher worth the most per pitch in history. 99-00 were sick. I don’t think I missed a start or his single relief appearance during those 2 years. I used to like trying to think like him when he pitched; lest I could not. AWESOME, merely great in the years around that.

Mike G
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Mike G
2 years 6 days ago

Didn’t he lead the AL in ERA in 2000 by almost two full runs over 2nd place? 99-00 Pedro was the most dominant pitcher I have ever seen.

MDL
Member
MDL
2 years 6 days ago

1999
1. Pedro’s ERA/FIP: 2.07/1.39
2. Randy’s ERA/FIP: 2.48/2.76

2000
1. Pedro’s ERA/FIP: 1.74/2.17
2. KBrown’s ERA: 2.58
2. Randy’s FIP: 2.53

By pitching WAR it’s also pretty silly
1999
1. Pedro: 11.9
2. Randy: 9.6

2000
1. Pedro: 9.9
2. Randy: 9.5

Keep in mind that the league average ERA/FIP were 4.71 in 1999 and 4.77 in 2000 (compared to 3.81 today), so his ERA-/FIP- numbers are just as mind-blowing.
1999: 42/30
2000: 35/46

The equivalent numbers today would be about 1.35 ERA and 1.38 FIP. For a full season.

Dave
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Dave
2 years 2 days ago

Hard to compare Pedro in 1999 and 2000 to two players in the NL, especially with how the AL East was playing those years. in 2000 alone, the closest player in the AL to Pedro’s ERA was 2 points higher.

Andrew
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Andrew
2 years 6 days ago

Being from Boston…I hardly ever missed a Pedro start. Bathroom breaks were when the Sox were hitting – never when Pedro was doing his job. My favorite was trying to predict each pitch sequence…trying to think along with Pedro and Tek. He’s the best ever. Then Grove. Then Koufax.

Not So Fast
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Not So Fast
2 years 6 days ago

Pedro Martinez wants to caress my wife?

Thought he was an AL pitcher, but it turns out he’s a ‘free swinger’.
Damn hippies.

Don’t like it.
No Sir, not one bit.

HookedOnPhonics
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HookedOnPhonics
2 years 5 days ago

Reading for comprehension is a key skill we should all develop.

Wow
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Wow
2 years 5 days ago

Some people don’t do humour.

DavidKB
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DavidKB
2 years 6 days ago

What an interview.. I sincerely hopes he spouts philosophical wisdom like this in his current role with the Sox. I can just imagine a young pitcher trying to figure out how to caress the ball like his wife, haha. Love it.

Dick Schofield
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Dick Schofield
2 years 6 days ago

For all the Dodger fans, can you interview Delino DeShields next?

atoms
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atoms
2 years 6 days ago

BOOOOOOOOOOOOOO this man.

bawfuls
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bawfuls
2 years 6 days ago

aaaaaand now it’s time for a stiff drink, thanks

Scott
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Scott
2 years 6 days ago

The right arm of god

Can I humbly request a follow-up where he discusses his favorite moments? The near perfect game after hitting Gerald Williams, the shut-down end to his 1 hitter at Yankee Stadium, the 6 shutout innings in relief against the Indians, his return to Fenway as a Met, etc.

Jaunty Rockefeller
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Jaunty Rockefeller
2 years 6 days ago

Pedro might not wanna reminisce about his return to Fenway as a Met…7 runs, 6 earned, in 3 innings…

Great interview, though. Man I loved Pedro. Number 45 on my lineup card, #1 in my heart, forever and ever, amen.

Scott
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Scott
2 years 6 days ago

No, you had to be there. The love was palpable. It wasn’t a baseball game, it was a reunion.

markjd
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markjd
2 years 6 days ago

Excellent stuff. Thanks for this.

Diane
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2 years 6 days ago

Pedro needs to replace Kevin Millar on “Intentional Talk”, immediately.

Some Dude
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Some Dude
2 years 6 days ago

I read this site often and have never commented, but I wanted to chime in here. I lived in New York during the beginning of the Yankees’ mid-’90s run, and despite my dad being a Yanks fan, I just didn’t care about baseball. We moved to the Boston area in ’97 or ’98 and I remember how there was such a circus every time Pedro pitched. Being a cynical teen, I couldn’t wait to actually look at the facts and comment on how absurd everyone was acting.

So I watched him pitch a couple times, and I totally got it. Every time he pitched, it was an event. You always thought he might be able to throw a no hitter, but you knew at least you’d be entertained by his dominance. He made me completely fall in love with baseball, I think I saw every inning for the next couple years(we still like each other, but the passion has subsided).

Going to see him pitch live was an experience I’m glad to have. Watching any clips of him on the Sox, or his exuberance and child-like happiness after winning in ’04, still give me the chills. I don’t know we’ll ever see anyone like him again (I haven’t even commented on his personality: he was churlish at times, but his sense of humor and generosity were more prominent; plus how would you act if you were one of the greatest at your job of all time?).

Needless to say, I loved this interview and his insights and would love to hear more. Considering what he did in the midst of the steroid boom, I don’t think he gets nearly enough credit. Can’t wait to see him make the Hall.

Bo Knows
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Bo Knows
2 years 6 days ago

astounding, truly astounding

Bip
Member
Member
Bip
2 years 6 days ago

Unfortunately I haven’t been following baseball closely for long enough to have seen Pedro in his prime (and understood what I was seeing.) I’m curious if anyone ever saw him get a ball from an umpire and just throw it back?

Seconded
Guest
Seconded
2 years 6 days ago

My mind wants to say yes but I might be making that memory up. I have definitely seen Kershaw return an unused ball though.

I really commented because of your name. I remember Pedro throwing a perfect game for 9 innings and the game was tied 0-0 against the Padres. Then Bip Roberts hitting a double in the 10th inning to break it up.

Belloc
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Belloc
2 years 6 days ago

Yes. All the time. But that isn’t unusual. Pitchers know immediately when they grip a ball if something isn’t right, much the way hitters can tell if their bat is off by a quarter of an ounce.

Nate
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Nate
2 years 6 days ago

Pedro was not afraid to pitch inside, he established this early in his career. I really think this played a part in his success as well.

bada bing
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bada bing
2 years 6 days ago

I don’t think Pedro was scared to pitch down the middle.

Nate
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Nate
2 years 5 days ago

You missed the point but ok

Timmy
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Timmy
2 years 6 days ago

Best pitcher I’ve ever seen and my favorite pitcher of all-time.

Elite stuff, command, and mechanics, and confidence. His inner game was as amazing as his skills as a pitcher.

Magick Sam
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Magick Sam
2 years 5 days ago

He’s the reason I started watching baseball. The way his pitches moved, exploded…I didn’t have any idea professional sports could be so beautiful. Great piece.

MrKnowNothing
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MrKnowNothing
2 years 5 days ago

This was beautiful.

Ben
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Ben
2 years 5 days ago

Absolutely wonderful. Hoping for a similar interview with Greg Maddux someday.

Max G
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Max G
2 years 5 days ago

I saw Pedro pitch for the first time in an interleague game in Toronto. The Bluejays vs. the Expos, on Canada Day, no less. I’m not Canadian, but it was quite an event, and it was perhaps the best pitching performance I saw in person. The Expos beat the Jays 2-1. Carlos Delgado homered off of Pedro late in the game, but outside of that, the entire team barely hit the ball out of the infield. I think he had 10 Ks, but the weak dribblers that stayed fair was the best anyone could do outside of Delgado launching his only mistake. I’ve seen Roger Clemens while a Bluejay, throw a dominant 4-hit shutout against what was at the time a Yankees juggernaut, and I’ve seen several Halladay gems, but when I think of great pitching performances over the years, I still shake my head at how silly Pedro made that lineup look for the entire game. Every batter looked truly helpless against him as he worked both sides of the plate. You could see it in their body language; the Jays were scared, like they knew they were out before they even stepped up to the plate. In that same game, Vladdy Guerrero smoked one of the hardest hit line-drive homers I ever saw, it was gone in about 2 seconds.

This article was an astounding read; very insightful to tap into the mind of one of the all-time greats. Now we have a little taste of what made him so special. Crazy that he could differentiate between how high the seams were and thought to reject the ones that did not meet his standards. That is extreme attention to detail. This was one of the better Fangraphs articles of this year. Thank you!

Brian
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Brian
2 years 5 days ago

There are some highlights from the game you went to on YouTube actually, see below:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gnfs-rXuhgY

Max G
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Max G
2 years 4 days ago

Wow! I had no idea. Thank you!!

Krejci
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Krejci
2 years 2 days ago

I’ve seen a no hitter and a few 1 hitters. But the best game I ever saw pitch was 5/12/2000, Pedro v. Baltimore. Pedro pitched a complete game shut out, allowing only two singles in the 5th inning. He struck out 15 and walked none. It was a hot and humid night in Baltimore and at the end of the game Orioles fans and Red Sox fans were cheering the dominance of that night.

DavidJ
Member
DavidJ
2 years 5 days ago

“I can tell you right away the difference between two balls. If you put them in my hands I’ll tell you this one I like because of this, this one I don’t like because of that.”

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=m1agaZinJHg

Seriously, though, great interview!

Stephen
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Stephen
2 years 5 days ago

I was only a young kid when the Red Sox traded for Pedro, barely knowledgeable about the game so when I read that he could throw 97 mph and then back it up with a 83 mph change, I was floored. How did hitters have a chance? Little did I know that his curveball was equally as devastating as any of his pitches. He had three plus-plus pitches with elite command of them all, with a cutter just to keep them honest to boot. He truly had video game stuff. He could get four or five strikeouts with all three of his pitches and voila, rack up 15 Ks by the end of his outing. Another attraction for me was the fluidity and coordination of his delivery. He had a classic arm motion with great leg drive. He worked quickly, mixed in all his pitches and threw strikes–so much fun to watch.

Strasburg’s the only pitcher I’ve seen who can match Pedro’s pure stuff, in the sense that he has three plus-plus pitches and they go fastball, curve and change. Hopefully he can put together some legendary seasons like Pedro before his career’s done.

A C
Guest
A C
2 years 5 days ago

Love all the great sentiments written so far. I am fully in the same boat. I fell in love with the game when Pedro was in his prime, and no one in my lifetime has come even close to displaying the same kind of mastery of pitching that Pedro did in his best years. It was just silly. The elite-ness of the pitches is one thing, but that swagger and attitude on the mound was pure alpha wolf. That’s what made it such an event; dude was fearless, and was gonna battle against anyone who came up to the plate. Really tough to put it into words, but man was he great.

Wdr
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Wdr
2 years 5 days ago

The 1 hitter he threw vs. The Yanks in the Stadium on a September Friday Night was one of the most enjoyable sports watching experiences I’ve ever had in my life.

ESPN Classic used to run it once in a while, if you ever get the chance, watch it.

Andrew
Guest
Andrew
2 years 5 days ago

On the days after Pedro pitched, the Globe used to publish a table of how many runners advanced to first, second, third, etc. in addition to the box score. That’s what really puts his dominance in perspective for me – not only that every outing was a legitimate chance for a no hitter, but that a good outing wasn’t measured by runs, but by the number of runners who advanced past second. It hope we see another pitcher put together a run like ’99-’00.

Bob a
Guest
Bob a
2 years 4 days ago

Martinez was a master, I saw many of his Fenway starts in person…watching him was better than watching the home team batting. He beat Tom Glavine in June 1998 in an interleague game at Fenway that took less than two hours, it was a revelation to watch two pitchers at the top of their games deal….I miss watching him twirl!!!

Joel
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Joel
2 years 2 days ago

I couldn’t help but think of this clip when Pedro was talking about the marriage between a pitcher and the ball:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AW5hS4fvERg

james wilson
Guest
james wilson
11 months 29 days ago

Martinez commanded English very well, and was funny in two languages. He was the best pitcher ever over seven years, and the second pitcher under six feet to get in the Hall.

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