Putting Pedro Martinez’s Minus Stats in Context

Although Pedro Martinez may not have had the longevity or durability of some of baseball’s other pitching greats, there is little doubt that his peak years were some of the best, if not the best, that any pitcher has ever produced. With the introduction of the “minus stats,” ERA-, FIP-, and xFIP-, we have yet another tool with which to put these fantastic years in context. Here’s a look at Pedro’s 1999-2003, with the reminder that 100 is average and unlike the “plus stats,” (OPS+, wRC+, etc.), lower is better.


Year ERA- FIP-
1999 42 30
2000 35 46
2001 52 36
2002 50 51
2003 48 49

Of course, without context, those are just numbers. Beautiful numbers, but still just numbers nonetheless. To truly understand how legendary Pedro’s season was, we need to compare it to a number of other storied pitching performances and see how they compare.

Let’s start in Pedro’s own era. Martinez certainly wasn’t alone in pitching greatness, as Roger Clemens, Greg Maddux, and Randy Johnson – all easy first-ballot Hall of Famers – often rivaled him for the Cy Young award. Johnson’s total of six sub-60 ERA- seasons and two sub-50 FIP- seasons are impressive, but don’t compare to Pedro’s ’99-’01. Clemens never posted a FIP- below 50 or an ERA- below 45 (a number he achieved twice, ’97 and ’05). Maddux may have had a chance to best Pedro’s 2000 ERA- of 35 in either 1994 or 1995, both strike-shortened seasons in which Maddux posted a 37 and 39 ERA- respectively. However, Maddux never struck out enough batters to approach Pedro’s FIP- marks, never bettering a 53 in 1994.

Although the whole careers of the above pitchers compare very well to Pedro’s, at least by ERA- and FIP-, their peaks come up short. With that in mind, let’s look back into the annals of baseball history at some of the more legendary pitching seasons of all time.

As far as pitchers without longevity but fantastic peaks go, it’s hard to top Sandy Koufax. Koufax put up four of the best consecutive years in MLB history from 1963 to 1966, compiling at least 7.8 WAR (according to Baseball-Reference) each season. His best years bookend this stretch: 1963 and 1966 both resulted in 10.8 WAR. However, Koufax “only” managed ERA- marks of 62 and 53 and FIP- marks of 62 and 67 respectively. Of course, although Koufax didn’t quite dominate the league like Pedro did, Koufax’s season spanned over 300 innings, while Pedro’s hovered around 200, another difference in the two eras.

Finally, here’s a look at some of the best individual pitching seasons of all time.

Bob Gibson, 1968: 1.12 ERA, 1.78 FIP, 38 ERA-, 65 FIP-
Steve Carlton, 1972: 1.97 ERA, 2.01 FIP, 55 ERA-, 60 FIP-
Dwight Gooden, 1985: 1.53 ERA, 2.13 FIP, 44 ERA-, 59 FIP-
Walter Johnson, 1913: 1.14 ERA, 1.89 FIP, 39 ERA-, 62 FIP-
Gaylord Perry, 1972: 1.92 ERA, 2.50 FIP, 60 ERA-, 74 FIP-
Bob Feller, 1940: 2.61 ERA, 2.88 FIP, 63 ERA-, 72 FIP-

And just for kicks, a couple of recent ones.

Zack Greinke, 2009: 2.16 ERA, 2.33 FIP, 47 ERA-, 52 FIP-
CC Sabathia, 2008 (just with Milwaukee): 1.65 ERA, 2.44 FIP, 39 ERA-, 57 FIP-
Roy Halladay, 2010: 2.44 ERA, 3.01 FIP, 60 ERA-, 74 FIP-

Although with the older pitchers, their performances were coming in many more innings pitched (usually around 100 more, to be specific), nobody was able to outclass the rest of their league in the way that Pedro did from 1999 to 2003. Even matching one of Pedro’s three seasons from 1999 to 2001 is nearly impossible. Honestly, given how fungible pitching is and how ridiculously talented Pedro Martinez was, I would be quite surprised if I see such a tremendous peak again in my lifetime.




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43 Responses to “Putting Pedro Martinez’s Minus Stats in Context”

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  1. Kevin S. says:

    Am I the only person slightly thrown off by the use of minus instead of plus here? I understand that it’s trying to capture the “lower is better” nature of ERA and FIP, but I think most all of us are at least passingly familiar with ERA+, and I know I’ve certainly become accustomed to comparing players on indexed stats where more is better, regardless of how the raw stat behind it works. Maybe it’s because the positive extremes are bounded here instead of the negative extremes. Pedro’s ERA- of 35 in 2000 just doesn’t have the same sort of oomph that his ERA+ of 291 does.

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    • TFINY says:

      I’m not thrown off at all. I can see what you mean, but it seems just as intuitive to me to have lower be better.

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      • Matt says:

        The part that is annoying is that Pedros FIP- of 30 in 1999 means he was 70% better. 30 to 70 is easy enough to do on the fly, but his FIP- of 36 in in 2001 requires a little more thought to translate over to 64% better.
        You can call me a simpleton for not wanting to have to do simple math in my head, but it just feels awkward to even need to. A stat should say what it wants to tell you, not bring you 98% of the way there and make you finish the rest.

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      • Kevin S. says:

        Except I don’t think that’s the case. According to ERA+, Pedro was 191% better than league average in 2000. His ERA- isn’t saying he’s only 65% (100-35) better than league average.

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        • Ben Hall says:

          @ Kevin

          The reason that I like ERA- better is that the denominator does tell us how much better the player was than the league. ERA+ tells us how much worse (or better) the league was than the player. Pedro’s ERA+ tells us that the league was 191% worse than him, which is just a weird way to think about it. It’s not wrong, just weird.

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      • Nick says:

        @Kevin

        ERA+ doesn’t work like that. When you have a player ERA of 1.74 and a lgERA of 5.06, then the player is (5.06-1.74)/5.06 (65%) better than average. The key is that the 5.06 is in the denominator. When making that calculation with ERA+, the player’s ERA is in the denominator.

        This is why a 291 ERA+ does not imply an ERA 191% better than average, but a 35 ERA- implies an ERA 65% better than average.

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    • Telo says:

      I’m not sure if there’s some sort of other advantage that we’re not seeing here, but I generally agree with you.

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    • Al Dimond says:

      I think what’s cool about ERA- or FIP- is that it should be on the same scale as wRC+ for rating batters. So… in 2000 Mike Lansing was the worst hitter in MLB with a wRC+ of 48. Pedro made the average hitter he faced worse than Mike Lansing. That’s pretty cool.

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      • Kevin S. says:

        Except it’s not really the same thing. You’d need to know Pedro’s wRC+ against… which is actually something I would like to know.

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      • Al Dimond says:

        No, it isn’t the same thing, but I think together ERA- and FIP- are equivalent and better than wRC+ against. Equivalent because it’s at the same scale. Better because it’s better suited to measuring pitchers.

        wRC+ is an estimate of how much a hitter contributed to offense, per-PA. It’s needed because hitters don’t score runs all by themselves. But starting pitchers finish most of the innings they start, so we don’t need to figure out how many runs they gave up from the hitting events, we can take it straight from the box score, and then make ERA- from it. Why look at an estimation when you have the real thing?

        If you’re not interested so much in how effective the offense was against a pitcher, but rather how well the pitcher pitched, FIP- measures just the things the pitcher has the most control over, combines them and adjusts them to the same scale. There are probably better pitcher evaluation numbers out there than FIP, but FIP is pretty good. Why use a hitter’s estimation when you have a pitcher’s estimation?

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      • Kevin S. says:

        It’s how your phrased the question. If you want to know what he made the hitters look like, you need to use the hitters’ stats. I wasn’t saying wRC+ against was a better way of evaluating a pitcher, I just thought it would be a cool thing to know.

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    • mattinm says:

      I’d probably prefer it to be on a negative and positive scale, with 0 the average and the distance from zero being the percentage from average (with negative being worse, and positive being better).

      I’m not sure why scaling around 100 (+ or -) is better than 0. It could be aERA or @ERA or |ERA| or ERA& or whatever notation to represent “absolute” ERA, as the number is your “absolute” percentage from average, with direction applied by – or +.

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  2. Tyler says:

    For curiosity’s sake, what are the numbers for Ubaldo’s first half of 2010?

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  3. Wrighteous says:

    Pedro probably took steroids. Not that it matters, just sayin

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    • kick me in the GO) NATS says:

      As far as it is possible to know, he didn’t. He has freakishly long fingers that add significantly more spin to the ball.

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    • When has there been any suggestion that Pedro took steroids. The only connection I’ve ever seen is in the first three letters of his name. One of the significant downsides of the openness of the Internet is that any half-brain can post a slanderous statement without any accountability.

      I hope Wrighteous’ post is deleted. It has no place here.

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      • Small Sample Goodness says:

        He’s been blessing the comments sections with his steroids blather for what, two years now? No sense getting rid of him now.

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    • joser says:

      Wrighteous, do you ever post here to say anything but that? Maybe you do, and your comments are just unmemorable enough that I don’t recall them, but I certainly recall long discussions of other players where your only contribution was just this — and it was just as pointless and off-topic.

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  4. db says:

    I object to using FIP or any of its variants to discuss past performance. To determine how good someone was, not how good someond is going to be, the record of what actually happened is far more telling than an adjustment that is supposed to neutralize luck from the actual record. In other words, ERA and RA and
    ERA+ are important in talking about how good someone is. I don’t care if they have a high strand rate contributing to their good ERA because I am not looking for potential future regression.

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    • Small Sample Goodness says:

      Yeah, it’s a real shame that he didn’t include ERA at all in the article.

      Wait a minute….

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    • test says:

      I agree totally, and think that using FIP to evaluate careers is completely missing the point of the stat as well. If someone outperforms their FIP for an entire career, then the “problem” isn’t that the pitcher was lucky, it’s that FIP didn’t provide a good summary of their actual ability to prevent runs. Examples – Glavine, Wakefield, Walter Johnson (I don’t think FIP works for deadball era pitchers, which is another problem).

      I don’t mind the ERA- stat though, it does make sense, I just have to adjust my head around it.

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    • Ben Hall says:

      No, FIP is what actually happened. It leaves out all of the balls in play, but is based on strikeouts, walks, and home runs, all things that actually happened.

      ERA is also a measure of what happened, but it cannot separate how many of the hits were because of bad fielding and how many were the result of good hitting.

      FIP looks at those things that pitcher completely controlled.

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  5. CptSpandex says:

    Pedro was one of my favorite pitchers to watch of all time — particularly from his breakout season in 1997-2003. The man could sling the baseball.

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    • CptSpandex says:

      Whoops… cut it off… Just sayin, did I miss something in the article as to why 1997 and 1998 seasons are not included. 1997 stacks up with 1999-2001 in just about all the mainstream stats. What does the tool tell us about his true breakout season.

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  6. CptSpandex says:

    Because generally, I would consider Pedro’s peak to be 1997-2003. That’s 7 seasons, and not all that short, really.

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  7. dudley says:

    nice analysis, Jack–i knew that pedro was dominating at a history level during those years, but i didn’t realize that he was possibly the most dominating pitcher (relative to his peers) of all time. let’s hope he gets the koufax treatment and goes to the HOF, despite his lack of huge aggregate stats.

    i was curious about your comment at the end about the ‘fungibility’ of current pitchers. do you think that there’s less spread between average and great pitchers now than in our recent history? it seems to me like Halladay, Lincecum, possibly Cliff Lee and a few others are just as dominant relative to their peers as most of the top hitters. don’t the WAR scores bear this out?

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  8. Eric Feczko says:

    I like the analysis, Jack. I would have also compared pedro’s peak to the previous best season by a red sox pitcher (200+ innings pitched): Dutch Leonard in 1914.

    Stat line:

    0.96 ERA, 1.84 FIP, 36 -ERA, 69 -FIP

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  9. NEPP says:

    Pedro Martinez is one of the all-time great pitchers.

    Discuss.

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    • BlackOps says:

      Pedro Martinez is my personal “best pitcher of all-time.” I know I’m not alone.

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      • Wrighteous says:

        When you consider the quality of the hitters Pedro was facing and his level of dominance I agree. As this post notes, pitchers from different generations/eras will never be perfectly comparable.

        What made Pedro so unique was how dominant he was not only in a historical sense (lowest FIP- ever whatever that is) but also how much more dominant he was than the typical pitcher in his era. Obiously there were other outliers like Pedro in the late 90′s (Maddux, RandyJ, clemens, as the post notes), but none of them came close to Pedro.

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    • Tim says:

      Got into a discussion with my father in law about this. He says he would take Gibson over Pedro any day. Pedro pitching in Gibson’s time would just be ridiculous.

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      • TLD says:

        If Pedro pitched in Gibson’s time he’d probably be hurt a lot. Pedro was saved by only having to pitch 200 innings per year.

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  10. Ben says:

    Also just for shits and giggles- Stephen Strasburg, 2010:

    2.91 ERA, 2.08 FIP, 72 ERA-, 52 FIP-

    I really hope the dude comes back healthy and full-strength.

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  11. Repo Man says:

    One obvious advantage of ERA- over ERA+ is that there is an additive component that you can use to compare players to the league average in the same year.

    If Player A had an ERA- of 58 in 2010 and Player B has an ERA- of 72 in 2010, that implies that in 2010 the difference in ERA’s between the two players was roughly 14 percent of the league average ERA in 2010.

    However, if Player C had an ERA+ of 152 in 2010 and Player D had an ERA+ of 166 in 2010, that does not imply that in 2010 the difference in ERA’s between the two players was roughly 14 percent of the league average ERA in 2010.

    For any given year, you can’s just add or subtract across with ERA+ because the denominator changes for each player. But for any given year, the denominator is essentially the same for ERA- for all players, and so you can add or subtract across.

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    • Eric R says:

      “If Player A had an ERA- of 58 in 2010 and Player B has an ERA- of 72 in 2010″. Well, assuming they were in the same league and if park adjusted, the same home ballpark as well, right?

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  12. Noseeum says:

    I love Pedro. And I’m a Yankee fan. So confident. Gladly took it on the chin and took responsibility when he got beat. Genius on the mound. Really enjoyed everything about baseball, including busting your elbow wih an inside pitch. Wish he was a Yankee.

    Should be a first ballot hall of famer for sure.

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  13. Mountainhawk says:

    Ad Rob Neyer (I think) once wrote, if there was a league above the Major Leagues (the way ML is above AAA), Pedro probably would have been the best pitcher in that league in 1999 and 2000.

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