Regardless of what happens from this point forward, free agent Pedro Martinez will be known as one of the very best pitchers in the history of the game. A string-bean righty who was seen as too small to hold up under a starter’s workload while with the Dodgers in the early ’90’s, Martinez nonetheless established himself as a force, pitching very well for the Expos before reaching another level following a trade to the Red Sox. Pedro’s run from 1999-2003 will forever live in pitching folklore:
Pedro Martinez, 1999-2003:
1999: 213. IP, 1.39 FIP ERA, 13.2 K/9, 1.56 BB/9
2000: 217 IP, 2.16 FIP ERA, 11.78 K/9, 1.33 BB/9
2001: 116.2 IP, 1.60 FIP ERA, 12.58 K/9, 1.93 BB/9
2002: 199.1 IP, 2.24 FIP ERA, 10.79 K/9, 1.81 BB/9
2003: 186.2 IP, 2.21 FIP ERA, 9.93 K/9, 2.27 BB/9
However, that superhuman version of Martinez has long since left the building. The last time Pedro posted a FIP ERA under four was in 2005, his first season with the Mets. His 2007 season was spent rehabbing from a torn rotator cuff, and he missed a good portion of the ’08 campaign with a hamstring injury. In 109 innings, Martinez finished with a 5.18 FIP ERA, striking out 7.18 batters per nine innings and issuing an uncharacteristic 3.63 BB/9. A fly ball pitcher (41 GB%), Pedro was burned badly by the long ball (1.57 HR/9).
So, is there hope for a rebound? Martinez’s 5.18 FIP ERA might be overstating his decline somewhat. FIP ERA is a useful stat, but it does not “normalize” home run/fly ball rates. HR/FB rates for pitchers tend to stabilize at 11-12%, but Martinez posted a whopping 15.6 HR/FB rate. If we instead use Expected Fielding Independent ERA (XFIP), which uses a pitcher’s K and BB rates but also uses an average HR/FB rate (thus rooting out Pedro’s poor luck in that category), we find that he came in at 4.61.
Accounting for his poor luck on fly balls, Martinez was basically a league-average pitcher. But what is he throwing these days? To get a feel for Pedro’s stuff, let’s take a look at his pitch F/X data from Josh Kalk’s blog.
(X is horizontal movement. A negative X number means that the pitch is moving in toward a right-handed hitter, while a positive X means that the pitch is moving away from a righty hitter (in to a lefty). Z is vertical movement- the lower the Z number, the more the pitch “drops” in the strike zone.)
Fastball: -6.13 X, 7.25 Z
Sinker: -8.59 X, 3.83 Z
Curveball: 7.05 X, -5.57 Z
Slider: 0.93 X, 4.04 Z
Changeup: -9.1 X, 1.21 Z
Pedro’s fastball still retains a good deal of tailing action in on right-handed hitters, while his sinker has even more pronounced running and dropping action. While Fangraphs’ pitch data shows that Martinez’s 87.7 MPH fastball velocity was his highest since 2005, we’re still talking about a pitch with little margin for error. His slider/cutter too often caught the middle of the plate, but he still has two knock-out pitches in his low-70’s curveball and his mid-70’s changeup. Pedro’s curve is a sweepy offering, with a ton of horizontal break (7.05X) and a good deal of “dropping” action (-5.57 Z). The pitch essentially has the horizontal break of a slider and the vertical drop of a curve. His change, meanwhile, fades away from lefties (-9.1X) and “pulls the string” with a 6 inch difference in vertical movement between the fastball and the changeup.
A rebound for Pedro Martinez in 2009 entails two things: 1.) a decreased walk rate- finesse pitchers can’t walk over three and a half batters per nine- and 2.) an even more pronounced ability to pitch backwards, picking his spots with the fastball but relying heavily upon his big-breaking curve and fading changeup.
Call me crazy, but I’m not quite ready to stick a fork in Pedro yet. Yes, he’s 37 and injury-prone, but I get some Mike Mussina-type vibes from this situation. In 2007, Mussina endured a pretty rough campaign by his standards (4.58 XFIP) as he came to grips with his decreased velocity. But, with a deep repertoire of secondary offerings, he was able to rebound big-time in 2008. Of course, that’s the wildly optimistic scenario for Martinez- cases like Mussina’s are the exception to the rule, and Moose walked virtually no one (1.39 BB/9). But perhaps in the right ballpark, Martinez can become Moose-lite and turn in another above-average season.
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