Pedro Martinez Circa 1997

Small, thin, and built to win.

While still considering why Pedro Martinez doesn’t have a job when lots of teams need pitching, I figured I would bring up a couple of Pedro’s best seasons this week. Today, we start with a dominating 1997 that put him on the map.

Coming into his fifth season in a major-league uniform, Pedro Martinez was a blossoming youngster. He had been a reliever for the Dodgers because Tommy Lasorda believed that Pedro was too small to last as a starting pitcher. Needing a second baseman for the 1994 season, the Dodgers traded Pedro for Delino DeShields.

Pedro was good for the first three seasons. He was a combined 38-25, and he had posted ERA’s in the mid-3’s. Interestingly enough, he was better than that with FIP’s in the lower 3’s for a couple of those seasons. Unlike most young pitchers, Pedro even had control, consistently hitting around 3 in his BB/9. On June 3, 1995, he pitched nine perfect innings, but Joey Hamilton matched him by only giving up three hits. In the tenth, he gave up a double and was removed from the game. But in 1997, he took his game to a whole other level.

April went well for Pedro. He won 3 games and had an ERA of 0.44. Excellent in all three games, he struck out 23 and walked 7, but his best was yet to come. Over the next five games, he obliterated his competition on the way to an 8-0 record to start the season. Pedro threw 3 complete games (1 shutout), and the other two games saw him pitch 7 innings for 41 innings over that span. He gave up 7 earned runs to raise his ERA to 1.17 while he struck out an amazing 45 and walking only 4.

In his last start of May, things didn’t go as planned. He cruised through the first three innings, but the fourth saw Pedro lose himself and his fastball. After the leadoff hitter reached on an error, Pedro got a flyout to right field. Starting his control problems, he walked the next man before striking out the one after. Over the next five batters, he threw 15 pitches and only 3 were strikes. When he threw a strike, they hit it to the tune of 3 hits, 2 walks, and 5 runs. With two outs, none of them were earned, but the walks really killed him. Carlos Baerga added a two-run shot the next inning to finish the Dominican’s evening.

Pedro shrugged off the start in June, but he would only go 2-2 in the month while throwing 5 complete games (1 more shutout). His offense was anemic that month. The scores of his starts were 2-1 (L), 5-4 (in the only game in which he didn’t go at least 8 at 6.2 IP), 1-0 (W), 2-1 (L), 2-1, and 2-1 (W). For the season, the Expos were 9th of 14 teams, but they were otherwise solid for the rest of the month, going 17-11.

Pedro scuffled a bit more in July, with his second-highest ERA of 2.61 (I like how you can scuffle with a 2.61 ERA). July 5th saw him walk an uncharacteristic 6 batters and give up four runs in a loss to the Braves and Tom Glavine. On July 24th, the Astros only got 5 hits, but they made them count. Luis Gonzalez and Chuck Carr had home runs, and they took advantage of a rough 4th to take the game 10-5.

Probably angry from that start, Martinez got down to business. The following start on July 29th saw him give up 5 hits while striking out 13 and walking 1 in a complete game shutout against the Rockies. Two more complete-game victories brought his record to 14-5, and he was looking to be a real Cy Young favorite. Over his next four starts to end August, he never gave up more than 2 earned runs in a start on his way to a 4-1, 1.09 ERA month. By the end of August, he was 16-6, but the wheels fell off a little in the final month, his worst.

Leading up to September, Pedro had already thrown 204.1 innings and was a lock to bypass his 216 from the previous season, but because he didn’t start until April 15th, he was working a bit harder. In September, he would throw at least 7 innings in each start, but he would give up 5 and 4 runs in two separate starts to bring his ERA to 1.91. Only after the July 24th game did his ERA get so close to 2, and it was an identical 1.91. With two starts left, he only surrendered 3 runs in 15 innings to end the season with a 1.90 ERA and a 17-8 record.

It’s hard to fathom how good Pedro was that season, and it’s even harder to fathom that his 219 ERA+ is only his third best. Pedro would go on to win the 1997 Cy Young Award by garnering 25 of 28 first-place over Greg Maddux, who had a great 1997 campaign of 19 wins and a 2.20 ERA. But no one could match Pedro’s 305 strikeouts except for Curt Schilling (319) or his ERA or near his 13 complete games (Schilling was next with 7). In only two months did he have an ERA north of 2 and never did he have one north of 4. He even had one south of 1 and one that almost did the same. Better yet, with a 0.932 WHIP, he didn’t even allow a baserunner an inning. Even with that, he only finished 16th in the MVP voting. A 78-84 record can do that to you. However, scarily enough, we hadn’t seen the best from the 25-year old.

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