Thursday, October 29, 2009

Vote for Pedro

A Surprisingly Short Baseball Post with only One Goofy Statistic

Many people believe that Sandy Koufax's run from 1963-1966 was the greatest in baseball's history. They are wrong.

As spectacular as he was (and I'm not saying he wasn't), Koufax played in an era when spectacular pitching performances were commonplace. He posted ERAs under 2.00 3 times, but from 1962 to 1972 the league leader in ERA was under 2.00 12 times, capped by Bob Gibson's record-setting 1.12. In addition to playing in a pitching-friendly era, Koufax played in a pitching-friendly park, Dodger Stadium.

On the other hand, let's look at the fellow starting for the Phillies tonight, and his run from 1997-2003. Pedro Martinez won 5 ERA titles, the same as Koufax, and posted some ridiculously low ERAs, including twice below 2.00. He didn't win as many games, but that was a product of his era, not his pitching. And he had a ridiculously high winning percentage, over .700 every year.

But here's the thing: he played in the homer-happy millenial era. He faced a DH, he faced guys juiced on steroids, he played in that dinky park in Boston.

During this 6-year period, the six highest single-season HR totals in the history of the game were recorded.

There's a statistic called Adjusted ERA+ that looks at a pitcher's ERA, and adjusts it for the league average and the parks he pitches in. By this measure, Pedro had 5 of the greatest 20 seasons since the First World War, including #1 all time, his 2000 season. Koufax's best season, 1966, is good for 34th best.

To put it in golf terms, Pedro shot a 63 playing Bethpage Black in U.S. Open conditions, while Koufax shot a 62 at the Hartford Open.

I've always been somewhat mystified by the awe people have for Sandy Koufax. Not only was he not quite as special during that 5-year period as people think, but that 5-year period represents nearly his entire career. He was in the majors for 8 mediocre seasons before that, during which he went 54-53 with an ERA over 4.

Pedro not only exceeds that period, he bookended with four strong seasons in Montreal, and a decent if injury-marred period with the Mets. And if the Phillies win the World Series, he'll be the first pitcher in history to win a Cy Young and a World Series in both leagues.

Maybe then he'll receive the awe deserves.

Bonus Fun Facts: If you don't feel like clicking the link above, I'll share with you some highlights. Besides Pedro, the other stud on the list is Walter Johnson with 4 seasons in the Top 30. Greg Maddux has the #2 and #3 seasons, but doesn't appear again. Kevin Brown made a surprise appearance. And in case you needed any more reasons to watch this kid, Zach Greinke cracked the Top 20 with his 09 season. This is all based on ignoring the pre-WWI seasons.


kmosser said...

And let us not kid ourselves: Walter Johnson was a stud.

Anonymous said...

You had me at Koufax. But, thanks to your objective take, I'm learning to love Pedro. Thanks, Doris K-G.