First I wanted to write a post about pitching and offense since the end of the “steroid era”, then I wanted to write just about Ubaldo Jimenez, but now, I feel something coming on…
1968 was, once upon a time, dubbed “the Year of the Pitcher”. The best pitcher that season was Bob Gibson, so conventional logic holds that Bob Gibson’s 1968 is the best season a pitcher ever had in the modern era.
Conventional logic is wrong.
The big problem with Gibson’s 1968 was that it was a year that heavily, heavily favored the pitcher–so much so, that after the season the mound was lowered from 15” to 10”.
Now, I ask you, what’s more impressive: when the Giants beat the Cowboys in 2007, or when they beat the Patriots in the Super Bowl?
When evaluating a pitcher’s season, you can’t just look at what a pitcher did himself; you have to look at the environment in which he was pitching.
Let’s time-travel, now to 2000.
The average slash stats for the Major Leagues: .270/.345/.437/.782. By OPS, it’s the third best offensive season (after 1894 and 1934) ever. By home runs hit/allowed, the best, by runs/game, the best since 1930, and by slugging the best ever.
You can fiddle around with the statistics here.
So you would think that the best pitcher, the best starter in 2000, Pedro Martinez, may have struggled a bit.
You’d be (mostly) wrong.
In one of the greatest offensive seasons ever, Pedro pitched to an ERA of 1.74, a WHIP of 0.737 (!!), and an 8.88 K/BB ratio, for the season, as a starter.
Gibson’s 1968 exceeds Pedro only in ERA.
One of the better stats to look at, ERA+, which relates how well a pitcher pitches compared to the league average for that year, clearly illustrates this point: Gibson’s 268 was really great; Pedro’s 291 is historically good.
Of course, when you see Ubaldo Jimenez’s 515 ERA+ for 2009 (that’s like, hitting 90 home runs in a season, in terms of scale), you might be tempted to dismiss Pedro, but a quick comparison reveals that, other than ERA, Pedro’s 2000 was and still is better:
ERA U 0.88 WHIP 0.925 K/9 7.7 H/9 5/3
ERA P 1.74 WHIP 0.737 K/9 11.8 H/9 5/3
Then consider that, thus far, 2010 is a weaker year offensively than 2000 (by OPS, 2010, thus far, doesn’t even rank in the top twenty), and while it doesn’t so much diminish what Jimenez has done, it only makes what Pedro did look all that more impressive.
The most striking thing about Pedro’s 2000–and probably the biggest argument in favor of discounting the pitcher won-loss record as a meaningful statistic–is that somehow he managed to get tagged for six losses.
The entirety of the 2000 season, Pedro allowed five or more runs just twice, and the game he allowed the most runs–six–he had a no decision.
In his six losses, Pedro allowed 1, 3, 3, 2, 3 and 1 runs. In games the Red Sox lost but Pedro received a no decision, he allowed 1 and 5 runs.
What’s this mean? Quite simply, the 2000 Red Sox were not very good at the whole run support thing. If a quality start is defined as six innings and three earned runs, as well as the reasonable probability of his team winning the game, then only one loss–his last one of the season–came in a game that was not otherwise a quality start, ie, a game his team had a reasonable opportunity to win.
Sidenote: the one start he went just four innings, against Tampa, he allowed three runs. His removal was not due to a poor outing, but rather to elbow stiffness. It couldn’t have been that bad, however–Pedro made his next start, winning seven innings of shutout baseball.
There’s no argument that Pedro, in his prime, was one of the greatest pitchers to ever step foot on a Major League baseball mound. When one factors in the offensive environment (of, erm, his opposition and not, apparently, his own team), it can be reasonably argued that Pedro’s 2000 was the greatest season a modern era pitcher has ever had.
Did it come as a surprise? Well, any season with a WHIP under 0.800 is insane, but Pedro was already an elite pitcher. 2000 was his fifth of five all star seasons in a row (and six overall), and his third Cy Young award.
Yet, as with many things, the more that time passes, the more we realize how historically great offenses were at the turn-of-the-millennium, we find ourselves with a better scale for measuring just how amazing Pedro’s season was.
So watch Ubaldo this season, it’s a must, but just remember that thus far, Pedro was better.