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Now in his 15th season, Martinez, 34, has fit many descriptions. Once best known as the younger brother of Ramon, his teammate on the Dodgers and then the Red Sox, Pedro has since been labeled as an intimidator, a headhunter and a supreme artist on the mound.
Into the beginning of the century, Martinez fired 95-mph heat. His high-octane fastball set off a knee-buckling curve that made him as untouchable as any other pitcher. Now he often tops out in the 88-89 mph range, with occasional pitches in the mid-90s.
Though the artist's brush strokes are a little slower of late, the dabs he makes are more precise and the pallet has more colors. "He still has the full package," says Leo Mazzone, pitching coach for the Baltimore Orioles. "He has movement, he has change of speeds, change of directions."
Mazzone knows well the record that Martinez is about to break. Long before he was a pitching coach in Atlanta, nurturing the likes of Greg Maddux, Tom Glavine, and John Smoltz, Mazzone was a Yankee fan growing up in Westernport, Md. His favorite Yankee? Whitey Ford. Like Ford, Mazzone was a 5-foot-10 left-hander growing up.
"He had the greatest nickname of any pitcher -- 'The Chairman of the Board'," Mazzone says.
Like Met fans, Mazzone has been watching the New York edition of Martinez over these last two seasons. He still sees the same traits in Martinez that he had in Montreal a decade ago: "He is one of the smartest, most confident pitchers in the game," Mazzone says. "He has attitude. Call it mound presence. He knows he can stick it to you," referring to Pedro's confidence in his ability to get hitters out.
Anyone watching the Mets' edition of Martinez over the last two seasons has been treated to an artist pitching masterfully despite a loss of velocity. He not only throws circle changeups to set up other changeups, but a three-quarter arm position is now his norm. Opposing hitters mumble about the difficulty of picking up his deliveries. He varies arm angles and speeds and weaves in and out like a boxer working his hands high and low.
"He's the best I've ever seen," said Jim Palmer, Hall of Fame pitcher and current Baltimore broadcaster. "I always said you need four things to be a great pitcher -- location, movement, velocity, and deception. He's got all those. Now, you add the intelligence he brings to the mound and we're not talking about a mere mortal here."
Pitching for the Red Sox in 2003, Martinez complained that he was tired of all the talk of a curse and the comparisons to the Yankees. So it is oddly fitting that Martinez has broken a record held by a Yankee. Ford is the only post-World War II-era pitcher in the Baseball Hall of Fame to stand under six feet tall. Martinez, a three-time Cy Young award winner and a diminutive 5-foot 11 and 170 pounds, is sure to join him in that distinction.
The following chart ranks the top 10 200-game winners according to winning percentage.
|Winning Percentage Leaders Among 200-Game Winners|
|L.A. Dodgers; Montreal; Boston; N.Y. Mets||200-84||.704|
|St. Louis (AA); Brooklyn (AA); St. Louis (NL)||218-99||.688|
|Philadelphia (AL); Boston (AL)||300-141||.680|
|N.Y. Giants; Cincinnati||373-188||.665|
|Boston, Toronto, N.Y. Yankees, Houston||341-172||.665|
|Montreal; Seattle; Houston; Arizona; N.Y. Yankees||265-137||.659|
|Worcester (NL); Chicago (NL); Boston (NL); Cleveland (NL)||328-178||.648|
|St. Louis (NL); Chicago (NL); Cincinnati (NL); St. Louis (FL); Brooklyn (FL); Chicago (FL)||239-130||.648|
|Philadelphia (NL); Chicago (NL); St. Louis (NL)||373-208||.642|
In addition, judged by adjusted ERA (measuring a pitcher's ERA -- adjusted to his ballpark -- versus the league as a whole), Martinez owns the most dominant individual season since 1900. In 2000 with Boston, he finished 18-6 with an ERA of 1.74. Factoring in the 2000 American League ERA of 4.91 and ballpark factors, his adjusted ERA was 288 -- with 100 being above average. Many observers say that his 1999 and 2000 seasons are the most dominant back-to-back seasons in baseball history.
The following chart shows the most dominant seasons in adjusted ERA:
|Single-Season Leaders in Adjusted ERA (since 1900)|
|Bob Gibson||St. Louis||1968||258|
|Mordecai Brown||Chicago (NL)||1906||254|
|Walter Johnson||Chicago (NL)||1912||240|
|Christy Mathewson||New York (NL)||1905||230|
In addition, Martinez ranks first among active pitchers in the following:
• Winning percentage: .704
• WHIP (walks and hits allowed per inning pitched) 1.021 (third all-time, behind Addie Joss and Ed Walsh)
• Hits allowed per nine innings: 6.82 (third all-time, behind Nolan Ryan and Sandy Koufax)
• ERA: 2.72
• Strikeout-to-walk ratio: 4.31 to 1 (second all-time, behind Tommy Bond)
Besides holding the highest winning percentage among 200-game winners, Martinez is also first all-time in adjusted ERA: 166.
It is difficult to make the case that Martinez is the greatest pitcher of all time. But what cannot be denied is that even as he loses velocity, he still wins games by learning more about his art. That pitching intelligence should only add to his list of records in the years to come.
Ken Shouler has written three books on baseball.