Saturday, June 16, 2012

Greatest Possible Baseball Team: Slot 10, Opening Day Starter

I've gone over my general starting pitcher considerations here.

Selection Pedro Martinez

Baseball's Killer Rabit of Caerbannog. Does this guy look scary to you? No, he's... small and cute, just like a bunny. One more reason to love baseball, it's not your size that matters. Hell, he looks like a ten year old next Randy Johnson. But that doesn't matter, he's the ruiner of worlds.

Pedro Martinez is the greatest player I've ever seen on a baseball diamond. In fact, he's the greatest pitcher of all time, hands down. Utterly dominant for an extended period of time, in an era where even the transpacific barrier had fallen, the only weak spot in his resume is his relatively light workload. While his career stretched across 18 years (he actually came up with the Dodgers in 1992), he only pitched 2827 innings. Part of that is due to modern pitcher usage, where any season over 200 innings pitched in notable, and part of that is due to injury difficulties.

But when Pedro played, and he played a lot, with over 100 innings pitched every year from 1993 to 2006, he was the best ever. Particularly from 1997 to 2003, when his ERA was greater than half league average only twice (and even then, only 61% of average, at most). His FIP stayed in a similar range, so it's extremely unlikely that his defense was making him look good. Of course, when your pitcher is striking out 37.5% of the batters faced, as Pedro did in 1999, you don't get many opportunities to effect his ERA.

Pedro is the exemplary power pitcher with strong control and great stuff. His career strike out rate is 27.7% with a walk rate of only 6.7%. That translates to 10.04 K/9 for only 2.42 BB/9. While a heavy fly ball pitcher, Pedro managed to suppress home runs per fly ball a fair bit, only allowing 8.9% of flies to leave the yard, but that doesn't matter as much given his strikeout rate.

Pedro has the odd distinction of having better numbers in the AL than in the NL. Not only that, he posted his best raw numbers playing at Fenway Park half the time. When we correct for park factors and league average, well, like I said, Pedro Martinez is the best ever.

Early on, Pedro threw in the high 90s with movement, mulitple pitches including a fastball, a slider/cutter, a curveball and a change up. Even with his dominant fastball, Pedro threw his entire selection, and quite often. Pitch type data only goes back to 2002, and from then on, Pedro through his fastball no more than 60% of the time. Of course, it was averaging only 90.7 mph in 2002 and continued to decline. But even at that velocity, [pitch type linear weights](, which estimate how many runs a pitcher saved based on that pitch, estimated that Pedro's fastball was elite, saving 20.3 runs across the season above average, or about 1.12 runs per 100 times thrown. From then until 2009, a mostly post peak Pedro still averaged an above average fastball, slider, curve and change up. Power, control, repertoire, Pedro Martinez had it all.

For his career Martinez has the best normalized rate stats of any pitcher in history, with a career 2.93/2.91/67/67 (ERA/FIP/ERA-/FIP-). That is to say, average Pedro Martinez only allowed two-thirds the runs that everyone else did and did so without the benefit of a better than average defense or pitcher's park. He did this by striking out over ten batters per nine innings, only walking about 2.4 and giving up a home run in less than 9% of the innings he pitched in (on average). As for his best season, take your pick between 1999 or 2000. In '99 Martinez obtained half his outs via strikeout. 13.20 K/9. 1.56 BB/9 (that's 8.46 K/BB) and only 0.38 HR/9. His '99 FIP- is the lowest since 1884* at 30. In 2000, his strikeouts were down ("only" 11.78 K/9) and his homeruns were up (still just 0.78 HR/9), but his control was even better at 1.33 BB/9. And he had better luck in both strand rate (86.6%) and balls in play (a low, low .236 for a batting average against of just .166). Pedro's 2000 is the lowest WHIP since 1884, at 0.76 and the lowest ERA- at 35. Martinez's 1999 line: 2.07/1.39/42/30 in 213.1 innings pitched for 12.1 fWAR. His 2000: 1.74/2.17/35/46 in 217.0 innings pitched for 10.1 fWAR.

*The 1884 anomally was caused by the short lived Union Association's Milwaukee franchise, who only played 12 games. It doesn't really count. The top five actuals season all belong to Martinez and Randy Johnson. I can't believe I didn't originally have Johnson on my team.

Good defense, bad defense, it doesn't matter. Pedro Martinez was the best pitcher of all time.


Bob Gibson

Dominance. When in comes to dominance, I think one pitcher comes up more than anyone else: Bob Gibson. Best known for his famed 1968 season, where he set the ERA record of 1.12 in over 300 innings pitched, Gibson had the stuff to dominate, posting a FIP- below 70 every year from 1968 to 1970 and averaging a FIP- of 81. That's 7.22 K/9 across his career, including his weak '74 and '75 seasons. Gibson generally struck out 20% of the batters he faced before '74. What made him so dominant around 1968 was the combination of his control peaking, with only 1.83 BB/9 that year and great luck on balls in play, with hitters only managing .230 when they put the ball in the field. His home run suppression was almost always strong, with only a career 0.6 HR/9.

Bob Gibson was a great pitcher with a good peak. A lifetime line of 2.91/2.89/78/81 he was in the right place at the right time for his famed 1968 season: 1.12/1.77/38/65.

Bert Blyleven

Choosing pitchers is definitely the hardest part of this endeavour. I was actually swinging back and forth between listing Blyleven, Kevin Brown or Bret Saberhagen as the alternate. There are good cases for all three. And I think I would go back and switch out a couple of my picks today, all things considered. But that's for another time.

Blyleven was a very good to great pitcher for a very long time. Across 23 years, he managed to pitch 4970 innings. While his ERA occasionally exceeded league average, his FIP suggests that the blame for that should lay on his defense more than him. He was at worse, league average and at best, well, great. Take his 1973 year: 2.52/2.32/63/59 with 325 innnings pitched. Or 15 years later, his 1989 year: 2.73/3.08/72/83. And he manged to be above average to great for all 23 years, for a total line of 3.31/3.19/85/81. About time he got in the Hall of Fame.

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