I would encourage anybody who likes baseball or likes good sports writing to read Howard Bryant's recent piece on Pedro Martinez, found here.
Bryant is an excellent writer. In my opinion, he's the best writer at ESPN, the Worldwide Leader. His recent pieces on former players' union chief Donald Fehr, greatest closer of all time Mariano Rivera, the recently released Michael Vick, and keeping PED users out of the Hall of Fame have all been very good reads and well-written and researched articles. I don't always agree with Bryant (for example, his stance on PED users being banned from the Hall), but at no point have I ever said "he doesn't know what he's talking about" or wanted to punt an infant as retribution for his heinous writing (Gene Wojciechowski). Anyway, I encourage all of you to follow him.
Now, his subject, Pedro. Pedro Martinez, at his peak, was a better pitcher than just about anybody else that's toed the rubber in history. The numbers back it up. Wins and losses aren't the most important factor in determining overall value, but there must be something said for Pedro's absurd career winning percentage of .684, behind only Whitey Ford and Don Gullett amongst post-WWII pitchers, and both of those guys pitched in much less offensively challenging eras for pitchers. Pedro's 3117 career strike outs has him at 13th on the All-Time list, tied with Bob Gibson (a number which he'll undoubtedly pass when he begins pitching for the Phillies later this year), and the folks he is behind are all either Hall of Famers or future Hall of Famers (barring the exclusion of Roger Clemens for PEDs or the exclusion of Bert Blyleven for the idiocy of Hall of Famer voters). It should also be noted that everybody in front of Perdo on the Ks list pitched at least 1000 more innings...which is the equivalent of 5 or 6 more seasons by todays standards. And of course, I'd be remiss if I didn't mention his inhuman 1.051 career WHIP, good enough for 6th best all-time. Those who have bettered him? Addie Joss, Ed Walsh, and John Ward, who all pitched before 1920, and Mariano Rivera and Trevor Hoffman, who are both relievers and thus less susceptible to high WHIPs. So really, the guy has been absurdly good.
Many will point to Pedro's lack of cumulative numbers to discredit him as anything other than greatness. Indeed, some numbers, namely his 214 career wins, aren't as great as some others, it would be foolish to think that Pedro wasn't one of the most dominant pitchers of the steroid era when he, clearly, wasn't doing any. One pitcher that many olde-tyme fans like to point to as the standard bearer of excellence is Sandy Koufax. Now Koufax was a great pitcher, but was he better than Martinez? Let's examine. Now because Koufax was a victim of injuries that likely would have been fixable these days, we'll go only on average-based stats, not cumulative. Koufax's career ERA: 2.76, Pedro's: 2.91. Certainly that's advantage, if negligible for Koufax, until one remembers that Koufax played in a pitching dominant era and Pedro is playing in a offense and power dominant era. So we look to ERA+ [100*(ERA/league average ERA)], a tool which measures how much better one is compared to their respective league including a ball park adjustment, in this instance, higher is better. Koufax: 131, very good. Pedro: 154, even better. As previously discussed, Pedro's WHIP of 1.051 is better than Koufax's still impressive 1.106. In addition, Pedro's BB/9 and K/9 of 2.4 and 10.1, respectively, are better than Koufax's rates of 3.2 and 9.3. Also, they possess the same HR/9 of 0.8, even though, again, Koufax played in a era dominated by big ballparks, smaller and weaker players, and pitching while Pedro pitched in the most homer-happy era in baseball history. Of course, none of this comparison is done to take away anything from Koufax, one of the finest pitchers ever and a deserving Hall of Famer, especially for his unreal performance from 1962-1966 (though it may be done to spite some Olde-Tyme fans...they can't use the internets so I'm not really worried). Rather I make these comparisons to illustrate how good Martinez has been.
But if stats simply aren't enough for you, simply read Bryant's piece. Other major league players, trained professionals and the absolute best in the world, were in awe of the man. People will, rightly, remember Curt Schilling as one of the keys that put the Red Sox over the top and ended their 86 year World Series drought. But those same people should remember that Pedro was every bit as good as Schilling that season, and had, by far, his worst season with the Red Sox. It was Pedro who brought legitimacy and an edge back to the Red Sox and started the rush of perennial contending that Boston has enjoyed in the past decade.
As a younger fan, I never cared too much about who was pitching for any team other than the Orioles, but I did care about Pedro. I remember seeing him throwing in the outfield before a Red Sox-Orioles game that he was not scheduled to pitch in and thinking, "This guy is no-bigger than me...how does he do it?" And that's the thing; there is no explanation. Pedro was simply better. I don't know if he'll be successful with this comeback stint with the Phillies, but I really hope he is.