Three historically great pitchers were inducted into the baseball Hall of Fame this past weekend, with John Smoltz and Randy Johnson representing two-thirds of the former titans to be inducted into Cooperstown. There was always something special about the final member of the trio, however. He had a season in 1999 that ranked among the greatest pitching seasons of all time, and he put together a string of seasons between 1997 – 2003 that are collectively among the most dominant ever when compared to league average. That pitcher, of course, was Pedro Martinez.
Though there might never be another pitcher with the unbelievable combination of fastball, curveball, and changeup that Pedro had, it is possible there are current pitchers with arsenals that are similar to him. Today, in honor of Martinez’ induction, let’s try to answer a possibly unanswerable question: who’s the closest current pitcher to vintage Pedro?
We’re going to focus only on Pedro’s 1999 season — when he was at the height of his powers — in comparison to 2015 starters. As a preface, here is the incredible stat line from that season:
Martinez had the 10th-best ERA+ of all time in 1999, setting career-highs in strikeouts, wins, and Fielding Independent Pitching. He also famously struck out five of six hitters in the first two innings of the 1999 All-Star Game, proving his complete dominance on the mound at the height of the PED era by fanning Barry Larkin, Larry Walker, Sammy Sosa, Mark McGwire, and Jeff Bagwell. Some would argue 2000 was as great a season for Pedro as 1999, but we’d be splitting hairs by trying to decide between them: they both represent two of the greatest pitching seasons in history.
Owen Watson writes for FanGraphs and The Hardball Times. Follow him on Twitter @ohwatson.