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March 11, 2009

Checking the Numbers

Pedro's Tank

by Eric Seidman

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When Pedro Martinez toed his home rubber to kick off the 1999 All-Star Game, fans across the globe knew they were in for a special performance. The game's best pitcher had breezed through the offense-heavy junior circuit in the first half, compiling a 2.10 ERA, 184/24 K:BB, and a Rafael Belliard-esque .213/.254/.292 opponent's line. On national television against some of the best hitters in the game, Pedro did not disappoint, fanning five of the six hitters he faced, and making each look foolish in the process. That image of Martinez is ingrained in our minds: a dominant and diminutive Dominican capable of shutting down and intimidating anyone who stepped into the box.

Ten years removed from that moment, the owner of arguably the two best-pitched seasons in major league history and a surefire Hall of Fame pitcher lacks employment, and has resorted to using the World Baseball Classic as an audition. After a disappointing 2008 season, does he have anything left in the tank?

Over the last few seasons, Pedro has fallen well short of expectations, a fact that he fully acknowledges. After consecutive seasons of 31-plus games started and 217 innings pitched in 2004-05, Martinez has averaged just 16 games started and 90 IP over the past three years, exhibiting a tendency for injuries that only exacerbates the inevitable performance decline of a pitcher in his mid-30s. Interestingly, despite extended trips to the disabled list due to rotator cuff and hamstring issues, as well as a slew of other injuries that hampered his performance on the field, Pedro's overall strikeout rate since 2006 has not suffered as substantially as some might expect. Here are some of his seasonal averages:


Seasons  GS    IP   K/9 BB/9 HR/9   NRA  DERA
2004-05  32  217.0  9.0  2.2  0.9  3.35  3.49
2006-08  16   90.0  8.5  2.8  1.3  5.03  5.57

Overall averages can be quite deceiving, however, because they hide year-to-year shifts. Pedro's 2006-08 strikeout rate may be 8.5 per nine innings, but the average is largely comprised of a 9.3 K/9 in 2006 and a career-worst 7.2 K/9 last season. Combine the relatively low strikeout rate with a 3.6 BB/9 mark that happened to be his highest since 1993, and it becomes a little easier to understand what went wrong last season. The underlying cause for these rate changes can be found in plate discipline metrics, which show a particularly disturbing trend since his last award-worthy season in 2005:


Season O-Swing O-Cont Z-Swing Z-Cont
 2005    23.3   46.9    64.8   83.1
 2006    24.9   52.4    66.7   83.7
 2007    27.8   44.8    68.8   82.4
 2008    27.3   67.5    59.8   85.4

League Averages: O-Swing=24.4%, O-Cont=59.9%, Z-Swing=66.3%, Z-Cont=88.1%

Ignore the 2007 season for a moment (Pedro made just five starts), and instead compare the years before and after. Pedro induced swings out of the zone at a higher clip last season, yet the contact on these swings soared to heights he had never before seen. Likewise, hitters proved more efficient on pitches thrown in the zone, as their zone contact rate increased despite a lower percentage of swings. All of this signals that Pedro had lost much of his ability to fool hitters, which led to fewer whiffs, more balls in play, and a heavier reliance on his defense, which went well for Martinez given the abilities of the Mets' defenders throughout his tenure.

Pedro did not make any significant changes in his pitch repertoire between these two seasons, and he held the fort in the velocity department as well. Unfortunately, there is no Pitch-f/x data with which to compare his 2008 numbers, but the 41 percent ground-ball frequency last season, coming on the heels of a steady decline from 42 percent to 31 percent since 2002, suggests that his movement may have fluctuated. He has a reputation for being able to dial up velocity when the situation merits more liveliness on the fastball, but Pedro's velocity remained very consistent last season, and as we discussed last week, the ability to add or subtract miles per hour from a fastball really means nothing in regards to overall production.

Despite reaping the benefits of solid defense and keeping much of his pitch data in check, Pedro's batting average on balls in play increased from .273 in 2006 to last season's mark of .327, a jump of 56 points thanks to a higher rate of line drives allowed. The standard statistical reaction to a discrepancy this vast is to suggest regression to the mean in the coming season, but if Pedro has lost part or most of his ability to fool hitters, regression may only rear its' head slightly, if at all, especially given his health history and that he's no longer a spring chicken.

PECOTA recognizes these factors, and only sees things getting worse, projecting Pedro for just a 6.1 K/9 and 4.7 EqERA in 110 innings of work. Pedro's recent track record makes him more of a liability than an asset, a perpetually injured player spitting in the face of his personal "best shape of my life" claims. Even with the substantial decline in controllable skills and performance metrics, Pedro's weighted mean projection calls for 1.9 WARP, almost the definition of a league-average pitcher, and equivalent to the weighted mean projections for both Jarrod Washburn and Freddy Garcia. Of course, this value is only expected to be present in a rather minimal amount of playing time, and teams in this economy are shying away from risky investments, unless the contracts feature low base salaries with lots of room for incentives, or non-roster invitations.

Pedro Martinez has always been a very proud person, so it should come as no surprise that in spite of declining abilities and health issues, he has repeatedly expressed an unwillingness to sign either of these types of contracts. Early in the offseason, he reportedly turned down a one-year, $7 million offer from an unnamed American League club that was perhaps convinced his veteran savvy and potential upside would be a worthwhile investment, but based on his weighted mean of 1.9 WARP, an appropriate salary for Martinez would be closer to $3.7 million, about half the money offered in the deal he apparently chose not to sign. Pedro has been linked to the Marlins and Pirates, both of whom have expressed limited interest, and he's currently engaged in a one-sided game of hard-to-get with the Mets, who already have enough fifth starters in camp.

The most interesting idea has been put forth by the Cardinals, who are pondering whether or not he could be an effective closer, a role Pedro seemed wary of but willing to consider. Closers have a reputation for being flamethrowers and strikeout machines, and while Trevor Hoffman has certainly succeeded with a Moyer-ball, his strikeout rates remain impressive, even coming in at 9.1 per nine innings last season. Pedro has lost velocity over the past four years, and he has also experienced a decline in whiffs per nine, meaning that adjustments would need to be made in order to avoid becoming a Dan Kolb type of closer.

Health permitting (an issue which looms much larger than the space those two words occupy), Pedro could fill out the back end of a rotation for any team still considering its options for fifth starters, as long as the expectations are along the same lines as those bestowed upon John Smoltz and Brad Penny, pitchers who are likely to contribute, but whose availability will not make or break a club's season. Where could Pedro land? Operating under the assumption that he wants to stay in the senior circuit, which teams currently need a fifth starter? Pedro would have been a better signing for the Braves than Tom Glavine, but Glavine is already in Atlanta's fold. The Rockies, with Greg Smith, Jason Marquis, and Jorge de la Rosa rounding out their rotation, could certainly benefit from a splash of Pedro, but color me skeptical that Martinez would be willing to pitch in Denver. The Marlins could platoon Pedro with Chris Volstad in the fifth spot, but the team does not seem to eager to make him an offer.

After probing the remaining National League teams, it seems that the one most in need of Pedro's services would be the Houston Astros, who will be relying on perhaps the worst starting pitcher in baseball in Brandon Backe, and also counting on the oft-injured Mike Hampton and Brian Moehler. Considering his projected performance, there are simply not many teams that would be vastly improving their rosters by adding Martinez, and if the former All-Star is only going to provide a marginal level of production over either prospects or freely available talent, why bother?

Then again, not all teams share this philosophy, and Pedro's celebrity status may very well come into play. Based on his work ethic, and on his proven ability to adjust in terms of repertoire and strategy as he's grown older, I'm comfortable with the assessment that Pedro Martinez is not exactly running on empty, but rather on a quarter-gallon in a vehicle with a faulty transmission. Some team is going to decide to take a chance and bring him aboard, but Martinez will likely need to get past his ego and accept a smaller role and an incentive-laden deal. When he does sign, the 13-year-old inside me who witnessed the dominance in that 1999 All-Star Game will be pulling for a career renaissance, but at this point, Pedro Martinez is a fifth starter with just a little bit left to contribute, whose past success may garner present and future opportunities even if the actual production fails to justify the playing time.

Eric Seidman is an author of Baseball Prospectus. 
Click here to see Eric's other articles. You can contact Eric by clicking here

Related Content:  Pedro Martinez,  The Who,  Repertoire

10 comments have been left for this article. (Click to hide comments)

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iillllii

Though it's the AL, he'd be a godsend for the Angels, who without Ervin Santana to start the year, will have Shane Loux and Dustin Moseley making up 40% of their rotation.

Mar 11, 2009 10:44 AM
rating: 2
 
anderson721

Why not finish up where it all began? Chavez Ravine would be perfect.

Mar 11, 2009 16:26 PM
rating: 0
 
BP staff member Eric Seidman
BP staff

I can see the Dodgers signing him but realistically he isn't that big of an upgrade over Estes/Schmidt/Stults.

Pedro is projected at 1.9 WARP in 110 innings. Schmidt and Estes combine for 1.5 WARP in about 135 innings, and Stults is projected at 1.4 WARP in 110 of his own innings. If we say that Stults hits his 110 innings and the remaining innings from that fifth spot are from either Estes, Schmidt, or a combination, the overall added wins total at the very least equals Pedro.

Add in that Schmidt is another perpetually injured player being overpaid and signing Martinez doesn't get you any guarantee of 30 GS/200 IP or anything along those lines that would merit spending a good $5 mil or so for a very marginal upgrade, or potential downgrade.

Mar 11, 2009 16:43 PM
 
JayhawkBill

Eric, true, but a couple of points:

1) The Dodgers are still well below their 2008 player payroll: they should be in a position to make a move.

2) Clay Davenport's PECOTA Depth Charts have the LA Dodgers in a position to win the NL East by just one game at 89 wins. The Diamondbacks are projected for 88 wins; the Phillies, Braves and Brewers are projected for 87, 86, and 85 wins, respectively, all trailing the Mets and the Cubs significantly. It's shaping up to be another epic finish, reminiscent of 2007, in the NL West and NL Wild Card races. One win could mean a lot, particularly in Marginal Revenue.

3) This is Pedro Martinez. If he's a starting pitcher, LA fans will pay to come out and show him to their kids. He'll boost attendance for his name's marquee value. Also, if he's healthy, he could be great: his Stars and Scrubs chart shows a 10% chance that he's a superstar in 2009, and his reputation supports that possibility. He hasn't proven in the WBC that he's still an MLB-caliber pitcher, but he's done nothing to disprove it, either, so that potential upside still applies. So does the 25% chance that he might exceed his 75th percentile PECOTA forecast of a 4.08 EqERA in 123 IP, enough to make a difference of three or four wins in a tight division. Finally, and subjectively, if it's the 163rd game of the season, you're Joe Torre, and your top three starters are tired or injured, who do you want on the mound if Pedro is healthy and rested?

While I'm not sure of this year's exact MORP formula, I can't help but think that, if the specific situation the Dodgers are facing regarding postseason opportunity is considered, Pedro would be worth to LA enough guaranteed money and incentive opportunities to convince him to sign.

Mar 11, 2009 18:12 PM
rating: 0
 
BP staff member Eric Seidman
BP staff

All I can say is that you are MUCH higher on him than I am. As I said, the 13-yr old inside of me who saw his dominant seasons would love to see it again, but I just cannot see him doing any more damage than the Schmidt/Estes/Stults combo... and Manny took care of tickets... I can't see hordes of fans flocking to go watch Pedro pitch anymore as he hasn't really been marquee in a few years.

Mar 11, 2009 19:14 PM
 
JayhawkBill

The Mets led MLB in home attendance last year, but I still found an average attendance of 53,295 fans at Pedro's games and just 49,530 fans at the other 73 home games, suggesting that Pedro on the mound might have been worth an extra 3,765 fans in the ballpark. It's a small sample of eight games, but what data we have suggests that, despite your perception that he's no longer a big draw, having Pedro Martinez as a starting pitcher possibly does improve paid attendance.

Most of the rest of my expectations were based on Pedro's PECOTA projection, not my personal opinion. My gut feeling is with yours, Eric: I expect Pedro to blow out his arm. I just look back to 2004, though, where I attributed Pedro's spike in ERA as a sign that the labrum problems we knew he had were growing critical. He left Boston for the Mets with something to prove, and he looked very effective in his 2005 season, particularly before he tired in August. He even had two good months in 2006 before he showed signs of injury. I see a parallel situation here: Pedro again seems to feel he has something to prove. Despite the obvious health concerns, if the cruel, unemotional PECOTA system says that Pedro might be effective, I'm standing by PECOTA.

Mar 12, 2009 09:30 AM
rating: 0
 
Richard Bergstrom

If the WBC leads to a slew of pitching fatigue and injuries similar to its inaugaral season, it's possible some NL team has room for him by the All-Star break.

Mar 11, 2009 17:54 PM
rating: 0
 
Randy Brown
(189)

I am actually very curious to see whether the Pedro-as-closer experiment would work. In fact, I'm rooting for that scenario to play out. If he only has to go for 3 outs at a time, he may be able to pitch north of 90, and I think he would be very effective pitching at that velocity.

He probably would need his workload managed as carefully as Hoffman's has been (maybe 50 IP for the full season), but I think he'd give you 50 quality innings in high-leverage situations. I'd spend $5 million of some owner's money to find out if that would work.

Mar 11, 2009 20:46 PM
rating: 0
 
Richard Bergstrom

How has Pedro's velocity, movement and pitch selection, particularly on pitches out of the zone, changed over the last few years?

Mar 12, 2009 08:27 AM
rating: 0
 
BP staff member Eric Seidman
BP staff

I mentioned in the article that there is no Pitch F/X data with which to compare this season... the dataset didn't emerge until last year, in incomplete form, and Petey only made 5 starts anyways, way too small of a sample.

His velocity has gone from around 89 to 86 since 2005, though, his repertoire has not changed much (also mentioned in the post), and his zone percentage has dropped from 59% to 50%.

Mar 12, 2009 09:11 AM
 
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