Thursday, April 26, 2007

Thursday Debate: Pedro Martinez or Sandy Koufax

I'm planning on starting up a feature on here called Thursday Debate... I'll look at both sides of a sports debate, give my take on it, and then put up a poll and let you decide.

For this first edition, I thought it'd be interesting to take a look at which pitcher had the better peak... Pedro Martinez or Sandy Koufax. To clarify, by peak I generally mean at least 4-7 years. For Sandy Koufax, that was 1962-1966. For Pedro Martinez it was 1997-2003. These are the years I'll focus on.

In many cases, I find that your opinion to this question will say a lot about how you view baseball. If you are more of an "old-school" fan that prefers to base most of their judgements on what they see, you'll probably go with Sandy Koufax. If you are more "sabermetrically" inclined and place greater emphasis on the statistical side of the game, you'll probably go with Pedro Martinez.

Comparing across eras is so difficult in baseball because even though the rules are the same, lots of things change. That is why it is especially important to compare these guys against their peers.

From 1962-1966, the league ERA in Sandy Koufax's league was about 3.29. From 1997-2003 in Pedro's league the ERA was about 4.65. So right there we begin to see the huge difference between the eras. In simple terms, Koufax pitched in the greatest pitching era of all-time, while Pedro pitched in one of the greatest hitters eras of all time.

Now let's take a look at some of the numbers for each.

Pedro Martinez (1997-2003)
- 1408 IP (201 per season)
- 2.55 ERA (ERA+ of 215)
- 252 K per year
- 11.28 K/9
- 45 BB per year
- 5.6 K/BB

Sandy Koufax (1962-1966)
- 1377 IP (275 per season)
- 1.99 ERA (ERA+ of 168)
- 289 K per year
- 9.46 K/9
- 63.2 BB per year
- 4.57 K/BB

What does this all mean? Well, the first thing is that Koufax pitched a lot more innings. But then, that was the norm back then, which makes it less impressive (in comparison). Still obviously a plus for Koufax though. Koufax has the lower raw ERA, but as the ERA+ shows Pedro's was a lot more impressive compared to his era.

Other numbers suggest that Koufax had a little better control, but Pedro made up for that by striking almost 2 more batters per 9 innings and having a better K/BB ratio.

Postseason numbers also play a role... in 3 postseason series Martinez was 3-0 with a 1.13 ERA. In 3 postseason series Koufax went 4-2 with a 0.94 ERA. So Koufax had more chances, but both guys were incredible.

Anyway, putting it all together, in my opinion Pedro Martinez had the best peak of any pitcher ever. He was more dominant when compared to his peers than Koufax, and that puts him in front for me. Also, if pressed, I'd probably say Pedro's 2000 season was the best pitching season ever.

But enough about me... what do you think? Vote in the poll and leave your reasons in the comments?

Which better had a better prime?
Pedro Martinez
Sandy Koufax


Anonymous said...

Pedro had the best peak of any pitcher ever? That's saying a lot. I would have to look at the Maddux peak before I agreed with you.

But great stuff...

Anonymous said...

Not even close...Koufax.

You need to compare playoff and world series stats. Not to mention Koufax pitched in 3 games in a 7 game series. Also, looking at number of starts/season, complete games, no-hitters, etc would have strengthened Koufax's argument.

stephen a said...

I can't wait for 5 or so years when we can take a look at Santana's prime compared to these guys.

Daniel Warren said...

Koufax was the first to pitch by pushing off the rubber. He had a fastball that rose as it approached the plate. He was the best of his era, bar none (can the same be said of Pedro? Randy Johnson, Maddux, Clemens). The ingenuity that Koufax displayed makes him the best, not to mention that he carried his team to a championship.

Anonymous said...

Koufax pitched off a higher mound, against guys who took the winter off and almost no access to video analysis, strength workouts, or steroids.

Pedro by a mile.

starkweather said...

I want to see the Maddux comparisons, also. The hitters in Koufax era hadn't even figured out what to do with their greenies yet - their concentration was horrible. Look at the AVG. of hitters in the 60's. So the drugs were not helping out as much. But Pedro also had some wind at his back, too, no? So he probably used better steroids than Koufax to even out that side of the debate. And is it asking way too much to go even farther back and compare Walter Johnson? Anyway, in the spirit of THIS debate I'll go with Pedro. But it's only because I actually saw him pitch...

Anonymous said...

Pedro also went against line-ups that had half of the players on steroids. To do what he did in this era is impressive.

Anonymous said...

Greg Maddux (1992-1998)
- 1675.4 IP (239.4 per season)
- 2.15 ERA (ERA+ see below)
- 184 K per year
- 6.90 K/9
- 38.2 BB per year
- 4.82 K/BB


- 4 Cy Young Awards
- 6 All-Star Teams
- 7 Gold Gloves

I didn't compute the total ERA+ for Maddux over this era, but here are the annual numbers and league rank:

1992 NL-166-1
1993 NL-171-1
1994 NL-273-1
1995 NL-259-1
1996 NL-162-2
1997 NL-191-2
1998 NL-191-1

Have at it.

Anonymous said...

I go with Pedro, since he was absolutely dominate against guys that were clearly juicing up. It was a modern golden age of hitting, and Pedro made all of them look like they belonged in the minors. (I'll never forget when Pedro faced Barry Bonds in San Fran a couple seasons ago, and of course he struck Barroid out.)

And if you want to bring Clemens up, take that with a grain of salt. If he was juicing up too, it wouldn't surprise me. Pedro was like a twig for most of his prime. So take the "Pedro was juicing too" theory and shove it.

Anonymous said...

You also left out some of Pedro's weakest postseason performances of this era in your summary. In 2003, he went 1-1 over two series with a 4.77 ERA.

Martinez over his prime years was 4-1 in the postseason with a 3.10 ERA. He pitched 52.3 innings in 7 starts.

Maddux over his prime years was 9-7 in the postseason with a 2.42 ERA. He pitched 122.7 innings in 17 starts.

Anonymous said...

While Pedro did pitch against hitters that were on the juice, the league wasn't watered down in Koufax's time.

twins15 said...

Whoops, yeah not sure how I left off Pedro's 2003 postseason... that was a mistake.

Looks like the ERA+ for Maddux averages out to 201. Looks like he was a little more durable over that time, but not as much as the raw IP would suggest. He simply got more starts than Pedro (27 more), which is partly due to Pedro missing around 12 or so starts in 2001, but it looks like starters pitched a lot more on all of Maddux's teams.

Still, over the 7 years Maddux averaged about 7.41 IP/start, Martinez was at about 7.07 IP/start.

Maddux has the control edge, but again Pedro was definitely not bad in that category, and he has the K/BB edge. As for the awards, it's impressive, but in all honesty I don't pay much attention to them. The voters seem to be wrong too often.

Overall, seems like Maddux was a little more durable and more of a workhorse, while Martinez was a little more dominant. I would still go with Pedro if I had a choice, but Maddux obviously is fantastic.

I haven't done a lot of research on overall rankings of pitchers, but I'm about positive I'd put Maddux (and Clemens) in the top 10 ever. Great peaks, and the longevity of those guys is amazing.

Starkweather, good call on Johnson, and he would actually be my choice for #1 overall pitcher ever. One thing with him is that it would actually be really hard to pick out a specific 7 year period with him... you could probably just pick out 1910-1919, and he was fantastic. I don't have time for a comparison right now, but I suspect I would have the same conclusion I reached with Maddux... Pedro was slightly more dominant at his peak, but the longevity and dominance of The Big Train puts him on top for the whole career. Needless to say, Walter is one of the guys I most wish I was able to watch pitch.

Larry Brown said...

Great debate, I'll go with Koufax. But Pedro is especially impressive given the era in which he dominated (steroids)

debazerin said...

Pedro leads in ERA+, K/9, K/BB... the only thing going for Koufax is that he pitched more innings and so may have created more value. But since we're looking at a "peak," I think the rate of production is more important.

ERA+ is the most important stat here, though. Controlling for Koufax's Everest Sized Mound in Dodger Stadium and 385 foot power alleys, not to mention the GIANT strike zone of '63 to '69, it's clear Pedro was better.

Anonymous said...

"Looks like the ERA+ for Maddux averages out to 201. Looks like he was a little more durable over that time, but not as much as the raw IP would suggest. He simply got more starts than Pedro (27 more), which is partly due to Pedro missing around 12 or so starts in 2001, but it looks like starters pitched a lot more on all of Maddux's teams."

Don't forget the 6-8 starts Maddux missed in 94 due to the strike.

Turd Ferguson said...


Pedro: 1
Koufax: 0

GEB4000 said...

I'll take Koufax and the 74 innings advantage. Pedro was a great pitcher, but he was always nursing an injury. Koufax won an MVP. Pedro would have won an MVP in 1999 if he could have made more than 29 starts. He would have won a Cy Young in 2002 if he had pitched more than 200 innings. Even the baseball writers understand the drop off when the Red Sox were filling in for an injured Pedro, and they factored that into their awards voting. If you want to argue that it was a different time when Koufax was pitching a large number of innings, then compare Martinez to Randy Johnson from 1999 to 2002. Randy averaged 257 innings a year during his Cy Young run.

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