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3,000 Strikeouts for Pedro Martinez – Cementing His Hall of Fame Legacy

Pedro after his 3000th career K

It’s time to remove “probable” as a prefix to Hall of Famer when talking about the amazing Pedro Martinez.  When Aaron Harang of the Reds struck out swinging to end the second inning yesterday afternoon in Cincinnati, a beaming Martinez (see photo) walked off the mound as the newest member of baseball’s 3,000 strikeouts fraternity.

Twenty-seven players have collected 3,000 hits, a number guaranteed to lead to a plaque in Cooperstown…unless your name is Pete Rose.   Two other traditional benchmarks for “can’t miss” Hall of Famers,  500 home runs & 300 wins, have each been achieved by twenty-two players.  Since more than 16,500 men enjoyed the opportunity to play major league baseball, it’s safe to say that those exclusive clubs are populated strictly by the very best. 

With that in mind, consider that only fifteen pitchers have managed to strike out 3,000 batters in the history of the sport:  Nolan Ryan, Roger Clemens, Randy Johnson, Steve Carlton, Bert Blyleven, Tom Seaver, Don Sutton, Gaylord Perry, Walter Johnson, Phil Niekro, Greg Maddux, Fergie Jenkins, Bob Gibson, Curt Schilling and Pedro Martinez.  Every pitcher on this list that’s eligible for the Hall of Fame is in, with the exception of Bert Blyleven, who many feel should be.  The others are active contemporaries of Martinez.  He is the shortest man on the list at 5’11”, but he towers above his peers in so many ways.

When sizing up the strikeout kings, their ratio of strikeouts to walks tells us something about their control, while the number of batters they fan per nine innings is the best indication of their overall power.  Among the pitchers with 3,000 or more career strikeouts, only Martinez ranks in the top dozen pitchers of all-time in both of these categories.  In fact, he ranks third in each of them. 

Strikeouts are nice, some would say sexy, but winning is what baseball’s all about.  How many members of the 3,000 strikeout club rank in the all-time top twenty for winning percentage?  Only Martinez, who ranks fourth.  However, it’s worth noting, that if you only include pitchers with at least 110 wins (Martinez has 207), then you have to go back to the 1870’s to find a more consistent winner.

Winning percentage isn’t neccessarily fair to a pitcher who performs for losing teams.  (Blyleven can attest to that.  He pitched for eleven of them in a 22-year career, and his 287-250 won-lost mark hasn’t been judged worthy of Cooperstown.)  A pitcher can only control how much the opposing team scores.  While comparing Earned Run Averages from different time periods is problematic due to changes in levels of offense, a fairer way to rate pitchers involves comparing their ERA to the average of the league they performed in.  By this measure, only two members of the 3,000 strikeout club rank in the top-ten of all-time.  Clemens is ninth, and Martinez is first…by a wide margin!

The main knock against Martinez is that he has “only” 207 wins.  The latest of those came yesterday in his triumphant return to the pitcher’s mound after missing eleven months after rotator cuff surgery.  The similarites -and differences- to his New York Mets debut in 2005 were striking. 

The first time Martinez pitched at Cincinnati’s Great American Ballpark -on April 4, 2005- he surrendered three runs five batters into the game, and critics wondered aloud if the Red Sox weren’t wise to let him depart as a free agent to the Mets.  By the time six innings were in the books however, Martinez shut everybody up by striking out twelve and turning over a 6-3 lead to the bullpen.  The Mets relievers flushed it away though, a storyline that would haunt them throughout 2005.

In Martinez’ second career appearance at the Great American Ballpark, yesterday, it took only four batters for him to fall behind 2-0.  Those who questioned how Martinez could think rehabbing exclusively against kids in Port St. Lucie could prepare him for big league competition muttered “I told you so”, but Martinez handed another 6-3 lead to the Mets bullpen by the time his day was done after 76 pitches.  This time, the Mets pulled away and won 10-4, a much better omen for their season and Martinez’ win total.  He is grateful to be back, the Mets are thrilled to have him.  We’ll find out in October if this story has a happy ending.

By MALCOLM ALLEN

onetoughdominican47@hotmail.com

Career Strikeout Leaders for Latino pitchers (through 9/3/07)

3,002 – Pedro Martinez (Dominican Republic)

2,416 – Luis Tiant (Cuba)

2,303 – Juan Marichal (Dominican Republic)

2,167 – Camilo Pascual (Cuba)

2,149 – Dennis Martinez (Nicaragua)

2,074 – Fernando Valenzuela (Mexico)

1,765 – Javier Vazquez (Puerto Rico)

1,664 – Pedro Astacio (Dominican Republic)

1,632 – Mike Cuellar (Cuba)

1,606 – Jose Rijo (Dominican Republic)

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