Discourse on Pedro Martinez

JESSICA BADER: During the 2007-8 offseason, as I pondered what I expected from the Mets in the coming season almost all of my thoughts about Pedro Martinez were drenched in sunshine and optimism. To be sure, it was stats-based sunshine and optimism (look, Pedro struck out one out of every four batters he faced! And get a load of that shiny 4.57 K/BB ratio! Imagine what he’ll do when he’s not being dragged down by a .413 BABIP), but it was still thinking in best-case terms based on a sample size of all of 28 innings, ignoring such things as Pedro’s age and his history of fragility. Sure enough, Pedro suffered a strained hamstring in his very first start of the season and missed two months, and what he did while he was on the mound constituted the worst season of his brilliant career. He struck out just 7.18 batters per nine innings (prior to 2008, Pedro had never dipped below 8 K/9 in any season), and his 3.63 walks per nine was his worst rate since his rookie year. Worst of all was the home-run rate – Pedro allowed 19 long balls in 109 innings, and away from the spacious confines of Shea Stadium he gave them up at the astounding rate of 1.97 per nine innings. When the Mets decided not to offer him a new contract after the season, I thought that they had made the right call. No team was willing to meet his demands (rumored to be around $5 million in guaranteed money plus incentives), and so he was reduced to using the World Baseball Classic as an audition. Finally, the Philadelphia Phillies signed Pedro last week for $2 million pro-rated plus incentives.

I don’t really get this signing from the Phillies’ perspective. After all, Citizens Bank Park is something of a launching pad and doesn’t exactly seem like an ideal fit for a flyball pitcher who struggled mightily with home runs last year. The Phillies do need to shore up their rotation a bit, but I have to imagine that they would be better off turning to someone already in their farm system who has more upside and less implosion risk than a 37-year-old Pedro. Perhaps I’m overcorrecting for earlier excessive optimism and Pedro has more left in the tank than I think. Perhaps his struggles last year had more to do with sadness over his father’s death than a steep decline. Maybe I’m overthinking the impact of signing a back-of-the-rotation option on a team that’s beginning to pull away in its division. But I just don’t see the point here.

DAVE TOMAR: The Philadelphia Phillies have recognized that they need pitching help if they want to repeat as World Champs, and at present moment, are considered front-runners in the bid for Cy Young winner Roy Halladay.  Personally, I’ll believe it when I see it.  If I had to guess, I’d say he wears a ‘Jays uniform until the end of the season.  A blockbuster trade like that is uncharacteristic of a Phillies team that made its best midseason moves in recent years for guys like Jamie Moyer, J.C. Romero, Scott Eyre, Matt Stairs and Joe Blanton, the last of whom they swiped while the league fell all over itself for C.C. Sabathia.  Indeed, this was the cast of affordable mid-level players that buffeted big-time homegrown talent and helped get the Phils over the hump.

So the move to bring in the once great and expensive Pedro Martinez now that he is affordable and midlevel is perfectly characteristic of the Phils.  At 37 years old, the 3-time Cy Young winner who is just an ass-hair behind Whitey Ford for history’s best winning percentage, will join the 1st place Phillies in whatever capacity he is needed.  As they have now won 15 of their last 17 games with a starting rotation ERA of 3.13, it is uncertain that they actually have any such need.  But for backup plans, this is a good one.

The consensus is that Pedro Martinez has struggled to be effective in recent years, and the Phillies know that they are neither bringing in a top flight pitcher nor even a sure thing at the bottom of the rotation.  But the team sells $2 million in Schmitters and dollar dogs in any given month so to pay that for a Hall of Fame bound pitcher doesn’t seem unreasonable.  And with the Metamucil-swilling Jamie Moyer on the squad at nearly a decade his senior, Martinez will have company to reminisce about the Reagan era.  Since the injury that took Brett Myers out of the #2 spot in the pitching rotation, the Phillies have shuffled minor league pitchers with generally positive effect but with no indication that any such candidates are prepared for the post-season haul.  With prospects like Antonio Bastardo struggling to throw anything effectively beyond his fastball, and with Rodrigo Lopez being a career thrower of decidedly modest range, the idea of a multi-tool pitcher like Martinez is rather compelling in spite of its uncertainty.

Martinez is likely to have lost anywhere between 6 and 10 mph from his fastball, but brings so many other pitches with him that it would be unfair to suggest he is incapable of turning to his cunning and intelligence to compensate for diminished nastiness.  If Moyer is by this point 50% effective at playing the far reaches of the plate, a pitcher with a history of dominance may yet find a way to adjust his game for his age.

Then again, he may not.  One fair guarantee is that, at 214-99 for the career, the only pitcher in major league history to win 200+ and lose fewer than 100 games will soon be stripped of this distinction.

But for the Phillies, this move is a good backup plan so long as it is seen as nothing more.  The signing of Pedro Martinez solves none of the team’s pitching issues.  It should not be, and according to the trade buzz surrounding Halladay has not been, viewed as the type of major pitching move that the Phils would like to make.  The jury is out for yet a few more days on whether this move would involve Halladay, or another bonafide starter like Cliff Lee or Erik Bedard.  In the event that none of these things happens though, the Phillies will be putting the ball into the hands of one of the history’s greatest starters.  A shred of that brilliance could go a long way for a team already stacked with talent.

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