recently did a very nice Q-and-A with Dennis Martinez
, the first major-league player from Nicaragua. Martinez started his career with the Baltimore Orioles
, coming up with them right around the time that I began to follow them. Dennis Martinez's 9+ seasons in Baltimore are perhaps best summed up by his 1979 season. The 1979 Orioles
won 102 regular-season games and the American League pennant. Dennis Martinez led the American League that season in games started (39), complete games (18), innings pitched (292.1), and batters faced (1,206). He pitched quite well overall: his ERA (3.66) was about 10% better than league-average, and he was credited with 15 pitching wins. Yet, Dennis Martinez's traditional winning percentage in 1979 was actually below 0.500, as he was charged with 16 pitching losses; and Martinez only started one of the seven games of the 1979 World Series and failed to get out of the second inning of the game
Over his first five full seasons, 1977 - 1981, Martinez showed flashes of brilliance (he led the league in pitching wins in 1981 and won 16 games in 1978). In 1982, at age 27, rather than finally putting it all together, he had a career-worst ERA, 4.21. He followed that up with four straight seasons with ERAs over 5, including a 7-16 record, 5.53 ERA in 153 innings for the 1983 World Champs
. Not surprisingly, he didn't appear in any of the Orioles' nine postseason games that season.
And then, in 1987, at the age of 33, Dennis Martinez went 11-4 with a 3.30 ERA in 22 starts (144.2 IP) for the Montreal Expos
, the first season in a nine-year run for Martinez where he posted a 3.02 ERA over 270 starts (1,874.2 IP) (his best single-season ERA in Baltimore had been 3.32 in 1981). In the final of those seasons, 1995, he led the American-League champion Cleveland Indians
in innings pitched (187.0 in a strike-shortened 144-game season) and ERA (3.08) and made the American League All-Star team at the age of 41.
The first table below presents Dennis Martinez's
career as measured by Player won-lost records.
Basic Player Won-Lost Records
| ------ || ------ || ------ || ------ || ------ || ------ || ------ || ------ || ------ || ------ || ------ || ------ || ------ || ------ |
|CAREER (reg. season)|| || |
| || || || ------ || ------ || ------ || || || || ------ || ------ || || || |
|PostSeason (career)|| || |
|2.0||2.3||0.469|| ||0.1||2.5||2.4||0.501|| ||0.3|
| || || || ------ || ------ || ------ || ------ || || ------ || ------ || ------ || ------ || || ------ |
|COMBINED|| || |
Dennis Martinez vs. Hall-of-Fame Starting Pitchers
Dennis Martinez appeared on the Hall-of-Fame ballot in 2004. He received 16 votes, good for 3.2%, and summary dismissal (5% of the vote being necessary to stay on the ballot). To the best of my knowledge, nobody is advocating on behalf of Dennis Martinez for the Hall of Fame (e.g., at the Hall of Merit
, which has permanent eligibility, Martinez received a single 15th-place vote in 2004
and no votes since).
More commonly, when Dennis Martinez's name comes up in a conversation about the Baseball Hall-of-Fame, it is usually to point out how similar Martinez's career totals are to Jack Morris's
, a point invariably made as an argument against
Morris's Hall of Fame candidacy (e.g., comments 19 & 20 here
The table below compares Dennis Martinez's Player won-lost record to all starting pitchers whose careers started in 1947 or later and who have been inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame.
If seems to me that it would be pretty easy, based on these numbers, to put Dennis Martinez at the bottom of a ranking of these players. The handful of Hall-of-Fame pitchers who had fewer pWins than Martinez (Ford
) had clearly better peaks (they won a combined 6 Cy Young Awards, 5 of them prior to 1967 when there was a single Cy Young award for all of MLB - and Whitey Ford led the AL in wins and complete games (with 18 apiece) in 1955, the year before the Cy Young award was introduced).
Catfish Hunter probably has the weakest resume of any Hall-of-Famer in the preceding table. But from 1971 - 1975, Hunter earned more than two wins over positional average
(both eWOPA and pWOPA) and more than four pWins over replacement level
four times (and more than five pWins twice).
Martinez's career highs were 1.9 pWOPA, 1.7 eWOPA, and 3.1 pWORL. That's just not a Hall-of-Fame peak, even for a single season. Although, to be fair to Martinez, if his 1981 season is blown up to a 162-game season, his season totals are 2.7 pWOPA and 4.1 pWORL.
Dennis Martinez's big problem, in terms of his Hall-of-Fame case is that he was essentially worthless as a major-league pitcher from 1983 - 1986, his age 28 - 31 seasons which should, perhaps, have been his prime. As Martinez himself admits in the Fangraphs interview
I mentioned earlier, a big reason for these wasted seasons was an alcohol problem that "caught up with me in the long run."
But even beyond the effect those lost years had on his career totals, another problem for Martinez is that he simply didn't have a Hall-of-Fame caliber peak, even comparing him to Hall-of-Famers not known for their peaks. Adjusting for season length, Martinez had 2.0 or more pWOPA in a season once (1981). In contrast, Nolan Ryan
reached 2.0 pWOPA in a season four times (plus 1.9 in 1981); Don Sutton
did so three times (1971 - 1973, all three of which were better seasons than anything in Martinez's career); Phil Niekro
had at least 2.0 pWOPA five times (including at age 45 in 1984); Bert Blyleven
took 14 ballots to make the Hall-of-Fame with five seasons of pWOPA of 2.0 or higher; Jim Bunning
had to go in the backdoor via the Veterans' Committee, despite reaching 2.0 pWOPA in seven different seasons.
Re-Imagining Dennis Martinez's Career
So, what if Dennis Martinez had not had alcohol problems? Could he have put together a Hall-of-Fame career?
To re-imagine Dennis Martinez as a Hall-of-Famer requires either giving him a better peak or giving him an overwhelming career case.
Looking at Martinez's season-by-season record, shown above, one easy way to boost Martinez's career numbers is to adjust his fine 1981, 1994, and 1995 seasons to adjust for the fact that these three seasons were shortened due to player strikes. Several other seasons also seem unduly short in Martinez's career - e.g., 1980, 1986, 1987. In the case of 1987, Martinez, in the Fangraphs interview
, blames the shortness of his season on "collusion, and I signed late. I had to go to ... Triple-A ... to prove to them I can still pitch." It's easy enough to imagine an alternate universe without collusion and where the Expos are more confident in Martinez's ability to still pitch at that point. So, we can bump his 1987 performance up to a full season-length.
For 1980 and 1986, however, it's a bit harder to see. In 1980, he seems to have been injured for much of the season (e.g., he made no starts between May 4th and July 17th that season, although he made 3 relief appearances in between those appearances; he then started only one game after September 8th, but made 7 relief appearances), although I can't find (or remember) any details about a specific injury or injuries (and the Orioles tended to use a fairly strict 4-man rotation in those days; he could have simply lost his rotation spot to Steve Stone
, who amassed 25 pitcher wins that season and won the Cy Young Award). Certainly, in 1986, his total appearances were limited by the fact that he wasn't very good (4.73 ERA combined for the Orioles
). On the other hand, (a) it's not unusual for pitchers to have injury-plagued seasons now and then, and (b) Dennis Martinez pitched until he was 44 years old and pitched 3,999.2 innings in his career (41st alltime in major-league history). It seems to me that if Martinez had pitched more innings in 1980 and/or 1986 (or 1981, 1987, 1994, or 1995, for that matter), that might well have led to fewer and/or lower-quality innings being pitched by Martinez at the end of his career. Maybe not, but, nevertheless, I decided to leave the quantity of his player decisions unchanged for 1980 and 1986 (as well as for all other seasons other than 1981, 1987, 1994, and 1995).
What I was interested in changing, however, was the quality of Martinez's performance during what should have been his prime seasons. As I noted above, the real hole in his career was 1983 - 1986. One could, perhaps, also consider tweaking his 1980 and 1982 seasons, which were somewhat subpar. I decided to leave these in there since, as with injuries, sometimes pitchers just have bad seasons. My thinking here is, can I be fairly conservative in boosting Martinez's career and still get him to a Hall-of-Fame career?
To adjust Martinez's 1983 - 86 seasons, then, I set up two baselines for Dennis Martinez's ability based on the average three seasons just before (1980-82) and after (1987-89) this period. I calculated these baselines using Martinez's expected
(context-neutral) performance (eWins, eLosses).
His 1983 season was then adjusted to the average of his 1980-82 season level of play (but tied to his actual number of 1983 player decisions). His 1984 season was adjusted to a weighted average of 1980-82 (2/3) and 1987-89 (1/3). His 1985 season was adjusted to a weighted average of 1980-82 (1/3) and 1987-89 (2/3). Finally, his 1986 season was adjusted to the average of his 1987-89 seasons. Note that these adjustments are being held back, to some extent, by my including Dennis Martinez's subpar 1980 and 1982 seasons as well as his 1988 season which rates surprisingly poorly as measured by Player won-lost records. In my opinion, this is most consistent with the best parts of Dennis Martinez's career, during which time he was solidly above-average but only rarely truly great.
If one wanted to be more aggressive in building an adjusted Hall-of-Fame case for Dennis Martinez, one could have used earlier (1977-79) and later (1990-92) seasons to fill in the hole in the middle of his career (and perhaps adjust 1980 and 1982 up as well). I chose to be a bit more conservative here.
The results are shown in the next table.
Adjusted Player Won-Lost Records
| ------ || ------ || ------ || ------ || ------ || ------ || ------ || ------ || ------ || ------ || ------ || ------ |
|CAREER (reg. season)|
Adjusting Dennis Martinez's record in this way adds 40 games to his career, 34 pWins, 8 pWOPA, and 11 pWORL. This new, improved Dennis Martinez's career numbers would no longer look entirely out of place compared to Hall-of-Fame starting pitchers. But his numbers are probably still on the low side and looking at these numbers season by season, he still really lacks a peak, outside of the two non-consecutive 1981 and 1987 seasons.
Evaluating the Re-Imagined Dennis Martinez
So, who does the new, improved Dennis Martinez above compare to in terms of career value? The table below compares Dennis Martinez's Player won-lost record to all starting pitchers whose careers started in 1947 or later with between 12 and 25 wins over positional average
(pWins and eWins) and between 38 and 50 wins over replacement level
(again, both pWins and eWins).
The list of pitchers similar in career value to the adjusted Dennis Martinez is five pitchers long. Two of them are in the Hall of Fame and three of them are still active.
is clearly superior to adjusted Dennis Martinez with more wins, WOPA, and WORL, and a higher winning percentage, measured either in or out of context
Hall of Fame case was significantly different than adjusted Dennis Martinez's case would be. Drysdale's case is essentially a peak/prime case: a Cy Young award, four consecutive seasons leading the league in games started (with 40-42), 300+ innings pitched, and 85 traditional pitcher wins over these four seasons, and a record scoreless streak three years later. Don Drysdale's last season was his age-32 season; the first season of Dennis Martinez's rebirth was his age-32 season. To be a reasonable comp to Drysdale, I think that the re-imagined Dennis Martinez would have had to put up two or three 20-win seasons and probably won a Cy Young award for the Orioles some time between, say, 1979 and 1983. That would require, at a minimum, Martinez being better than he actually was in 1980 and/or 1982, and would probably require Martinez being better in one of those seasons (or a 162-game 1981) than he ever actually was in any season of his career.
Among the current pitchers, Roy Halladay
seems more like a Drysdale-style peak/prime Hall-of-Fame candidate: Cy Young awards in both leagues, a postseason no-hitter, a reputation for a few years as the best pitcher in baseball. Dennis Martinez would have had to have been better than his best at some point to have been regarded as the best pitcher in baseball at any point in his career.
That leaves Andy Pettitte
and Tim Hudson
. Pettitte is viewed by many as a borderline Hall-of-Fame candidate. He also looks to have been somewhat better over a somewhat shorter career (through 2012) than Dennis Martinez, even the adjusted version of Martinez. If you're probably a bit worse than a guy who's probably at best a borderline Hall-of-Fame candidate, are you really a Hall-of-Fame candidate?
feels like the best comp to adjusted Dennis Martinez here, although Hudson's career is quite a bit shorter (again, through 2012). That said, my impression of Tim Hudson's Hall-of-Fame chances aren't that great. My sense is that he is (rightly) viewed as the best or one of the best pitchers on several very good teams (the A's of the early '00s, the Braves more recently) - cf., Dennis Martinez and the 1977-83 Orioles
, '87 Expos
Indians) - but (rightly or wrongly) never one of the absolute best pitchers in baseball. Tim Hudson has only made 3 All-Star games and gotten scattered Cy Young votes in 4 seasons (he did finish second - although a distant second - in 2000). Even adjusted, Dennis Martinez might have fared better in Cy Young voting in 1981 and/or 1987, but it's not obvious that he would have won one.
So, is it possible to construct a plausible alternate career for Dennis Martinez that would have been good enough to get him elected to the Hall of Fame? Maybe. I think the adjusted version of Martinez's record that I have created here is a reasonable adjustment for what a sober Dennis Martinez might have done in a world without labor strife. That's a very, very good career, but I feel like it's probably just short of what would be needed to make the Hall of Fame without a hook:
- maybe 300 wins: pWins and pitcher wins are on the same scale; this adjusted Dennis Martinez might have squeezed out 270-280 with some luck - but see Jim Kaat and Tommy John to see how far 280 pitcher wins get you in HOF voting,
- or a strong postseason record: get rid of the 1981 and 1994 strikes, improve Martinez's record a bit in 1980 and 1982, extend his 1987 to a full season, give his teams all the breaks, squint really hard, and maybe you can put Dennis Martinez in 6-8 postseasons ('79-'83 Orioles, '87 Expos, '94-'95 Indians),
- or a Cy Young award: non-strike shortened 1981 would seem his best shot if he could have maybe put up 22 pitcher wins or so, especially if the Orioles won the AL East.
All of which is not meant in any way as a knock on the real Dennis Martinez. He overcame his demons, reinvented himself in his mid-30's and continued to pitch well into his 40's. Even without adjustments, he had a very good, noteworthy career.
All articles are written so that they pull data directly from the most recent version of the Player won-lost database. Hence, any numbers cited within these articles should automatically incorporate the most recent update to Player won-lost records. In some cases, however, the accompanying text may have been written based on previous versions of Player won-lost records. I apologize if this results in non-sensical text in any cases.
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