Let’s hop in the Way-Back Machine and journey back to November 17, 1997. On that day, the Red Sox traded Carl Pavano and a player to be named later for the Montreal Expos stud right-hander, 26-year-old Pedro Martinez.
Fast forward now just over eight years later to November 24, 2005. On that day, the Red Sox acquired Marlins right-hander 25-year-old Josh Beckett (and Mike Lowell and a washed-up Guillermo Mota) for Hanley Ramirez, Anibal Sanchez, and two other guys whose names you probably won’t need to know.
The timing and circumstances were eerie. Martinez became possibly the most dominant pitching in Red Sox history. Now the Red Sox are asking Josh Beckett to be the pitcher they saw in the 2003 playoffs and save their pitching staff. These are tall orders for a 25-year-old with 10 career trips to the disabled list.
I, like Ken Rosenthal of FoxSports.com, am skeptical of Beckett. He’s shown flashes of brilliance and a streak of injuries. His home-road splits show that he’s enjoyed pitching in the National League’s most hitter-friendly park, and his future success against the DH-rich AL in Fenway Park is a matter that will be determined purely on the field next season and not among the stats of his career.
There is, however, something Beckett’s stats can unlock for us. Over-eager Red Sox fans have begun to compare Beckett to Pedro, and this is a comparison that just doesn’t hold up the way I see it.
When Pedro arrived in Boston, he clearly was already a dominant pitcher. He was coming off a Cy Young caliber season in which he struck out 305 in 241.1 innings. while posting an ERA of 1.90. (He would go on to top those strike out numbers two years later, fanning 8 more in 28 fewer innings. Talk about dominance.) Beckett has come close to this type of dominance in 40 postseason innings in 2003, and that’s it. Here’s how the two stack up pre-Boston using ERA+, the ratio of the league’s ERA to that of the pitcher in question:
From this chart, it’s clear that Pedro had the edge. At the time, he was considered very durable, and had the strike of 1994 not shorted the 1994 and 1995 seasons, he would have racked up nearly 1000 innings before joining Boston. Pitching in what many consider to be the high years of the Steroid Era, Pedro has an exceptional 135 ERA+ (which is a non-park adjusted number due to my calculations) and an ERA over a run better than league average aggregated over the years prior to his joining the Red Sox. While Beckett’s park-adjusted ERA of 117 is nothing to write home about, Pedro towers above him.
(A quick note: I had to calculate Pedro’s ERA+ and the NL ERA from 1992-1997 by hand. Beckett’s was done for me by Baseball-Reference. Hence, non-adjusted vs. adjusted. The difference is minuscule for the sake of this study.)
In the end, this just goes to show that Pedro before his dominant years in 1999 and 2000 was already an amazing pitcher. This is not a slight on Josh Beckett and his ability. Could Josh Beckett turn into another version of a Pedro-type pitcher? Sure he could. But first, he has to overcome the injury bug that has bitten him throughout his time on the Marlins.
If I were in charge of the Red Sox, I would have made this move in a minute just like the four-headed GM monster in Fenway did. But this should serve as a warning for Red Sox fans expecting too much from Beckett. I have seen Pedro Martinez pitch, and you, sir, are no Pedro Martinez. Yet.