Why do we seem to have to like someone personally to root for them on the field?
Red Sox fans and Pedro Martinez just can't seem to get along. One could argue that they deserve each other, the unreasonably demanding New England hordes and the petulant ace. But if I'm choosing a dog in this fight, I'll take the guy that name-calling Boston Globe columnist Dan Shaughnessy calls "Diva Pedro," even if all the negative things anyone has ever said about him are true.
While Martinez was in the hospital for six hours last week being treated for pharyngitis, a severe throat inflammation that caused him to miss a start, Hub sports radio hosts and callers were accusing him of shirking, of faking his illness because he didn't want to pitch.
It was a dumb, nonsensical accusation that said more about the level of discourse on sports talk radio than about Martinez, but it represented the bleeding edge of the popularly held theory among Sox fans and media that Pedro is indeed a diva, a whiner who pitches brilliantly when he deems himself ready, but is so delicate, so not-tough, that he's just not worth the trouble and the money.
Martinez, who is a sensitive sort, reportedly lashed back over the weekend. The Globe reported that he told a radio host, "I will make $17.5 [million, what he'll make in 2004] and then I am out of here." The Sox say Martinez, who will be a free agent this year, denies making the comment.
Let's put aside Martinez's prickly personality for a moment, forget about trivia such as whether it means anything that he routinely skips the team photo or that he once said, in response to a question about the Curse of Babe Ruth that supposedly keeps the Red Sox from winning a championship, "Why don't we just wake up the Bambino and I'll have him face me and maybe I'll drill him in the ass."
Ha. That line really got under some people's skin but I laugh every time I read it. But anyway, let's forget about all that and his sometimes (but only sometimes) silly accusations of anti-Dominican prejudice at every slight and consider whether Pedro is worth all the tsoris. I'll give away my answer: I don't care what he says or does. He's so good, he's worth it all even if he only pitches about three-quarters of the innings a workhorse would.
The twin knocks on Martinez as a pitcher are that he won't pitch if he has a hangnail and that when he does pitch, he's a "six-inning pitcher," a guy who doesn't go deep into games.
After beating Seattle Monday night, Martinez had made 23 starts. If he takes his regular turn the rest of the year he'll make about 29, which would be about two more than what he's averaged in his five previous years in Boston, and four to six starts fewer than a top starter makes in a typical injury-free season. Take out 2001, when he missed about half the year, and Martinez has averaged more like 30 starts, but yes, he's fragile. He's a regular on the disabled list, though he managed to stay off it in 2002, and that's not likely to change. His power pitching puts a lot of stress on a frame (5-foot-11, 180 pounds) that's significantly smaller than that of most fireballers. If you take Pedro on your team, you have to accept that you're getting a guy who's probably going to miss a half dozen starts, and calling him a pansy won't change that.
As for being a six-inning pitcher, I've never understood that complaint, which has also been made in the latter part of Greg Maddux's career. I'll take six great innings over seven or eight or even nine pretty good innings every time. That's why teams have bullpens, though the Red Sox's bullpen has had its problems this year.
And anyway, the difference between Martinez and a real innings eater is wildly overstated. Roy Halladay of the Blue Jays leads the American League in innings pitched with 207 and two-thirds. (All stats in this story are through Monday's games.) Tim Hudson of the A's is second, five and a third innings behind him. They both average a little over seven innings per start. Martinez averages 6.5. In a given game, the difference between the delicate Pedro and the league's two biggest workhorses is less than two outs. What's the big deal?
How valuable is Martinez? He's pitched 149 and two-thirds innings, 58 fewer than Halladay. Conveniently, there's a guy on the Red Sox who's thrown roughly the difference, 63 and two-thirds innings, and he's been horrible. It's Ramiro Mendoza, who is 3-5 with a 7.07 ERA, mostly in relief. Halladay, 17-5 with a 3.55 ERA, is a Cy Young candidate. So what happens if we combine Martinez (10-3, 2.29) with the awful Mendoza to create a pitcher who has thrown just five and two-thirds innings more than Halladay?
You get a pitcher who's a shade below Halladay, but compares favorably to Joel Piñeiro of the Mariners (13-9, 3.69). Our combined Martinez-Mendoza would be 14-8 with a 3.71 ERA. He would have allowed fewer base runners and home runs than Piñeiro, with a higher strikeout rate and some extra 40-plus innings pitched. Comparing Martinez and Mendoza with Halladay, they strike out more batters and allow fewer home runs than the Blue Jays ace, but they also walk more guys, and they give up an extra run every 54 innings or so -- about five runs over the course of a year.
The point is that even if Martinez pitched all of the innings he's missed because of injuries and his delicate constitution, and he pitched not like himself but like a guy who is a total disaster, he'd still be one of the better pitchers in the American League.
Is Martinez worth that $17.5 million option Boston picked up for 2004? Maybe not in the current market downturn, but it's not as though the Red Sox can't afford to spend a few extra million to keep their best pitcher around. As we've said before, it doesn't come out of the fans' pockets.
If I'm a Red Sox fan, I don't care if Pedro pees on Faneuil Hall and says Larry Bird can't carry his jock. I don't want to have dinner with him just because he can pitch. I just want to watch him pitch for my team.
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Ballpark fouls [PERMALINK]
After first voting it down, the Oregon Senate re-voted and passed the Portland ballpark financing bill over the weekend. The revised bill went back to the House, where it was approved Monday. The legislation calls for using income taxes on theoretical future players over 30 years to pay off bonds that will cover about a third to a half of the proposed ballpark's projected cost. The city of Portland must step up to the plate now and figure out a way to fleece its citizens of about $200 million. Then ballpark backers might be able to lure Major League Baseball into moving the Expos west.
If you think this sort of thing only goes on in big cities with major league teams, think again. Jim Bouton, the author of the baseball classic "Ball Four," has a new book called "Foul Ball." It chronicles his attempt, with a partner, to use their own money to save a minor league park in Pittsfield, Mass., where he lives. They ran into some heavy opposition from the local powers that be. Turns out Bud Selig isn't the only one who doesn't like privately financed stadiums.
Blogger Alex Belth has a terrific interview with Bouton on his Bronx Banter site. Check it out.
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