New Hall Of Famers Ton Glavine and Greg Maddux Tom Glavine (left) and Greg Maddux. (PHOTO: Barbara Jean Germano/USA TODAY Sports)

Greg Maddux – The Best You’ll Ever See

Whatever you affiliation if you were blessed to watch Greg Maddux (Mad Dog) in his prime you saw the best right hander since World War II and quite probably the best of all time. The only one of significance who might not agree is Maddux himself.

The Best of All Time?

“Maddux has the illusionary ability to throw what looks like a strike, and it’s really not. He’s the David Copperfield of pitchers.” Wade Boggs

Today Maddux got 97.2% of the vote and joined his great friend and running mate Tom Glavine (91.9%) and manager Bobby Cox in this year’s induction class.  Calling anyone the best of all time is bound to generate a ton of irate responses from fans of guys like Tom Seaver, Pedro Martinez , Roger Clemens et al. I accept you may disagree and I’m not going to dig into the minutia to argue about it. I’m going to let others make my case before adding my two cents worth. I’m also going to share some not so well known statistics that I hope make it clear why I feel the way I do.

How Did He Do That?

On XM radio last week C.J. Nitkowski talked about Maddux and the admiration in his voice was obvious. Paraphrasing a bit here he said never has a pitcher done so much with so little. What he and others who’ve uttered similar comments mean is that Maddux didn’t possess high 90s heat like Seaver, Martinez, Clemens or Randy Johnson. Because of that he had to win other ways; in other words he had to be a better pitcher than any of them.

Power pitchers can get away with mistakes up in the zone, finesse pitchers watch them land in the cheap seats. That rarely happened to Mad Dog whose career HR/9 was 0.6. Since 1947 when baseball finally got back to some semblance of normalcy, 13 starting pitchers with 4000+ innings on the bump allowed less than one HR per nine.

Player HR/9 ▴ IP
Nolan Ryan 0.54 5386.0
Tommy John 0.58 4710.1
Greg Maddux 0.63 5008.1
Roger Clemens 0.66 4916.2
Steve Carlton 0.71 5217.2
Tom Seaver 0.72 4783.0
Tom Glavine 0.73 4413.1
Warren Spahn 0.75 5102.1
Bert Blyleven 0.78 4970.0
Don Sutton 0.80 5282.1
Randy Johnson 0.89 4135.1
Frank Tanana 0.96 4188.1
Robin Roberts 0.97 4688.2
Provided by View Play Index Tool Used
Generated 1/8/2014.

“I could probably throw harder if I wanted, but why? When they’re in a jam, a lot of pitchers…try to throw harder. Me, I try to locate better.” Greg Maddux (The Baseball Almanac)

The year before Maddux retired Tim Keown wrote a piece for ESPN asking exactly how Mad Dog won so many games and delving into the mythos pretty well. He could have simply asked him.

“I try to do two things: locate my fastball and change speeds. That’s it. I try to keep as simple as possible. I just throw my fastball (to) both sides of the plate and change speed every now and then. There is no special food or anything like that, I just try to make quality pitches and try to be prepared each time I go out there.” Greg Maddux (The Baseball Almanac)

In Keown’s story there’s this gem.

Greg Maddux is quoted in this story saying exceedingly humble things. You are under no obligation to believe them. You are encouraged to believe in the spirit of the words—Maddux is almost obsessively self-deprecating—but that does not make them true. And when he says, “Whenever you’ve had a little success in this game, people think you know more than you do,” don’t believe that one at all.

There are also quotes an anecdotes worth reading like the opening story of catching him blindfolded or the story of his predicting that Jose Hernandez would foul the next pitch off and hit the first base coach; it did. The really good stuff comes from those who played with and against him. Maddux denies the genius tag and even that he does a lot differently than other pitchers. No one believes that but Maddux himself.

“I don’t know what it is, but he just knows. Nobody else knows the way he knows.” – Mark Prior

“He never throws anything the same speed. One pitch moves this way, one moves the other. The radar gun says it’s going slow, but it doesn’t feel that way in the batter’s box. It drives you crazy.” Josh Hamilton

“ (Maddux) has the best feel for how to throw a pitch and when to throw it of anybody, maybe ever.” Bud Black

 He Did What?

In his career The Professor inspired awe, frustration and confusion for teammates and opposition alike. The Baseball Almanac has plenty of quotes by and about him. This excerpt from “Greg Maddux’s Art of Pitching” by Jack Etkin (2000) is one I thought added historical perspective to Mad Dog’s career.

Maddux has never thrown a no-hitter and has struck out 200 batters in a season only once (204 in 1998), petty flaws in a career marked by sustained excellence. Since 1992, Maddux’s final year with the Chicago Cubs, his 2.32 earned run average is the lowest for any pitcher in a span of eight or more years since World War II.

Sandy Koufax posted a 2.49 ERA from 1959 through 1966; Tom Seaver held opponents to 2.43 runs per nine innings from 1968 through 1975; and Juan Marichal had a 2.46 ERA from 1962 through 1969.

Those three pitchers could overpower hitters in ways Maddux never will. His fastball is typically 89-90 mph, which is just average major league velocity. His slider isn’t as sharp or as devastating as teammate John Smoltz‘s. And Maddux’s curveball doesn’t have a knee-buckling snap on the order of St. Louis’ Darryl Kile. What Maddux possesses is an extraordinary changeup, along with exceptionally late movement on his pitches.

On June 20, 2001 Maddux faced the Marlins and in the top of the second inning with two men out walked Charles Johnson. The next walked he issued was to Steve Finley in the top of the third inning on August 12th, 75 innings and 291 batters later. .  and it was an intentional walk. That’s still the NL record (Bill Fischer has the AL record with 84 1/3 innings) When ask about being told to intentionally walk a hitter in the middle of his streak, he said that walks weren’t always a bad thing and that the goal was winning the game. That said he didn’t walk many. Twice he had season where he walked less than one man per 9 innings. You know who else had two such seasons?

Player Year BB/9 G GS W L W-L% ERA ERA+ HR/9 H/9 SO/9 SO/BB WHIP
Cy Young 1901 0.90 43 41 33 10 .767 1.62 219 0.15 7.85 3.83 4.27 0.972
Deacon Phillippe 1902 0.86 31 30 20 9 .690 2.05 133 0.03 8.77 4.04 4.69 1.070
Deacon Phillippe 1903 0.90 36 33 25 9 .735 2.43 135 0.12 8.37 3.83 4.24 1.030
Cy Young 1904 0.69 43 41 26 16 .619 1.97 136 0.14 7.74 4.74 6.90 0.937
Bob Tewksbury 1992 0.77 33 32 16 5 .762 2.16 158 0.58 8.38 3.52 4.55 1.017
Bob Tewksbury 1993 0.84 32 32 17 10 .630 3.83 103 0.63 10.87 4.09 4.85 1.301
Greg Maddux 1995 0.99 28 28 19 2 .905 1.63 260 0.34 6.31 7.77 7.87 0.811
Greg Maddux 1997 0.77 33 33 19 4 .826 2.20 189 0.35 7.74 6.85 8.85 0.946
David Wells 2003 0.85 31 30 15 7 .682 4.14 106 1.01 10.23 4.27 5.05 1.230
David Wells 2004 0.92 31 31 12 8 .600 3.73 104 1.06 9.34 4.65 5.05 1.140
Provided by View Play Index Tool Used
Generated 1/8/2014.

Combine that with his stinginess in allowing hits and you’ll find four seasons where his WHIP less than one. Once again that puts him in elite company.

Player ▴ Year WHIP GS W L W-L% ERA ERA+
Addie Joss 1907 0.983 38 27 11 .711 1.83 136
Addie Joss 1906 0.933 31 21 9 .700 1.72 152
Addie Joss 1904 0.988 24 14 10 .583 1.59 160
Addie Joss 1903 0.948 31 18 13 .581 2.19 130
Greg Maddux 1998 0.980 34 18 9 .667 2.22 187
Greg Maddux 1997 0.946 33 19 4 .826 2.20 189
Greg Maddux 1995 0.811 28 19 2 .905 1.63 260
Greg Maddux 1994 0.896 25 16 6 .727 1.56 271
Juan Marichal 1969 0.994 36 21 11 .656 2.10 168
Juan Marichal 1966 0.859 36 25 6 .806 2.23 167
Juan Marichal 1965 0.914 37 22 13 .629 2.13 169
Juan Marichal 1963 0.996 40 25 8 .758 2.41 133
Pedro Martinez 2005 0.949 31 15 8 .652 2.82 146
Pedro Martinez 2002 0.923 30 20 4 .833 2.26 202
Pedro Martinez 2000 0.737 29 18 6 .750 1.74 291
Pedro Martinez 1999 0.923 29 23 4 .852 2.07 243
Pedro Martinez 1997 0.932 31 17 8 .680 1.90 219
Sandy Koufax 1966 0.985 41 27 9 .750 1.73 190
Sandy Koufax 1965 0.855 41 26 8 .765 2.04 160
Sandy Koufax 1964 0.928 28 19 5 .792 1.74 186
Sandy Koufax 1963 0.875 40 25 5 .833 1.88 159
Provided by View Play Index Tool Used
Generated 1/8/2014.

ERA+ is a pitchers ERA measured against the league average, and adjusted for ballpark factors with 100 being average. Four starting pitchers have posted an ERA+ greater than 250. Only one has done it twice; Greg Maddux in back to back years – 1994 (271) and 1995 (260). Pedro came close in 1999-2000  Here’s a list of everyone who ever posted an ERA+ over 200. I don’t know about Dolf Luque , Jack Taylor or Cy Young but all the rest save Maddux have big arms

Player ▴ Year ERA+
Bob Gibson 1968 258
Cy Young 1901 219
Dolf Luque 1923 201
Dwight Gooden 1985 229
Greg Maddux 1995 260
Greg Maddux 1994 271
Jack Taylor 1902 206
Kevin Brown 1996 215
Pedro Martinez 2003 211
Pedro Martinez 2002 202
Pedro Martinez 2000 291
Pedro Martinez 1999 243
Pedro Martinez 1997 219
Roger Clemens 2005 226
Roger Clemens 1997 222
Roger Clemens 1990 211
Ron Guidry 1978 208
Zack Greinke 2009 205
Provided by View Play Index Tool Used
Generated 1/8/2014.

Baseball Reference has a little table at the bottom of each player page that rates each player’s worthiness for the Hall of Fame.

Black Ink Pitching – 87 (10), Average HOFer ≈ 40
Gray Ink Pitching – 336 (6), Average HOFer ≈ 185
Hall of Fame Monitor Pitching – 254 (12), Likely HOFer ≈ 100
Hall of Fame Standards Pitching – 70 (7), Average HOFer ≈ 50
JAWS Starting Pitcher (10th), 106.8 career WAR/56.3 7yr-peak WAR/81.6 JAWS
Average HOF P (out of 57) = 72.6 career WAR/50.2 7yr-peak WAR/61.4 JAWS

If you review those lists you’ll only see one name consistently appearing; Greg Maddux and as far as I can see that makes him the best there’s ever been.

That’s A Wrap

Today is a great time for the Braves family and the team that made the streak happen; John Smoltz should join them next year. I’m going to end this with my favorite Cox, Maddux, Leo Mazzone story. When Maddux was inducted into the Braves HoF back in 2009 Leo told this story. The Braves were playing Arizona and Maddux was not having a good day. He loaded the bases with 2 out and Bobby turned to Leo and go out and he was going to go see what Mad Dog was thinking. He returned to dugout quickly and Leo ask what he said.  Bobby said “Well he told he was going to throw three pitches and that  on the third one the batter was going to pop up to third base.” Three pitches later Chipper Jones caught the popup and ended the inning. That’s Greg Maddux, the best you’ll ever see.

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  • trey

    I wish more pitchers nowadays would think like Maddux did. ‘I don’t have to throw HARDER, I have to throw BETTER.’

    • fireboss


    • Mushy Peas

      Agree 100%. Pitchers need to try to THINK harder, not throw harder.

      • fireboss

        Maddux said it best according to the ESPN story..Former Scout Ralph Medar taught him the value of movement over velocity, how to shield the ball behind
        their gloves to hide grips and how sometimes a 57-foot curveball is the
        best pitch in the world.
        “We bought into it,” Greg says. “One of the
        first questions we used to ask was ‘Is my ball sinking, or is it just
        running?’ Now all they ask is, ‘Did I throw 92 or 94?’”

  • rick staley

    Tony Gwinn once said that Maddux was the toughest pitcher he ever faced because he had at least 4-5 different ways of throwing each of his 3 pitches.Although he had a very high career BA vs. Maddux, he had to study him the hardest.

  • Mushy Peas

    Maddux was always my favorite guy to watch growing up. Even at a relatively young age, I knew I was watching something special. Oddly, one of my favorite memories of him, while watching the games on tv, were the countless times I heard him yell, “shit!”, every time his pitch missed by an inch or two of where he wanted it……and, almost always, that word came out of his mouth before the ball ever reached the catcher’s mitt. He was a pure perfectionist, a pure competitor, yet, so unassuming, and I count myself very fortunate to have witnessed one of the all time greats.

  • Chris Headrick

    Glavine was better ;-) hehe. Just teasing, but no not really – Tommy was my all-time favorite. In a pinch, Greg could get er’ done ;-)