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Jul 27, 2014; Cooperstown, NY, USA; Hall of Fame inductee Greg Maddux makes his acceptance speech during the class of 2014 national baseball Hall of Fame induction ceremony at National Baseball Hall of Fame. Mandatory Credit: Gregory J. Fisher-USA TODAY Sports

Atlanta Braves Greg Maddux–The Best You’ve Ever Seen

(Note: This is an update of my Greg Maddux post from January 8th. Watching the ceremony yesterday and hearing the way other Hall of Famers spoke about him, it seemed a good time to roll this out and remind everyone what a special talent he was.)

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

When the votes for the Hall of Fame Class of 2014 were counted, Greg Maddux had 97.2%  of the vote (the other 2.8% should lose their future votes) 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 (well I may just a little.)  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 in January C.J. Nitkowski talked about Maddux  with admiration in his voice (paraphrasing a bit here) when 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. 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 HoF Notes
Nolan Ryan 0.54 5386 Yes  
Tommy John 0.58 4710.1 Yes  
Greg Maddux 0.63 5008.1 Yes Braves
Roger Clemens 0.66 4916.2 No PED question
Steve Carlton 0.71 5217.2 Yes  
Tom Seaver 0.72 4783 Yes  
Tom Glavine 0.73 4413.1 Yes Braves
Warren Spahn 0.75 5102.1 Yes Braves
Bert Blyleven 0.78 4970 Yes  
Don Sutton 0.8 5282.1 Yes  
Randy Johnson 0.89 4135.1 No Next Year
Frank Tanana 0.96 4188.1 No  
Robin Roberts 0.97 4688.2
Yes  

Statistics Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: 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.

That story also contains quotes and anecdotes making the article well worth reading. It begins with a story about trying and succeeding to catch him blindfolded and includes the story of him watching as at bat from the bench and  predicting that Jose Hernandez would foul the next pitch off and hit the first base coach; he did.

The really most powerful stories come 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 in teammates and opposition alike. The Baseball Almanac has plenty of quotes by and about him worth a visit and some reading time. This excerpt from “Greg Maddux’s Art of Pitching” by Jack Etkin ( Baseball Digest, May 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.

No you can’t take your base

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 seasons where he walked less than one man per 9 innings. Who else had two such seasons?

Player
Year BB/9 W L W-L% ERA ERA+ HR/9 H/9 SO/9 SO/BB WHIP rWAR
Cy Young 1901 0.9 33 10 .767 1.62 219 0.15 7.85 3.83 4.27 0.972 12.6
Deacon Phillippe 1903 0.9 25 9 .735 2.43 135 0.12 8.37 3.83 4.24 1.03 4.9
Cy Young 1904 0.69 26 16 .619 1.97 136 0.14 7.74 4.74 6.9 0.937 9.5
Bob Tewksbury 1992 0.77 16 5 .762 2.16 158 0.58 8.38 3.52 4.55 1.017 2.7
Bob Tewksbury 1993 0.84 17 10 .630 3.83 103 0.63 10.9 4.09 4.85 1.301 -0.8
Greg Maddux 1995 0.99 19 2 .905 1.63 260 0.34 6.31 7.77 7.87 0.811 9.7
Greg Maddux 1997 0.77 19 4 .826 2.2 189 0.35 7.74 6.85 8.85 0.946 7.8
David Wells 2003 0.85 15 7 .682 4.14 106 1.01 10.2 4.27 5.05 1.23 4.3
David Wells 2004 0.92 12 8 .600 3.73 104 1.06 9.34 4.65 5.05 1.14 2.6

Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Play Index Tool Used
Generated 1/8/2014.

Maddux is eighth on the list of all time strikeout leaders with 3371 career Ks (Ryan, Johnson, Clemens. Steve Carlton, Blyleven, Seaver, Sutton.) He is however the only pitcher in major league history who did that while walking less than 1000. His other “only pitcher in major league history with less than 1000 walks” categories are:

  • Striking out at least 2900
  • Pitching at least 3600 innings
  • Winning at least 275 games

And 177 of those walks were intentional walks.

Of the 3371 Ks 1919 were swinging and the other 1231 (38.7%) were Ks looking. During his career the major league average for Ks looking was 26.9%.  While in Atlanta his K/BB ration was 4.77 and for his career that ratio is 3.37.  He is – you guessed didn’t you – the only pitcher with 3000 or more K’s and an a K/BB ratio greater than 3.30. The next closest is the Big Unit with 3.26., all the rest are 2.96 or lower.

No hits for you

Not only was Maddux unwilling to let you walk, in spite of being a pitch to contact pitcher he gave up very few hits. He had five season with a WHIP less than 1.1 and four seasons with a WHIP of 0.980 or less. The list of pitchers who had four seasons with WHIPs under one is a short one ; joining Maddux are  Addie Joss  – 1903,1904,1906, 1907; Juan Marichal – 1963, 1965, 1966, 1969; Pedro Martinez – 1999, 2000, 2002, 2005 ;Sandy Koufax –1963,1964,1965,1966

He’s just better than you

Maddux led the league ERA+ four times and posted an ERA+ 250 twice; in back to back years – 1994 (271) and 1995 (260). He holds the record for consecutive seasons with 15 or more wins (17) winning 20 games twice, 19 games five times and 18 games twice during that run.  In the strike year of 1994 he won his 19th game in the last Braves game of the season on August 11th.

You’ll know that he won the Cy Young four consecutive years (92-95) but he also finished second in 97, third in 89 and 99, fourth in 98 and fifth in 96. He holds the record for pitcher’s gold glove awards with 17; 13 in a row between 1990 and 2002 then five from 2004 to 2008. Mike Hampton won in 2003 his first year as a Brave.

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

Comments by peers on Sunday

During his speech yesterday Joe Torre referred to Maddux sitting relaxed and looking unemotional in the front row. “The man has no pulse. Look at him, see how excited he is?” Maddux barely blinked though a hint of a smile briefly played on his lips. That’s the way he was on the mound. Perhaps not as stoic as Glavine but calm, professional and in charge.

In the video presentation teammate preceding the presentation fellow 2014 Hall of Fame inductee Tom Glavine said that the more you look into his numbers the more you come to believe Maddux may just be the best ever.  The stats seem to  make that case as well. Looking at all the lists of the best pitchers only one name is consistently there near the top of the list; Greg Maddux

That’s A Wrap

There are lots of Greg Maddux stories and some can even be printed in a family blog like this. My favorite was told by Leo Mazzone   during the Braves Hall of Fame luncheon in 2009 and recounted by Bobby yesterday. My notes from the 2009 telling goes like this.

The Braves were playing Arizona and as usual Doggie came to Bobby before the game with a list of situations that might come up and what he would do. Bobby could never remember everything Maddux told him but tried to remember the key points.  Maddux was not having a particularly good day. He loaded the bases with two out and Bobby turned to Leo and said “I think this is on his list, I’m going to go out and check on him.”  He trotted out to the mound and returned to dugout quickly. When 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 Chipper over by the dugout. Three pitches later Chipper Jones caught the popup in front of the Braves dugout to end the inning.  That sums up the wizardry, skill and perfect execution of Greg Maddux. Quite simply the best you’ve ever seen.

Tags: Atlanta Braves Hall Of Fame

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