Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Maddux Musings

Ten thoughts on the recently inducted and much-deserving Hall of Famer Greg Maddux:

1. Maddux pitched for many great teams in Atlanta and won a ton of games--355 of them--so it's rather surprising that a) he never won more than 20 games in a season and b) he enjoyed only two 20 win seasons. Maddux managed five with 19 and two others with 18.

2. I think the most impressive part of Maddux's track record is his durability. From his second season in 1987 through his final season in 2008, he started at least 25 games every year. He topped 200 innings every year from 1988 through 2001, including the strike years of 1994-95, and missed extending that streak by two outs in 2002. He went on to compile four more 200 inning seasons consecutively and 18 in all, the last of which came at age 40. Even at 41 (198 innings) and 42 (194 in his final season) he remained indestructible. That longevity is a testament to his control and efficiency as much as it is his ability to stay healthy. He threw more than 5,000 innings in his career which, if you think about it, requires 25 seasons with 200 innings or 20 of 250. Seeing as how Maddux pitched 23 seasons, the first of which yielded only five starts and two of which were shortened by strikes, he essentially did the latter.

3. I'm really surprised that Maddux "only" won four ERA titles. You look at some of his ERA numbers and think about the context, and it's hard to see how he didn't win with a 2.18 in 1992, or a 2.72 in 1997, or a 2.20 the year after, or a 2.62 in 2002.

4. It blows my mind that Maddux maintained a 3.16 career ERA considering that he started out with a 5.59 ERA through his first two seasons and finished up with 4.13 ERA. He pitched more than 1,400 innings, almost 30 percent of his career total, that weren't very good, but still managed a 3.16 ERA. In the 15 years in between (1988-2002) it was 2.68. His worst ERA during that span was his 3.57 in 1999, a year that saw two players eclipse 60 homers.

5. Maddux often helped his own cause with his terrific defense, which won him 18 Gold Gloves--the most at any position ever.

6. Even as he got older, Maddux never got hurt and never deteriorated into a poor pitcher. While his ERA was over 3.95 in each of his last six seasons, it was still four percent better than average and helped him add 13.5 bWAR to his career total. He still had the league's lowest walk rate in four of those seasons as well, which helped him remain effective even as his velocity declined and he became more hittable

7. What really blows me away about Maddux is that he only had one season where he struck out 200 batters, and even then he just barely did so (204 in 1998).

8. At his peak Maddux was unreal. From 1992 through 1998, when Maddux compiled 54.6 of his 104.6 career bWAR, he had an ERA below 2.40 in six out of seven (and in the year he missed it was 2.72) while averaging 239 innings per year. In four of those years his WHIP was under 1.00, and it stood at 0.97 for the full seven. His K/BB ratio was 4.78. It was like Pedro Martinez's run a few years later, and if Maddux had retired at the end of it he'd be the modern-day Sandy Koufax, only better.

9. Maddux was phenomenal at limiting the long ball. In the seven years I just mentioned, he allowed 66 home runs. Total. That works out to be less than 10 per year, obviously, and while the steroid era was fully underway. In 1994 he was taken deep four times. Four! And the next year, only eight. Two years later--nine. The best collection of power hitters baseball's ever seen, jacked up on Lord knows what, couldn't do much damage against Maddux at his best.

10. Maddux hold the major league record for most seasons leading the league in games started (7) and most inside the top 10 in wins (18).

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