From the Windup is FanHouse's extended look at a particular portion of America's pastime.
Greg Maddux was the greatest pitcher to ever set foot on a major league mound. We can start discussing this seriously now that he's retiring.
For me, it's pretty easy to see why he's underrated, actually. He's not a power pitcher. I enjoy power as much as the next guy, but you have to admit, all overrated pitchers have one thing in common: they throw really hard.
Maddux never overpowered guys, but that's what made him so great. He's sometimes overshadowed by his peers Roger Clemens and Randy Johnson, for this very reason. They were power pitchers who could easily ring up double-digit Ks during any given start. That's more exciting than Maddux's way, but it's not necessarily more effective.
Maddux was a master of efficiency, getting guys out with whatever number of pitches he thought necessary. Because of this, he was able to complete at least five games for 11 straight seasons -- including nine seasons where he completed at least seven games. In the day and age of situational relievers and established closers, that kind of consistency going late into games is immeasurable in terms of contributing to a team's success.
The manner in which Maddux kept himself healthy and kept his bullpen fresh was remarkable. Between 1988 and 2008, he never threw less than 194 innings. He threw more than 230 innings 11 times, and he hurled more than 250 innings four times -- and twice hit 249. That last part is simply amazing. As a point of reference, only two players threw more than 230 in the 2008 season -- Johan Santana and Roy Halladay -- and none threw more than 246.
Along the way, he still managed to compile 3,371 strikeouts, despite not being a strikeout pitcher. That's how good he was. He even piled up stats via his weakness. He also usually only put guys on base when it was seemingly on purpose. This is something you can't put into words, because you just had to have witnessed it. Braves and Cubs diehards are nodding their heads right now. Sometimes you could just tell what he was doing after two pitches, and you could say to yourself, "he's just gonna walk him." All told, he only walked 999 batters in his 5000+ innings. That's right, he only averaged 1.8 free passes per nine innings over the course of his entire 23-year career.
Stats don't tell the whole story, but these are just staggering. Let's run through a few more of his most impressive:
-- In 1994, the league average ERA was 4.22. Maddux's was 1.56.
-- In 1995, the league average ERA was 4.27. Maddux's was 1.63.
-- He won at least 15 games in 17 straight seasons.
-- His career ERA (3.16) is one whole run lower than the league ERA over the same span.
-- He threw up a sub-1.00 WHIP four times, and he was below 1.20 nine other times.
-- In 1997, he threw 232 2/3 innings and only walked 20 batters. That's not even an average of one walk per nine innings. I can't get over this one. He walked less than one batter per nine innings over the course of an entire season. That is pure insanity.
-- In 1995, he started 28 games and completed 10 of them. His record ended up 19-2.
This could go on forever, but you get the point. If you are a stat-lover like me, I recommend just visiting his baseball-reference page. You could stare at it for days.
What truly separated Maddux from the other all-time greats, though, is that he was a complete player.
He could handle the bat. Maddux was among the top 10 in sacrifice bunts five times. He would ground out to the right side with ease if the situation called for it. He hit over .150 in 14 different seasons, which is a huge bonus to get any production out of the nine-hole in the NL. He even managed 42 extra base hits and 11 stolen bases. Yep, he was a quality base-runner. Shocking, I know.
He was also probably the best fielding pitcher in baseball history. His awards room at home is full of 18 Gold Gloves. Three times he went through an entire season without committing an error. His range factor completely dwarfed the league average throughout his prime, which was a testament to how he made sure to get himself in fielding position after each pitch.
You see, with Greg Maddux, pitching was only part of his job. His job wasn't to pitch well, in his mind. It was to help his team win baseball games. Sure, his job on the hill had the most effect, but he wanted to run the bases well, get his bunts down, and field his position like a shortstop. It's easier said than done, but he did it.
Perhaps the best part about Maddux is his personality. He was just as likely to make a joke as he was to give a serious answer to a question throughout his career. There are tons of stories about his dugout antics, but there are also stories about his legendary baseball genius. Then, of course, you have his humility. Unlike so many other athletes today, here's what Maddux had to say about his retirement:"I didn't want a big show or whatever, a dog-and-pony show going out the last few months of my career."
When asked about his dominance in the 90s, which I already touched upon, he simply said, "I guess you just get locked in ... You just kinda have a couple of good games and get rolling from there."
He's like the antithesis of Roger Clemens, isn't he? How refreshing. He's just an all-around all-timer.
If you want to integrate other all-timers like Warren Spahn, Whitey Ford, Satchel Paige, Sandy Koufax, Walter Johnson, Christy Mathewson, Bob Gibson, or Cy Young -- to name a few -- into the "best ever" discussion, be my guest. None of these guys had to face the type of competition Maddux did. Baseball is fully integrated now, ballparks are smaller than ever, and he pitched right through the entire performance-enhancing drug era. It's hard to say just what Maddux could have done before the mound was lowered in the 1960s, or when he would only be facing white guys (before 1947). It's actually scary, because his numbers already seem stupid.
You can have those guys on your fictional all-time team.
I'll take Gregory Alan "Mad Dog" Maddux.
The best there ever was.
From the Windup: Greg Maddux Retires as the Greatest Pitcher in Baseball History originally appeared on MLB FanHouse on Tue, 09 Dec 2008 09:00:00 EST . Please see our terms for use of feeds.