Monday, December 17, 2007
Best of our Generation
There is one more ramification of the Mitchell Report that people just haven’t been talking enough about. For so long, we have heard Roger Clemens referred to as the best pitcher of our generation, or the best pitcher of the last half century. Although, for the same reason that I would call Barry Bonds the best player of my lifetime, I would probably still call Clemens the best pitcher of our lifetime. However, I also fully believe what I said last week- that I believe that Roger Clemens should now be held to the same scrutiny that so many have put Bonds through.
Barry Bonds is the best player of the last quarter century, at least, if not the last half-century. For the pitchers, it isn’t as cut and dry. In my mind, there are two pitchers that I would argue could be called the best pitcher of the last 25-50 years. Roger Clemens is one of them, but who is the other?
In my mind, the best pitcher that I have seen in my lifetime has to be Greg Maddux. You could argue for Nolan Ryan’s strikeouts. A point could be made for the dominance of Randy Johnson for a decade. Tom Seaver? Jim Palmer? Steve Carlton? Sure, they all fit into the hard-throwing, dominating types. However, Greg Maddux has numbers that are as good as any of them, all without hitting as high as 92 on the radar gun.
Maddux was successful because he has as good of control as anyone in baseball history. He also has so much movement on his fastball. Maddux has a good changeup, and occasionally will throw a curveball. He is a fastball pitcher without a blazing fastball. And yet, when the 2008 season begins, Greg Maddux will be pitching in his 23rd big league season. Sometime early in the season, he will win his 350th game, and it is likely he will win his 360th game too. His best pitch, or his signature pitch, would have to be that tailing fastball that ran over the inside corner to a lefty.
To me, Greg Maddux is the definition of “PITCHER.” There have been many other pitchers who have had good years by showing great control, not walking people, getting great movement and battling. But how many of them have lasted a decade or longer? His former teammate Tom Glavine has certainly made a nice career without throwing very hard. Brad Radke was very good for a decade. Bob Tewksbury’s control was impeccable for a half-decade.
But numbers don’t lie. With the Mitchell Report making public what we have all suspected for a long time about Roger Clemens, it is now obvious that Greg Maddux is the best pitcher of our generation.
But if you need to be sold, let’s look at some of those numbers:
· 8 All-Star games – 3 times a starter
· 4 Cy Young Awards – 1992-1995. He had five other top five finishes.
· Gold Glove Awards – Maddux broke Jim Kaat’s record of 16 pitcher Gold Gloves by winning his 17th in 2007. 2003 was the only year since 1990 that he did not win.
· Wins – 347 career wins. That is 9th All-Time. He won 20 twice and 19 five other times. He won 15 or more games 17 straight years and 18 of his last 20 seasons.
· ERA – Led the league in ERA four times, and he has finished in the top five ten times.
· WHIP – led the league four times and finished in the top three nine times.
· Innings Pitched – One thought was that the Braves just let him get his six innings. Clearly that was not the case. He has pitched 200 or more innings in 18 of the last 20 years. In 2002, he pitched in 199 1/3 innings. In 2007, he pitched 198 innings. Five times he led the NL in Innings Pitched. 11 times he has been in the Top 5. He is 16th on the All-Time Innings Pitched list.
· Strikeouts – No, he hasn’t been a strikeout an inning guy, but did you know that Maddux is #11 on the all-time strikeout list with 3,273? Although he never led the league in strikeouts, he finished in the top three five times.
· Games Started – Led the league in starts seven times. Finished in the top five 15 times. Only five pitchers in big league history have started more games.
· He has 109 complete games and 35 shutouts.
· When he made his big league debut with the Cubs on September 3, 1986 at the age of 20, he was the youngest player in the league. He will pitch in 2008 at the age of 42.
Baseball Reference has the stats to show Most Similar Pitchers. The ten most similar pitchers to Maddux are Tim Keefe, Tom Seaver, Fergie Jenkins, Don Sutton, Roger Clemens, Pete Alexander, Kid Nichols, Warren Spahn, Charley Radbourn and Tom Glavine. Eight Hall of Famers and two 300 game winners who should reach the Cooperstown five years after they retire.
Maddux was the Cubs second round pick in 1984 out of his Las Vegas high school. Names like Mark McGwire, Shane Mack, Oddibe McDowell and Terry Mulholland were some of the top first rounders that year, but I would bet that all of the teams wish they would have taken Maddux instead. Following the 1992 season, and his first Cy Young Award, he signed as a free agent with the Atlanta Braves. There he teamed with fellow 300 game winner Tom Glavine and John Smoltz to form an incredible trifecta. Baseball America recently awarded the trio with a lifetime achievement award. He stayed with the Braves for a dozen years and in 2004 he signed with the Chicago Cubs who hoped that he would combine with Mark Prior and Kerry Wood to make a new dominating trio. The Cubs traded Maddux at the July trade deadline in 2006 to the Dodgers for Cesar Izturis. Following the season, he signed with the Padres where he spent the 2007. Shortly after the season he resigned with the Padres for more more year and $10 million.
For about the last four or five years, I have heard an argument that he should retire. Why? Because the greats should retire while they are at the top of their game, right? Steve Carlton shouldn’t have pitched for the Twins in 1987. Harmon Killebrew shouldn’t have DHd for the Royals in 1975. Randy Johnson should have retired years ago.
Maddux may no longer a top of the rotation starting pitcher, but that does not mean that he should have retired. First of all, he is 41 and still a league average pitcher. Look at the numbers the last two years.
2006 – 15-14 with a 4.14 ERA
2007 – 14-11 with a 4.20 ERA
So, did Maddux get worse from 2006 to 2007? No, he stayed the same. However, the league average ERA in 2006 was 4.58. Amazingly, the league average ERA in 2007 in the NL dropped down to 4.11. That was the first time that his ERA had been above league average since 1988. But again, is was pretty much league average, so why should he quit? Who are we to tell him that he should retire? He is a contributing factor to a winning, competitive team. He isn’t embarrassing himself. And just as importantly, teammates like Jake Peavy and Chris Young give Maddux a lot of credit for their success. Maddux’s older brother Mike is a very well respected pitching coach for the Milwaukee Brewers. In a way, Greg is a pitching coach for the Padres.
It is important to remember that Greg Maddux is three years younger than Roger Clemens, so he could still have some left in the tank. Sure, Maddux’s career peaked when it should have and has slowly declined over the past decade, but now we know a little bit more why that is the case. Comparing the careers of Greg Maddux and Roger Clemens and they are not far apart at all. With last week’s revelation, my contention that the best pitcher of our generation is Greg Madduz.
What do you think?
That is it for today, unless anything happens with the Twins. That could certainly be the case. Please come back tomorrow for a very interesting Q&A that you won’t want to miss. Thanks again for stopping by this site. Have a great day! If you have any questions, comments or ideas for future postings, please e-mail me.