Another Baseball Stat (But This One’s Worth Knowing)

Record books are funny things.

They have a set set of rules of what and what was not worth noting. For example, strikeouts and no-hitters are symbols of dominance in baseball. However, succeeding at the sport goes so much further. K’s and no no’s establish a reputation for a pitcher, but benefit mostly power pitchers. Names like Nolan Ryan, Roger Clemens, and Randy Johnson pop because, well, they made the pop! happen in catcher’s mitts throughout their career.

But Ryan, Clemens and Johnson aren’t the only successful pitchers in MLB. There’s one in particular that succeeds unlike any other. Greg Maddux, the 4-time Cy Young winner and long-time Atlanta Brave, bears a semblance to the most successful and efficient pitcher ever in MLB.

If there’s anything baseball fans love more than power arms, its stats. And – cue the music – I discovered a new stat, courtesy of blogger Jason Lukehart.

Based off of the 4-time Cy Young winner, the stat christened “The Maddux” came into being. Those unfamiliar with the parameters of the statistic can be enlightened as follows. A starting pitcher must pitch the entire game, said game must go at least nine innings (no rain shortened contests), the pitcher must allow zero runs, and he can throw no more than 99 total pitches. Also, a clarification: no runs include unearned runs, so the defense must be stellar as well.

So why should you care about “The Maddux” when there’s about a zillion other stats in baseball? You’ve got some indecipherable abbreviations like RA9role, gmLI, and waaWL% that look like something out of a Physics textbook, but The Maddux trumps them all. In fact, it may even trump one of the most impressive achievements in baseball: the no-hitter.

The first no-hitters of 2013 were thrown 11 days apart. The first was tossed by Cincinnati Red Homer Bailey and the second gem belonged to the Giant from San Fran, Tim “The Freak” Lincecum. Even though Lincecum was as untouchable on July 13th as Whitey Bulger until 2011, the only thing freakish about his performance was the bonkers amount of pitches he threw – 148. Yes, the fact that he didn’t allow a single hit presents an impressive case for a dominating night at the ballpark, but he expended 148 pitches, which is nearly double the Major League average for a starter (88).

According to Baseball Reference’s website, it’s extremely rare to top 120 pitches in a start – less than one percent of starters do it. Granted some pitchers are different. David Wells could stay out late, come to the ballpark inebriated, throw a ton of pitches and do well – he had a rubber arm and wasn’t exactly a lightweight. Conversely, Clay Bucholz can be on the Disabled List for a month, train and rehabilitate then in the instance of one pitch reinjure himself.

That’s why it was surprising to see Bruce Bochy, the Giants Manager, leave Lincecum to laboriously work on the mound. The odd decision to stick with him in came from a manager who told Lincecum just over a year ago not to throw bullpen sessions in the offseason. This was because a workhorse like Lincecum who throw over 200 innings per year and are of Lincecum’s stature are at a greater susceptibility for injury. At 5-foot-11 and an anorexic 170-pounds, the man dubbed The Freak has been the cause of many for years to worry that his slight build could expedite the deterioration of his pitching prowess. No matter who you are throwing over 100 pitches increases chances of injury exponentially. That’s why Starting Pitchers in The Bigs have collectively dropped to an all-time low 10-percent of starts over 110 pitches.

Understandably the fans in AT&T Park that July night wanted to see something special, they wanted to see Lincecum throw the no-no during that beautiful, if not ethereal summer night. But to put a vital linchpin, one that keeps the Giants rotation machine rotating, in such jeopardy seems to be risky if not perilous.

A prime example would be Houston Astros pitcher Erik Bedard. In the seventh inning of Saturday night’s game against the Mariners from Seattle he took himself out. He also had not allowed a single hit. But, at 109 pitches, the 10-year veteran knew he would rather avoid injury than chase a no hitter, which by every definition is an indefinite entity.

Thus, the main argument for The Maddux is that it’s more difficult to accomplish. It requires the pitcher to be efficient as well as effective. The 99 pitch-limit provides baseball with a tangible cutoff. Baseball’s a game of much sitting and waiting, like in the bottom of the ninth inning with the score knotted at 2. But don’t worry Common Fan, the game won’t end in a tie. Baseball maintains its ability to morph based on contingent conditions and can go ten innings or twenty, if need be. That pitch limit presents all the urgency the game could need.

The Maddux also rewards dominance over perfection per se because while a seeing-eye single through short and third could bust-up a no-hitter, a weakly hit groundball that just happened to get through doesn’t make the pitcher’s performance any less assertive, any less totalitarian. Take Curt Schilling for example. In 2007 he was one out shy of a no-hitter when Oakland Athletics’ batter Shannon Stewart dug into the box. Schilling wound and delivered only to see that Stewart shot the pitch down the right field line, ending his bid with two outs in the ninth. While Schilling’s no-hitter was busted, he did toss, with 99 pitches, a masterful Maddux. Schilling owned that game, whether it was one hit or none.

To further the point, the pitchers having thrown Madduxes are superior quality to those who have thrown no-hitters. Yes, some no-hitters count as Madduxes and there are exceptions to both rules, but overwhelming anyone can be merely “good” and throw a no-hitter, they can just be on that night. Two quick examples are Bud Smith and Eric Milton. Smith pitched two years with the St. Louis Cardinals and the only complete game he ever threw was in 2001 – his no-hitter. Milton, though he pitched for ten years, was a pedestrian hurler at best with a career record of .500, but he tossed a no-no in 1999. What did both have in common? An absurd pitch count. They finished their masterpieces with 134 and 122 pitches, respectively. They were simply on that day at the park.

Conversely, the Maddux leaderboard is stuffed with prominent and dominant aces. Maddux leads (obviously) with 13, followed by ex- Braves teammates Zane Smith (incredible while with Atlanta) with seven and Tom Glavine, who threw five. Roy “Doc” Halladay, longtime Blue Jays and Phillies Ace, has tossed five as well.

So while every pitcher goes out with the goal of tyrannical control on the mound every game, most times it doesn’t happen. That’s why when a pitcher does start dealing more than just gas, say, propane, people notice. While the end result portrays a picture of its own, the more important piece is methodology. It’s the how you got there as opposed to where you are. That’s why even though the no-hitter might be more impressive, The Maddux is a better statistic. It’s a better measure of a pitchers authority on the hill. 

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