Undersized Pitcher With Below Average Stuff is in the HOF
What the Scouts Did and Didn’t See in Greg Maddux
By Gene Coleman, Ed. D., RSCC*E, FACSM
Early years. Greg Maddux was born in San Angelo, Texas in 1966. He spent much of his childhood in Madrid, Spain where his father, Dave, was stationed in the US Air Force. His father taught him and his older brother Mike to throw and encouraged them to play baseball. When he was ten, his father was stationed to Nellis Air Force Base in Las Vegas where Ralph Meder, a retired coach, was developing young talent.
Mike and Greg trained under Meder who preached the value of movement above velocity, and advised throwing softer when in a jam instead of harder. While other boys were learning how to throw curveballs, Meder taught Greg how to throw a change-up at age 13. He told him that the change-up would not be a good pitch against high school hitters, but down the line it would be harder to hit than any other pitch. He also told him that he was probably never going to be able to overpower hitters and taught him how to throw a two-seam fastball and alternate it with a circle change. Later he would refine his four-seamer and add a cutter, curve, slider and split to his pitch options.
A puny high school kid whose uniform never fit him right, Maddux pitched Valley HS to the Nevada State Championship and was named the American Legion’s Graduate of the Year in 1984. Because he received no pro offers and limited college interest during his senior year of high school, Greg was considering playing baseball at the University of Arizona because it was close to home and had a history of developing pitchers. His plans changed when the Cubs made him the third pick in the second round of the 1984 draft. He was the 31st player taken overall and was one of 16 players drafted ahead of his Atlanta teammate and fellow Hall of Famer, Tom Glavine (HOF 2014). Glavine was the 47th player taken and wore his draft slot number (47) on the back of his uniform throughout his 22-year Major League Career. Maddux signed with the Cubs for $75,000; a modest investment for the winningest pitcher every drafted.
What did the Cubs see that others missed? While others shied away from Maddux because of his size; 6-feet and 160-pounds. The Cubs ignored his physical limitations and focused instead on his unique skillset. He had all the pitches, all the movements and a frame that could hold more weight in the future. While many scouts, including at least one on the Cubs staff reported that he “was not strong enough to be a starter”, the Cubs recognized his ability to change speeds, locate and field his position. They also saw that he had an incredible knowledge of pitching, opponents and the game. While he had below average fastball velocity, he had above average control, a plus change-up, movement, ability to use both sides of the plate, exceptional mound presence, competitiveness and was more interested in getting hitters to put balls into play than strikeouts.
The rest in history. Maddux sped through the Cubs’ minor league system, impressing with his veteran-like demeanor and success as a pitcher. He progressed through four different minor league levels in 1984 and 1985 before making his MLB debut with the Cubs in September of 1986. 1987 was his first full year in the Major Leagues and he struggled. With an ERA over 5.00, he was sent down to the minor leagues to get back on track and get back he did. The 1988 season started an incredible 17-year streak of winning 15 or more games per year. He was also selected to his first of 8 All-Star Teams. He followed the 1988 season with 19 wins in 1989 and an ERA of 2.95 at age 23. His pitching helped lead the Cubs to the 1989 NL Championship Series against the Giants.
Maddux pitched for 4 teams (Cubs, Braves, Dodgers, Padres) during his 23-year career, retired in 2008 and was elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame in 2014; receiving 97 percent of the votes on the first ballot. Among his many accomplishments:
18 gold gloves
4 consecutive Cy Young Awards (1992-1995)
355 wins and 227 losses
World Series Champion (1995)
3,371 strikeouts and 999 walks
Career ERA of 3.16
In a time where pitch counts are heavily monitored and pitchers are expected to give 100% effort on every pitch, Maddux’s efficiency and durability during his career seem more impressive with every season that passes. As today’s game sees fastball velocities that often reach the upper 90s and low 100s, Maddux’s dominance with 86 to 88 mph fastballs and pinpoint accuracy remains an enigma. He was a pitcher, not a thrower, and renowned for focusing on the outside corner. Hitters said he would begin by throwing strikes with his fastball down and away, and then expand the strike zone with his change-up. Some claimed that he often received borderline strike calls from umpires based on his reputation for throwing strikes.
In addition to throwing strikes and avoiding walks, he was able to keep his pitch counts low. On July 2, 1997, for example, he pitched a complete game against the Yankees in 84 pitches. The next year, he shut-out the Blue Jays in 102 pitches. He was also praised for his superior pitching mechanics and his ability to read hitters. His ability to repeat his delivery from pitch to pitch helped him avoid serious arm injury throughout his lengthy career. He spent only 15 days on the DL during his career and that was attributable to nerve inflammation in his back. As for his intellectual prowess and ability to read hitters, Maddux said, “People think I’m smart. What makes you smart, is the ability to locate your fastball down and away.”
Maddux’s walks. Maddux faced 20,421 batters in his career, but only 310 (1.5%) saw an 3-0 count and 177 (57%) of these were intentional walks.
Maddux on Maddux. Greg summed up his career by saying, “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. I try to do two things: locate my fastball and change speeds. That’s it. I try to keep it 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.”
Maddux’s Advice to Young Pitchers.
“Consistency is something you can always improve on. You can be more consistent with your mental approach and the things you do physically on the mound. Instead of making 5 good pitches an inning, try to make 6. You can always do more of what you are doing well and try to be as consistent as you can be.”
What has benefited me the most is learning I can’t control what happens outside of my pitching.”
Quotes from teammates and opponents.
“I think the hitters think he can go back and recall every pitch he has thrown” – Tom Glavine
“This guy can throw a ball in a teacup” – Orel Hershiser
“It seems he is inside your mind with you. When he knows you’re not going to swing, he throws a straight one. He sees into the future. It’s like he has a crystal ball hidden inside his glove.” – Wade Boggs
Greg Maddux scouting report can be seen at:
Gene Coleman, Ed. D., RSCC*E, FACSM has over four decades as a head strength and conditioning coach (Astros) and strength and conditioning consultant (Rangers). He is Professor Emeritus in the Exercise and Health Sciences Program at the University of Houston – Clear Lake and Website Education Manager baseballstrength.org.
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