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December 9, 2008

On the Beat

The Winter Meetings

by John Perrotto

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LAS VEGAS-Greg Maddux is not a numbers guy, but Scott Boras is. It was no surprise when Boras, the most well-known agent in baseball, rattled off a string of statistics while recounting his client's accomplishments on Monday, as Maddux announced his retirement after 23 seasons to kick off the Winter Meetings at the Bellagio. Boras put Maddux' career neatly into perspective when he pointed out that to match the right-hander's career a pitcher would need to have 22 seasons' worth of 16 victories, 33 starts, and 226 innings pitched.

Maddux compiled some impressive statistics that will make even the most demanding 10-year member of the Baseball Writers Association of America consider him for election when he appears on the ballot for the first time in 2014. The traditional counting stats put Maddux among the game's all-time great pitchers. His 355 career wins rank eighth, his 3,371 strikeouts are ninth, and he is one of only three pitchers with 350 victories and 3,000 punchouts, along with Walter Johnson and Roger Clemens. Furthermore, Maddux is one of 13 pitchers to log 5,000 innings, one of four to start 725 games, and the only one to make at least 25 starts in 22 consecutive seasons.

The modern metrics also paint a fine picture of Maddux' career that began with the Cubs in 1986, and included stints with the Braves, Padres, and Dodgers. He had 171.8 WARP3, 454 PRAA, and 1,707 PRAR. He also had 113 FRAR and 79 FRAA, while winning 17 Gold Gloves for fielding excellence.

hile Boras provided a stat-filled booklet detailing Maddux' achievements to the media, the man who walked away from the game with the most wins among living pitchers shied away from talking about his CV. Maddux held a press conference here in his hometown primarily to acknowledge others. "I'm just here to say thank you to everybody in baseball, from teams I've played for to GMs, hitting coaches, pitching coaches, teammates, (clubhouse workers), people that work in the ballparks that you see every day in baseball," Maddux said. "Everybody has always treated me great, and the friends I made are many. I appreciate everything this game has given me. It's going to be hard to say good-bye."

Anyone who knows Maddux realized that the low-key good-bye was fitting. He always considered himself a common man who was fortunate enough to do uncommon things in the game of baseball. At six feet tall and 197 pounds, the bespectacled Maddux does not cut an imposing figure. If a scout were to watch Maddux throw each of his pitches, he would grade none of them as any more than average, and his entire arsenal is perhaps a shade below average.

Yet while Maddux never overpowered anyone with 95 mph heat, struck out hitters with a curveball that broke a foot, or tricked opponents with a Bugs Bunny changeup, he found a way to win like few ever have. Maddux credits his success to Ralph Medar, a pitching coach during his formative years in Las Vegas, who taught youngsters that pitching success derives from something more than throwing hard.

"He taught me that movement was more important than velocity, and I believed him," Maddux said. "I don't know why I believed him, but I believed him. When I started learning how to pitch when I was 15 or 16 years old, I wasn't learning how to throw harder, but how to get more movement on the ball. I threw hard enough, but we learned movement was more important than velocity, and changing speeds was more important than velocity, and location was more important than velocity, and we learned in that order. We just kind of went from there. You just kind of make up stuff as you go along and try to add a little something here or there and hope it works."

Maddux pitched in an era that was rough on pitchers. Home run totals reached new levels because of performance-enhancing drugs, and because umpires were ordered to redefine the strike zone and quit calling strikes on the black of home plate. Yet Maddux thrived, because he never abandoned the pitching principals he held dear. "I never changed," Maddux said. "You locate your fastball and you change speeds no matter who is hitting or what is going on around you. I think if anything, you just give yourself a little more room for error. Instead of trying to win 2-1, you try to win 4-3. I always figured if I gave up two or less runs in six innings, then I had a pretty good chance to win. I think when the runs increase started happening, I just tried to give up three [runs] or less in six or seven innings, and go from there."

Maddux did so much more than that, and was a dominant pitcher for much of his career, with a career ERA+ of 132. His best stretch was from 1993-96, when he won four consecutive National League Cy Young Awards with the Braves, posting ERA+ stats of 171, 271, 262, and 162. The 1994 and 1995 seasons, despite being shortened by a players' strike, rank fourth and fifth in history in terms of ERA+, behind Tim Keefe's 294 in 1880, Pedro Martinez's 291 in 2000, and Dutch Leonard's 279 in 1914.

"I guess I just got locked in," Maddux said, reflecting on that stretch. "You have everything, and you're comfortable with what you're trying to do with the baseball. Hitters had really not caught on to me yet, and I think that had a lot to do with it. I think there were not too many pitchers that tried to throw the way I threw. Hitters didn't see it a lot, and I think that was a big advantage at the time. You know, you just kind of have a couple good games and start rolling from there."

Maddux rolled to a victory total that many believe will never be reached again; five-man rotations and the lesser demands made on starting pitchers today provide workloads that would make notching 355 wins virtually impossible. Maddux, though, isn't among those who believe that. "There might be a kid in seventh or eighth grade right now who will do it," Maddux said. "Or maybe a young pitcher starting out right now will do it. Players today play longer. They are able to pitch when they are a little bit older now, just because they take care of themselves better. Physically, you have to be able to do certain things with the baseball, and sometimes, you can't let your brain get in the way of allowing you to do that. So I think you probably need the skills to be able to do it, and then be just smart enough not to be."

---

The Hall of Fame's goal when it restructured the Veterans Committee in 2001 was to make it harder for players who had already been rejected in voting by the BBWAA to gain induction. Seven years later, the standards are so high that nobody has been elected.

When the voting results were announced Monday, the Veterans Committee again shut out the field. None of the 10 post-1942 players received the requisite 75 percent of the vote, despite the fact that the 64 living Hall of Famers who cast ballots could vote for up to four players. Ron Santo came closest with 39 votes for 60.9 percent, and was followed by Jim Kaat (38, 59.4), Tony Oliva (33, 51.6), Gil Hodges (28, 43.8), Joe Torre (19, 29.7), Maury Wills (15, 23.4), Luis Tiant (13, 20.3), Vada Pinson (12, 18.8), Al Oliver (9, 14.1), and Dick Allen (7, 10.9).

While the Hall of Fame's board of directors will review the process at its annual spring meeting, chairman of the board Jane Forbes Clark did not sound like someone ready to make changes. The Hall of Fame did tweak the structure of the committee earlier this year by having only Hall of Fame players and managers vote, while taking ballots away from those who had won the Spink Award for meritorious service as writers or the Frick Award for broadcasting.

"When our board of directors restructured the Veterans Committee after the 2007 election, it did so with the goal of ensuring the voters would review their peers," Clark said. "The 10 post-1942 ballot finalists all spent a substantial part of their playing careers in the 1960s or the 1970s, and a vast majority of the voters were either actively playing, managing, or involved in baseball in those two decades. The process was not redesigned with the goal of necessarily electing someone, but to give everyone on the ballot a very fair chance of earning election through a ballot of their peers. The vote reinforces the selections of the Baseball Writers Association of America, and maintains the high standards set by the BBWAA. The 75 percent threshold is extremely difficult to attain, but the highly selective process helps ensure that enshrinement in the Baseball Hall of Fame remains the greatest honor in the game."

Meanwhile, a second Veterans Committee selected one player, Joe Gordon, from among a 10-man list of pre-1942 players. He will be inducted on July 26 in Cooperstown. Gordon was the only player named on 75 percent of the ballots cast by a 12-person panel of writers, executives, and select Hall of Fame players, as he received 10 votes for 83 percent.

Allie Reynolds missed by one vote, being named on eight ballots for 66 percent. The rest of the totals included Wes Ferrell (6, 50.0), Mickey Vernon (5, 41.6), Deacon White (5, 41.6), Bucky Walters (4, 33.0), and Sherry Magee (3, 25.0), while Bill Dahlen, Carl Mays, and Vern Stephens each received less than three votes.

Gordon played 11 seasons as a second baseman with the Yankees (1938-43, 1946) and Indians (1947-50), hitting .268 with 253 home runs, and winning the American League Most Valuable Player award in 1942. He also was selected to nine All-Star Games, and played in six World Series.

Hall of Fame second baseman Bobby Doerr was part of the committee and voted for Gordon, one of his contemporaries. Doerr believes that Gordon was not done any favors by his home ballpark in the early portion of his career. "Playing in Yankee Stadium back then, you played day ball pretty much. With the tall stands, there was always a shadow between the hitter and pitcher, which made it tougher to hit," Doerr said. "You also had to hit it a ton to get the ball out of the park in straightaway center field. I think playing at Yankee Stadium probably took 25 points off his batting average. He was a great ballplayer, and certainly deserved to be in the Hall of Fame."

---

Gerald Laird's splits in 2008 indicate that he might not have handled the Texas heat very well; he hit .258/.322/.379 in 211 plate appearances in home games at the Ballpark in Arlington, while posting a .299/.337/.422 line in 170 PA on the road. That was the continuation of a trend throughout his six-year big-league career spent entirely with the Rangers, in which he has hit .244/.304/.371 at home, and .266/.308/.395 on the road.

The Tigers do not feel that bringing Laird into the cooler weather of Detroit will necessarily change that, after acquiring the 29-year-old catcher on Monday for right-handed pitching prospects Guillermo Moscoso and Carlos Melo. Tigers manager Jim Leyland believes that Laird will benefit from Comerica Park's larger dimensions. "He is going to be a guy that really is a perfect fit for our ballpark," Leyland said. "He's not a big power hitter, but our ballpark is suited for guys who hit the ball in the gaps, and I think he's the type of guy that may not only hit more doubles, but also hit some triples because he also runs very well. I think he's a very usable bat, and we need that a little bit more. Everybody who follows our club knows we normally have to hit it over the fence, or bounce it over the fence, to produce runs. There's nothing wrong with that if you do it often enough, but we are not a club that has a lot of speed, and we think we added not only a good catch-and-throw guy behind the plate, but a guy who can make a little more contact and run the bases a little better."

The Tigers finished last in the AL Central last season after being the consensus pre-season choice to win the division. They were fourth in the league in runs scored though, with an average of 5.1 per game, and they were second in home runs with 200.

The acquisition of Laird enables the Tigers to stick with their late-season shift of Brandon Inge from catcher back to third base, and their announced intention to move infielder Carlos Guillen to left field. It also allows them to use such corner outfielders as Marcus Thames and Matt Joyce as potential trading chips, along with four-corners player Jeff Larish, in their attempt to fortify the bullpen. "Johnny Benches aren't out there. That's the way it is," Leyland said. "We think that we got a guy that's really going to fit our club. He will change our club a little bit, really."

John Perrotto is an author of Baseball Prospectus. 
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