Introducing 'The Maddux' to its legendary namesake

Hall of Famer was the master of control and efficiency

May 9th, 2017

LAS VEGAS -- Here's something that will make you feel old: Hall of Famer Greg Maddux is the pitching coach at UNLV these days. He likes it. "Baseball is baseball, you know," he said.
No, that's not the make-you-feel-old part.
This is: The players on the Rebels' baseball team were not alive the last time Maddux won a Cy Young Award.
This is what happens in sports, in life: Time moves on and even the most wonderful players -- and Greg Maddux was my favorite pitcher to watch -- slowly fade into the background. To my generation, Maddux was the pitching master; he won 355 games and four consecutive National League Cy Young Awards even though he didn't throw all that hard, even though his stuff did not intimidate hitters. It's hard to explain Maddux's magic to kids who didn't see him pitch.
But, as you probably know, there is something about Maddux that remains.
A few years ago, a baseball writer named Jason Lukehart -- an obsessive Maddux fan like me -- came up with the concept of "The Maddux." It is simply this: Any pitcher who throws a nine-inning shutout in fewer than 100 pitches has thrown a Maddux.
Now, if you were guessing, it's quite likely that there were many, many Madduxes thrown in the years before everyone regularly started counting pitches in the early 1990s. Old Hoss Radbourn threw 35 shutouts before he began his prolific Twitter writing, and they were probably all Madduxes. You would have to believe that many of Walter Johnson's 110 shutouts were Madduxes, but we will never know.
Anyway, it is a wonderful concept that has gained popularity the past few years as pitch counts have become a major part of baseball. There's a pretty good chance that if you talk about a Maddux to a relatively internet-savvy baseball fan, she or he will know what you are talking about.
You will be happy to know that Maddux himself had no idea. But he does now.
"Fewer than 100 pitches, huh?" he asks. "OK."
Maddux has, of course, thrown the most Madduxes since we began counting pitches. He threw 13 of them -- almost double the seven thrown by second-place Zane Smith. Among active pitchers, and each have four.
There have been two Madduxes thrown in 2017 so far. threw a 97-pitch Maddux against Boston on April 27, and two days later, Madduxed Miami on just 95 pitches.

"I never worried about pitch count," Maddux said. "The only thing that mattered to me was getting the 'W.' That's what I was out there trying to do. I didn't think about how many pitches -- I threw however many it took."
But as he got used to the Maddux concept, you almost could see Maddux's mind beginning to percolate. No one ever went deeper into exploring the art of pitching.
When I ask Maddux what his favorite part of pitching was, he said the strangest and most wonderful thing: His favorite part was not anything you would expect. It was figuring out how to "steal strikes from hitters." He would spend countless hours watching video, breaking hitters down and figuring out when they might just give him a free strike.
"It might the fourth inning of a game in June, 1-0 count on the hitter," Maddux said. "And I knew I could just throw a strike and the batter wouldn't swing. My goal was to steal five or six strikes every game."
A mind like that -- of course he started to think about the whole Maddux concept.
"Foul balls," he said. "That's probably it. When you have a guy with great stuff, like [John] Smoltz, he throws a nasty pitch, and the hitter can't do anything but hit it foul.
"When I throw that same pitch, the batter hits it fair. That's probably the difference."

That's how quickly Maddux nailed it down. Sure enough, Smoltz never threw a Maddux -- his lowest recorded pitch total for a shutout was 102. Just a few foul balls probably made all the difference.
"The key for me," Maddux said, "was how my ball moved the last 10 feet."
Maddux realized early on that he could get great late movement on his pitches. And he figured that was as much of an advantage as throwing 98 mph -- even if it wasn't nearly as flashy or threatening. It was always funny to talk to opponents after Maddux shut them down; they rarely spoke in awe. Instead, they tended to talk about how they just missed.
Which, of course, was the whole point.
We probably won't see too many Madduxes as time goes on. With strikeouts way up, contact way down and hitters driving balls out of the yard in record numbers, the mystical feat of shutting out a team on fewer than 100 pitches will likely become rarer and rarer. But you hope that whenever they do occur, people will call it by the name of the pitcher who pitched more Madduxes than anyone of recent vintage.