Welcome to Snyder's Soapbox! Here I will pontificate about a matter related to Major League Baseball. Some of the topics I hit in the coming weeks will be pressing matters, some might seem insignificant in the grand scheme of things and most will be somewhere in between. The good thing about this website is it's free and you are allowed to click away. If you stay, you'll get smarter, though, that's a money-back guarantee. Let's get to it.
Consider today's entry an intervention with the hope that moving forward we don't have to do it again, though I'm not confident in the latter portion. It's just become too much of a lazy, go-to habit for many commentators when it comes to starting pitchers who aren't fireballers. How many times have we heard it in the last decade or so?
He reminds me of Greg Maddux.
Stop. Please, just stop making yourselves look foolish. I remember when Tim McCarver said it about Casey Coleman. You might not remember Casey Coleman. He made 58 MLB appearances from 2010-14 and posted a career 5.72 ERA. His greatest feat was inexpicably drawing a Greg Maddux comparison. John Smoltz compared Mike Soroka to Maddux -- linked here in an article titled, "Mike Soroka gets compared to Greg Maddux. It's not that crazy." Except it actually is that crazy.
"You see a lot of people ask about, 'Oh, will we ever see a Greg Maddux again?'" Leiter said. "Wake up. Kyle Hendricks. He might not win 300 games. But what he's doing -- and the way he goes about it and the consistency in which he does it -- he's probably the most under-appreciated pitcher in baseball."
I'm a Cubs fan. I love Hendricks. I've watched his NLCS Game 6 start, when he was absolutely masterful (7 1/3 IP, 2 H, 0 R) in helping clinch the first Cubs pennant since 1945, too many times to bother counting. He threw well in Game 7 of the World Series too. He's had a very good career. He also isn't even in the same stratosphere as Maddux, to the point that it's intellectually offensive.
Hendricks' best year was that 2016 season. He was 16-8 with a 2.13 ERA and 0.98 WHIP. He struck out 170 in 190 innings and posted 5.4 WAR. That's a career year and a damn fine one at that. But for Maddux, that actually would've been a down year in his prime. From 1992-98, Maddux's average season was 18-8 with a 2.15 ERA, 0.97 WHIP and 184 strikeouts in 239 innings with 7.8 WAR. Take note of the workload (and that's the main difference in WAR) and also recognize that the strike-shortened 1994 and 1995 seasons cut into Maddux's average there. Hendricks has never reached 200 innings in a season. Maddux got there 18 times. Eighteen!
I don't really need to go further with these two, right? Maddux absolutely dwarfs Hendricks. It's not even fair to Hendricks to bring it up and there's no way he'd even argue that point. Maddux is an inner-circle, all-time great. It's not an insult to say he's better than almost anyone because he was far better than nearly everyone who has ever graced a mound -- exponentially better than a large percentage of MLB hurlers.
This is where the laziness comes in, though. Maddux wasn't a fireballer running gaudy strikeout totals. In today's game, the overwhelming majority of pitchers throw really hard and strike a lot of hitters out. When there's an outlier, such as Hendricks or Soroka before injuries ruined him or, apparently, Casey Coleman, it makes people think of Maddux.
The problem is, Maddux was one of the greatest artists the game has ever seen. As much as he controlled the zone with precision, he had unreal stuff. Early in his career, Maddux wasn't even well below average with fastball velocity. He debuted in 1986 and sat in the low-90s with his fastball. He wouldn't have been confused for Nolan Ryan or anything, but by no means was 93 miles per hour "slow" in the 1980s from a starting pitcher. Obviously, by the middle of his career and of course the later years, Maddux threw much slower than the league average fastball, but to act like he came onto the scene as a soft tosser would be ignorant to what actually happened.
Further, Maddux did strike guys out at a high rate relative to the time period. He finished in the top three in strikeouts in the NL five times. Three times he was in the top 10 in K/9 and was even in the top 10 of K% in the majors twice (topping out at fourth in 1995).
Maddux was, all at the same time, a finesse pitcher who had absurd control but also a workhorse with nasty stuff who could coax swings and misses with the best of them. Once in a three-year span, he had the best ERA in baseball, the most complete games and the most innings pitched.
Any comparison from today's game to Maddux just doesn't work and while I'm not going to declare we'll never see another Maddux, the chances of it happening are extremely slim -- like, off-the-charts, outrageously slim. Keep in mind that most so-called finesse pitchers aren't really allowed to see the opposing lineup a third time these days.
And yet, I'm not confident this phenomenon will go away any time soon. We'll see a non-fireballer come up and people will jump to say "he's like Greg Maddux."
But, no, he's not. They never are. The only pitcher like Greg Maddux was Greg Maddux. That's it. That's the full list. He was a unicorn at the time and that hasn't changed. If you find yourself tempted to make such a comparison in the future, please -- whatever applies here -- stop talking, put down your phone or step away from the keyboard. I'm trying to save you from yourself here.