Greg Maddux and 5/20 Pitchers

This past spring, birtelcom wrote a piece about Greg Maddux, looking at his pitching efficiency in terms of pitches thrown per inning. As pitch count data are consistently available only since the late 1980s, his analysis was limited to the period of the past 25 seasons or so. That being said, Maddux was clearly in a class of his own in terms of minimizing pitches thrown per inning pitched.

In this post, I will approach the same topic a bit differently to extend the analysis through the entire history of professional baseball. Perhaps unsurprisingly, the name Greg Maddux again figures very prominently.

When Greg Maddux retired four years ago, possibly his milestones that were least remarked upon were these:

  • 5,000 innings pitched
  • 20,000 batters faced

Maddux reached both plateaus in his final season, becoming just the 13th pitcher all time to do so. This dual accomplishment speaks to longevity, high workload and, most importantly, consistent and unrelenting efficiency in retiring batters, so much so that it will likely be a long time (if ever) before another pitcher reaches either plateau, never mind both of them.

For the record, Greg Maddux faced batter number 20,000 on June 20, 2008 as San Diego hosted Detroit. The trivia answer is Placido Polanco, batting in the first inning and hitting a weak grounder to short. Maddux reached 5,000 innings in his second-to-last game, pitching for the Dodgers against the Giants on September 19, 2008. Out number 15,000 was World Series MVP Pablo Sandoval, popping up to short in the 3rd inning.

Here are the 5 and 20 club members.

Rk Player WHIP IP From To Age G CG SHO W L BB SO ERA ERA+ HR BF Tm
1 Walter Johnson 1.061 5914.1 1907 1927 19-39 802 531 110 417 279 1363 3509 2.17 147 97 23405 WSH
2 Pete Alexander 1.121 5190.0 1911 1930 24-43 696 437 90 373 208 951 2198 2.56 135 165 20893 PHI-CHC-TOT-STL
3 Tim Keefe 1.123 5049.2 1880 1893 23-36 600 554 39 342 225 1233 2564 2.63 126 75 20941 TRO-NYP-NYG-NYI-TOT-PHI
4 Cy Young 1.130 7356.0 1890 1911 23-44 906 749 76 511 316 1217 2803 2.63 138 138 29565 CLV-STL-BOS-CLE-TOT
5 Don Sutton 1.142 5282.1 1966 1988 21-43 774 178 58 324 256 1343 3574 3.26 108 472 21631 LAD-HOU-TOT-MIL-CAL
6 Greg Maddux 1.143 5008.1 1986 2008 20-42 744 109 35 355 227 999 3371 3.16 132 353 20421 CHC-ATL-TOT-SDP
7 Gaylord Perry 1.181 5350.0 1962 1983 23-44 777 303 53 314 265 1379 3534 3.11 117 399 21953 SFG-CLE-TOT-TEX-SDP-ATL-SEA
8 Pud Galvin 1.191 6003.1 1875 1892 18-35 705 646 57 365 310 745 1807 2.85 107 121 25415 STL-BUF-PBB-PIT-TOT
9 Warren Spahn 1.195 5243.2 1942 1965 21-44 750 382 63 363 245 1434 2583 3.09 119 434 21547 BSN-MLN-TOT
10 Kid Nichols 1.224 5067.1 1890 1906 20-36 621 532 48 361 208 1272 1881 2.96 140 156 21082 BSN-STL-TOT-PHI
11 Nolan Ryan 1.247 5386.0 1966 1993 19-46 807 222 61 324 292 2795 5714 3.19 112 321 22575 NYM-CAL-HOU-TEX
12 Steve Carlton 1.247 5217.2 1965 1988 20-43 741 254 55 329 244 1833 4136 3.22 115 414 21683 STL-PHI-TOT-MIN
13 Phil Niekro 1.268 5404.0 1964 1987 25-48 864 245 45 318 274 1809 3342 3.35 115 482 22677 MLN-ATL-NYY-CLE-TOT
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Play Index Tool Used
Generated 11/4/2012.

Nice assortment of pitchers spread across the past 15 decades, missing only the 1931-41 period. I sorted the list by WHIP, as a proxy for BF per IP. Only the pitchers with the bolded names (each of whom pitched a significant portion of his career in the dead-ball era) have a lower BF/IP than Maddux’s number of 4.0774.

Less efficient pitchers who reached 20,000 batters in fewer than 5,000 innings are these gentlemen.

Rk Player WHIP IP From To Age G CG SHO W L BB SO ERA ERA+ HR BF Tm
1 Roger Clemens 1.173 4916.2 1984 2007 21-44 709 118 46 354 184 1580 4672 3.12 143 363 20240 BOS-TOR-NYY-HOU
2 Bert Blyleven 1.198 4970.0 1970 1992 19-41 692 242 60 287 250 1322 3701 3.31 118 430 20491 MIN-TOT-TEX-PIT-CLE-CAL
3 Mickey Welch 1.226 4802.0 1880 1892 20-32 565 525 41 307 210 1297 1850 2.71 113 106 20308 TRO-NYG
4 Bobby Mathews 1.237 4956.0 1871 1887 19-35 578 525 20 297 248 532 1528 2.86 104 70 21997 KEK-BAL-NYU-CIN-PRO-TOT-BSN-PHA
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Play Index Tool Used
Generated 11/4/2012.

Calling Mathews and Welch less efficient is probably a bit unfair as, separated by a century from Blyleven and Clemens, they would have had more batters to face owing to many more errors made behind them.

Are there more efficient pitchers who have career marks over 5,000 innings and under 20,000 batters? In a word – no. However, Walter Johnson, the only 5/20 pitcher with career BF/IP below 4, had 5039.1 IP and 19,729 BF at the end of the 1923 season.

Here are the pitchers with career BF/IP below 4 (min. 2000 IP), an achievement exclusive to pitchers playing primarily in the dead-ball era.

Rk Player WHIP IP From To Age G CG W L BB SO ERA ERA+ HR BF Tm
1 Addie Joss 0.968 2327.0 1902 1910 22-30 286 234 160 97 364 920 1.89 142 19 8891 CLE
2 Ed Walsh 1.000 2964.1 1904 1917 23-36 430 250 195 126 617 1736 1.82 145 23 11413 CHW-BSN
3 Christy Mathewson 1.058 4788.2 1900 1916 19-35 636 435 373 188 848 2507 2.13 135 89 18913 NYG-TOT
4 Walter Johnson 1.061 5914.1 1907 1927 19-39 802 531 417 279 1363 3509 2.17 147 97 23405 WSH
5 Mordecai Brown 1.066 3172.1 1903 1916 26-39 481 271 239 130 673 1375 2.06 139 43 12422 STL-CHC-CIN-TOT-CHI
6 Babe Adams 1.092 2995.1 1906 1926 24-44 482 206 194 140 430 1036 2.76 118 67 11947 STL-PIT
7 Rube Waddell 1.102 2961.1 1897 1910 20-33 407 261 193 143 803 2316 2.16 135 37 11717 LOU-PIT-TOT-PHA-SLB
8 Deacon Phillippe 1.105 2607.0 1899 1911 27-39 372 242 189 109 363 929 2.59 120 41 10380 LOU-PIT
9 Chief Bender 1.113 3017.0 1903 1925 19-41 459 255 212 127 712 1711 2.46 112 40 11895 PHA-BAL-PHI-CHW
10 Eddie Plank 1.119 4495.2 1901 1917 25-41 623 410 326 194 1072 2246 2.35 122 42 17803 PHA-SLM-SLB
11 Doc White 1.121 3041.0 1901 1913 22-34 427 262 189 156 670 1384 2.39 113 33 12093 PHI-CHW
12 Hooks Wiltse 1.131 2112.1 1904 1915 24-35 357 154 139 90 498 965 2.47 112 54 8413 NYG-BTT
13 Ed Reulbach 1.143 2632.1 1905 1917 22-34 399 201 182 106 892 1137 2.28 123 33 10521 CHC-TOT-BRO-NEW-BSN
14 Eddie Cicotte 1.154 3226.0 1905 1920 21-36 502 249 209 148 827 1374 2.38 123 32 12731 DET-BOS-TOT-CHW
15 Frank Smith 1.166 2273.0 1904 1915 24-35 354 184 139 111 676 1051 2.59 101 27 9062 CHW-TOT-CIN-BAL
16 Nap Rucker 1.175 2375.1 1907 1916 22-31 336 186 134 134 701 1217 2.42 118 41 9441 BRO
17 Bob Ewing 1.178 2301.0 1902 1912 29-39 291 205 124 118 614 998 2.49 116 31 9157 CIN-PHI-STL
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Play Index Tool Used
Generated 11/4/2012.

Which pitchers avoided the magic 4 batters per inning level most consistently? Here are the pitchers with the most seasons (min. 162 IP) below this threshold.

Rk Yrs From To Age
1 Eddie Plank 12 1904 1916 28-40 Ind. Seasons
2 Cy Young 11 1899 1910 32-43 Ind. Seasons
3 Walter Johnson 10 1908 1919 20-31 Ind. Seasons
4 Chief Bender 9 1904 1915 20-31 Ind. Seasons
5 Greg Maddux 8 1992 2001 26-35 Ind. Seasons
6 Christy Mathewson 8 1904 1913 23-32 Ind. Seasons
7 Mordecai Brown 8 1904 1915 27-38 Ind. Seasons
8 Addie Joss 8 1902 1909 22-29 Ind. Seasons
9 Tom Seaver 7 1968 1977 23-32 Ind. Seasons
10 Babe Adams 7 1910 1920 28-38 Ind. Seasons
11 Eddie Cicotte 7 1909 1919 25-35 Ind. Seasons
12 Ed Walsh 7 1906 1912 25-31 Ind. Seasons
13 Doc White 7 1903 1911 24-32 Ind. Seasons
14 Rube Waddell 7 1902 1909 25-32 Ind. Seasons
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Play Index Tool Used
Generated 11/4/2012.

Maddux and Seaver stand out here as the only live-ball era pitchers on the list, with Maddux’s accomplishment the more impressive given the offensive context he pitched in.

The live-ball era list for the above looks like this.

Rk Yrs From To Age
1 Greg Maddux 8 1992 2001 26-35 Ind. Seasons
2 Tom Seaver 7 1968 1977 23-32 Ind. Seasons
3 Pedro Martinez 5 1997 2005 25-33 Ind. Seasons
4 Randy Johnson 5 1997 2004 33-40 Ind. Seasons
5 Curt Schilling 5 1992 2002 25-35 Ind. Seasons
6 Jim Palmer 5 1969 1977 23-31 Ind. Seasons
7 Fergie Jenkins 5 1967 1978 24-35 Ind. Seasons
8 Mike Mussina 4 1992 2003 23-34 Ind. Seasons
9 Roger Clemens 4 1986 2005 23-42 Ind. Seasons
10 Don Sutton 4 1971 1980 26-35 Ind. Seasons
11 Juan Marichal 4 1963 1969 25-31 Ind. Seasons
12 Sandy Koufax 4 1963 1966 27-30 Ind. Seasons
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Play Index Tool Used
Generated 11/4/2012.

Strictly a post-expansion phenomenon, likely due to the continuing (and not independent) trends of fewer errors and more strikeouts.

Finally, who will be the next 5/20 pitcher, or even the  next 5 or 20 pitcher? (or, maybe the question should be “Will there be such a pitcher?”). Here the IP leaders among active (or not yet officially retired) pitchers.

Rk Player IP From To Age G CG SHO W L BB SO ERA ERA+ HR BF Tm
1 Jamie Moyer 4074.0 1986 2012 23-49 696 33 10 269 209 1155 2441 4.25 104 522 17356 CHC-TEX-STL-BAL-TOT-SEA-PHI-COL
2 Livan Hernandez 3189.0 1996 2012 21-37 519 50 9 178 177 1066 1976 4.44 95 362 13816 FLA-TOT-SFG-MON-WSN-ARI
3 Andy Pettitte 3130.2 1995 2012 23-40 501 25 4 245 142 983 2320 3.86 117 271 13290 NYY-HOU
4 Kevin Millwood 2720.1 1997 2012 22-37 451 22 6 169 152 843 2083 4.11 106 296 11616 ATL-PHI-CLE-TEX-BAL-COL-SEA
5 Roy Halladay 2687.1 1998 2012 21-35 403 66 20 199 100 556 2066 3.31 134 224 11005 TOR-PHI
6 Tim Hudson 2682.1 1999 2012 23-36 406 25 13 197 104 810 1801 3.42 126 210 11157 OAK-ATL
7 Mark Buehrle 2679.0 2000 2012 21-33 421 28 8 174 132 604 1521 3.82 119 300 11145 CHW-MIA
8 Derek Lowe 2658.1 1997 2012 24-39 672 10 4 175 157 791 1714 4.00 110 214 11301 TOT-BOS-LAD-ATL
9 CC Sabathia 2564.1 2001 2012 20-31 383 35 12 191 102 769 2214 3.50 125 227 10622 CLE-TOT-NYY
10 Jeff Suppan 2542.2 1995 2012 20-37 448 16 5 140 146 871 1390 4.70 97 337 11139 BOS-TOT-KCR-STL-MIL-SDP
11 Barry Zito 2436.1 2000 2012 22-34 400 12 5 160 132 1004 1797 3.93 109 259 10356 OAK-SFG
12 Bartolo Colon 2393.1 1997 2012 24-39 381 32 9 171 122 773 1833 4.05 112 294 10158 CLE-TOT-CHW-ANA-LAA-BOS-NYY-OAK
13 Randy Wolf 2268.0 1999 2012 22-35 376 13 9 132 117 810 1767 4.20 100 287 9703 PHI-LAD-TOT-MIL
14 Chris Carpenter 2219.1 1997 2012 22-37 350 33 15 144 94 627 1697 3.76 116 220 9305 TOR-STL
15 Ryan Dempster 2215.2 1998 2012 21-35 547 11 3 124 124 992 1918 4.33 99 241 9658 FLA-TOT-CIN-CHC
16 Roy Oswalt 2213.0 2001 2012 23-34 356 20 8 163 96 511 1818 3.28 130 194 9150 HOU-TOT-PHI-TEX
17 Freddy Garcia 2183.2 1999 2012 22-35 359 12 4 152 101 691 1575 4.15 108 267 9264 SEA-TOT-CHW-PHI-DET-NYY
18 A.J. Burnett 2162.2 1999 2012 22-35 345 22 10 137 121 888 1971 4.05 104 221 9230 FLA-TOR-NYY-PIT
19 Bronson Arroyo 2076.2 2000 2012 23-35 359 13 5 124 115 589 1355 4.23 104 282 8836 PIT-BOS-CIN
20 Johan Santana 2025.2 2000 2012 21-33 360 15 10 139 78 567 1988 3.20 136 220 8262 MIN-NYM
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Play Index Tool Used
Generated 11/4/2012.

I won’t bore you with the Batters Faced list – it’s all the same guys except that Miguel Batista replaces Johan Santana in 20th spot (it’s worth noting that Santana’s BF/IP of 4.08 is the best here, just ahead of Halladay, the only other pitcher below 4.1).

I sure don’t see anyone currently pitching who has even a remote chance of reaching either the 5 or the 20 milestone. The reason isn’t hard to spot. Just look at the CG column – Roy Halladay leads with 66 and only Livan Hernandez also has more than 35. Compare that to Maddux’s 109 CGs, easily the lowest total of any 5/20 pitcher. Barring an unexpected return to former practices of pitcher use, I believe Greg Maddux is indeed the last of the 5/20 breed.

 

91 thoughts on “Greg Maddux and 5/20 Pitchers

  1. 1
    mosc says:

    CC’s got a shot at doing a lot of historic things. He’s been a horse so it seems more than blind optimism he stays healthy. He’s left handed so even as his velocity inevitably sags he should remain effective. I’d think he could survive as a medicore innings eater even on just slider, sinker, changeup if he had to they’re all way above average pitches. He showed some signs of wear this year, but if you’re looking for a guy who’s got a chance at 5k IP, it’s CC and there may never be another shot at it.

    • 3
      John Autin says:

      “Never” is a long time. Maybe right now nobody looks like a strong candidate for 5,000 IP (although I’d argue that Felix Hernandez has a better shot than CC). But 5,000-IP guys have always been outliers; there are just 13 in all of MLB history.

      And conditions change.

      From 1920 through 1980, only Warren Spahn reached 5,000 IP. But since then, 6 more have joined the club — P.Niekro, Ryan, G.Perry, Sutton, Carlton and Maddux. Clemens and Blyleven both topped 4,900 IP.

      And while Maddux did carry a heavy yearly workload in his prime, his peak IP seasons are not beyond the reach of today’s pitchers. His high was 268 IP; Halladay had 266 IP in 2003, R.Johnson 260 in 2002 (age 38).

      I think there will be another 5,000-inning pitcher in my lifetime.

      • 5

        And it will be Mike Trout.

      • 25
        bstar says:

        Good point, JA. We heard that Tom Glavine would be the last 300-game winner. Then we heard Randy Johnson would be the last 300-game winner.

        There will be another.

      • 71
        MikeD says:

        Agreed. With offense “normalizing” over the past few years, and the continued improvements in medicine and training, not to mention the great amount of money even below-league-average pitchers earn, I do expect the game to see another 5,000 IP pitcher. Perhaps he’s even pitching right not. As noted, Sabathia at 31 is half way there and he has qualities that would not make it shocking at all if he continued to pitch effectivelyinto his 40s. King Felix. Justin Verlander. Or most likely someone we don’t even know yet. Yet I do think it will happen again.

    • 27
      John Autin says:

      FWIW, the Bill James Career Assessment Tool (f.k.a. “Favorite Toy”) projects the following chances for certain pitchers to reach 5,000 IP:

      7% — Felix Hernandez
      2% — CC Sabathia*
      Less than 1% — Buehrle, Cain, Kershaw, Greinke, Verlander

      * Last year’s 200 IP costs CC about half the projected chance at 5,000 that he would have had if he’d matched his 2011 total of 237 IP.

      Through age 26, King Felix is 214 IP ahead of CC at the same age. He’s also the MLB innings leader over the last 3 years and the last 4 years.

      • 30
        Ed says:

        John – Did you use the ESPN calculator for those?

      • 31
        Doug says:

        Thanks John,

        That’s more than I would have guessed. But, that’s partly me looking at CC’s body shape and thinking he’s not going to keep pitching at a high level into his forties. But, a similarly un-svelte David Wells did exactly that, so I guess I should allow CC the benefit of the doubt.

        With Felix, some persist in the view that his birth certificate is not necessarily to be believed. But, if he really is that young, then yes he probably has the best shot. Also, the same caveat re: body shape applies, although to a lesser degree than CC.

        • 51
          Jason Z says:

          I only focused on the list when I looked at Verlander.

          Forgot about the King.

          That being said if he averages 220 innings going
          forward, he gets there around late June, 2027
          when he will be 41????

          His age may be correct. After all that Hugo Chavez
          runs a tight ship.

      • 63
        mosc says:

        I’m thinking this stuff doesn’t look at the righty/lefty differences. I think a lot of left handed pitchers who adjust to low velocity can be successful later in their career. Sabathia’s slider is exceptional and is not velocity dependent.

    • 49
      Jason Z says:

      I do not believe that CC or anybody else currently on the radar
      has a chance of joining this club.

      CC is the youngest on this list, and he will be 33 when next season
      ends.

      Carsten Charles reported feeling something in his elbow he never
      felt before after that last start in the ALCS against Detroit.

      CC averaged 34 starts the last five seasons, this year, 28.

      The Yankees tried to spin his DL stints as precautionary, but
      the truth is probably somewhat less clear. In fact, the Yankees
      have already spoken publicly about limiting his innings going
      forward.

      CC is listed on B-Ref as 6’7″ and 290lbs. Catch me, I am laughing
      so hard I might tip over. If he is under 325 I would be shocked.

      I love CC. To this point he has been a great signee, and is arguably
      the Yankees MVP over the last four years combined.

      Sadly, it is unlikely he can continue at his previous pace.

      It is likely that his first three Yankee seasons (ages 28-30),
      were his peak.

      His ERA+ of 124 was his highest since 2005, and dropped sharply
      from the 143 he posted in 2011.

      For all of these reasons I believe that Mr. Sabathia will struggle
      to even reach 4,000 innings. 5,000 innings?? No Chance.

      He is signed through 2016 with a vesting option for 2017 that kicks
      in automatically except for three scenarios that involve a left
      SHOULDER injury, it says nothing about his elbow.

      The last 2-3 years of this deal could be ugly.

      As for any other pitcher in the future reaching this mark…

      I don’t see anyone on the radar who has a chance either.

      The way pitchers are used, i.e. babied, today, greatly reduces
      the chances of seeing this happen again.

      Teams have a huge financial investment in the development and
      salaries of these players. As we saw this year with the Washington
      Nationals handling of Stephen Strasburg, teams are ready willing and
      able to hold those innings down by any means possible. Even if it
      means missing out on a once in a lifetime team opportunity.

      As for comparing this to seeing another 300 game winner. That’s
      a poor comparison, as pitchers only need to complete five innings
      to get the win.

      To join the 5/20 club, one needs to pitch innings, lots of them,
      for very many years.

      The most durable pitcher today is Justin Verlander,(age 30 when
      next season starts).

      He has led the majors in innings pitched during 3 of the last 4
      seasons. During those 3 seasons he averaged 243 innings
      per season. Knowing he won’t average his peak over the remainder
      of his career, we will assume he averages 220 innings per season.

      The first batter he retires next season will complete inning number
      1,554.

      This means that shortly after the All-Star break Justin Verlander
      will pass 5,000 innings. The 2028 All-Star break! Otherwise known
      as his age 45 season.

      I think the All-Star Game that year is scheduled for Tokyo prefecture
      representing the Far East Division of the Northern Hemisphere.

      I think I heard that the first ball is going to be thrown out
      by a contingent of Moe Berg bobbleheads.

      Thanks Doug for a great post.

      As you can see I didn’t enjoy it one bit.

      Get out and vote tomorrow.

      Good nite and good luck.

      • 53
        John Autin says:

        In searching for the next 5,000-inning pitcher, the natural temptation is to look for those with a lot of innings at a relatively young age. That’s been my first instinct.

        Since Felix Hernandez just finished his age-26 season, I was looking at pitchers since 1973 who had more IP through age 26 than Maddux (1,442). There are 7 such men — Fernando, Gooden, King Felix, Tanana, Eckersley(!), Mike Witt, and Saberhagen. Trouble is, the 6 who are retired didn’t get anywhere near the target:
        – Tanana got to 4,188 by throwing slop for another 13 years;
        – Eck got to 3,286 with almost 800 relief innings;
        – Fernando reached 2,930;
        – Doc finished with 2,801;
        – Sabes reached 2,563; and
        – Witt got to 2,108.

        Only 2 of the 6 managed as many innings in the rest of their careers as they had through age 26.

        But a quick study of the 10 men who have logged 5,000 innings in the modern pitching era — i.e., since 1893 — suggests that we’re looking in the wrong place.

        Six of the 10 had less than 1,300 IP through age 26, and just one — Walter Johnson — had more then 1,500. Four didn’t even pitch in the majors until age 23 (Perry, Young, Alexander, Niekro); Spahn logged only 16 IP before going off to war, and Ryan didn’t qualify for the ERA crown until age 25. Six had fewer innings than Sabathia through age 31.

        First 200-IP season:
        Age 20 – Johnson
        Age 21 – Sutton
        Age 22 – Maddux
        Age 23 – Carlton
        Age 24 – Young, Alexander
        Age 25 – Ryan, Perry
        Age 26 – Spahn
        Age 28 – Niekro

        All but Niekro started bearing a heavy workload in their mid-20s. For age 26-30 combined, their median was 1,446 IP — an average of 289 IP per year. That’s inflated by the 3 dead-ball guys; the median for the later 7 was 1,360 IP, still a daunting 272 IP per year.

        Of course, nobody’s reached 272 IP since 1988. But that doesn’t mean nobody ever will again. Baseball has gone through periods when the typical SP’s innings were relatively low; from 1946-61, only 7 guys ever reached 300 IP, and 5 of them did it just once. (Spahn had 2, Roberts 6.) Those 16 years averaged less than 10 guys per year with 250+ innings.

        The next 16 years, 1962-77, saw 30 different pitchers reach 300 IP at least once, with 16 doing it twice or more, for a total of 63 300-IP seasons. And those 16 years averaged 23 pitchers with 250+ IP, an increase that’s much more than the effect of expansion.

        Of the 7 live-ball 5K IP men, 5 came of age in that period.

        And still, they made it to 5,000 largely because they stayed extremely healthy and productive in their 30s. All but Johnson logged more IP from age 30 onward than they did through age 29.

        Whoever the next guy might be, he’s likely to be someone who isn’t overworked in his early 20s, who hits his stride when the pendulum swings back towards higher IP totals, who’s freakishly durable and good.

        Or it could be a real freak like Maddux, the only one of the 10 who never reached 270 IP in a season — someone who just pounds out 220-260 IP a year for 21 years.

        • 57
          scott-53 says:

          Maddux has a record (possibly modern era) of 17 consecutive seasons(1988-2004) with 15 or more victories.

          He came close to making it 20 seasons in a row. Had 13 in 2005. 14 in 2007.

          • 66
            Doug says:

            That is indeed the record. Cy Young and Maddux are only pitchers with 18 seasons of 15+ wins, and both did it over a period of 19 years.

            Young’s steak was 15 straight years (1891-1905) stopped, like Maddux, by a 13 win season. Next longest streak of 15+ wins was 13 years by Gaylord Perry (1966-1978).

            Maddux streak of 20 seasons with 13+ wins is also a record. Other long streaks of 13+ wins:
            – Cy Young, 19 years (1891-1909)
            – Warren Spahn, 17 years (1947-1963)
            – Eddie Plank, 16 years (1901-1916)
            – Christy Mathewson, 14 years (1901-1914)

          • 73
            scott-53 says:

            Thanks Doug, Interesting that Spahn and Maddux Are the only 2 pitchers with a streak Of 14 years or longer ending after 1916.

        • 59
          Mike L says:

          If you think about it, Maddux was a freak because he was durable, but also because he was good enough to keep getting the ball, as a starter. He was a >100+ ERA pitcher for 19 consecutive years and was at 200 innings every all but one of those years (and that one was 199.1 innings).

        • 64
          bstar says:

          Great post, John. Can you clarify something for me? I thought you were of the crowd that thinks pitching 200+ innings early in your career doesn’t necessarily lead to injury. Have I misread you there? Because Fernando, Sabes, and Dwight Gooden are three great examples of why it’s not the best idea.

          If you’d have told me in 1985 or 1986 that out of those three (and let’s throw Orel Hershiser in there too to make four), not one would end up in the Hall of Fame I would have been shocked.

          • 68
            John Autin says:

            bstar — Yes, and I’m flattered that you remembered. Three counterpoints, though:

            1) There’s a big difference between 200 IP and the early workloads of Fernando (285 IP at 21, avg. of 269 from 21-25), Gooden (218 at 19, 277 at 20, 250 at 21) and Sabes (avg. of 234 from 21-25).

            2) Also in that group was Mike Witt, who had a gradual buildup in his early 20s (avg. 154 from 20-22), then shouldered a typical load for 6 years (avg. 247 from 23-28), and then broke down. And since you mentioned Hershiser, he was almost 25 before his MLB debut; he never topped 134 IP in the minors, threw 190 at 25, 240 at 26 and 231 at 27. Orel’s heavy load came at age 28-30, avg. of 263 IP. Both these guys had the kind of ramp-up that is popular now, but still broke down by age 30. I don’t think they fit the point you want to make.

            3) A 5,000-inning career obviously is not a realistic target. The fact that those 10 guys mostly were late-ish arrivers should not really influence our thinking about the optimal usage of young pitchers.

            P.S. Fernando’s age-20 season (1981) projected to full length is 280+ innings. He led the league in IP, starts and CG. At 19, youngest pitcher in the Texas League, he ranked 5th in IP (174), 3rd in CG (11 out of 25), then added 18 more innings in his September call-up. He was pitching professionally in Mexico at 17-18. Now, *that* is a classic case of early overwork.

          • 69
            bstar says:

            True, there’s a big difference in 200+ and 250+ IP. I threw out 200+ because that is considered heavy for a young pitcher these days.

            I only brought up Hershiser to throw him in the group of 80s pitchers who appeared destined for the Hall of Fame (to me), not as another example of a heavy-workload-while-young guy.

      • 72
        MikeD says:

        I think it’s unlikely that Sabathia will get to 5,000 innings, just as I think it’s unlikely that any of the pitchers mentioned make it. I’d bet against any one player, yet I’ll place a bet on the entire field that someone will do it eventually.

        As for Sabathia, I won’t factor his weight and overall size into the equation. He has no comparison in the game’s history. For all we know, his great size may somehow benefit him. Anyone who reaches 5000 innings will be an outlier, and outliers are impossible to predict.

  2. 2
    John Autin says:

    Great piece, Doug. I look forwarding to giving it a deeper look later today.

    Obviously, control was a big factor in Mad Dog’s efficiency. His career average of 1.795 BB/9 ranks “only” 50th all-time. But let’s look at him in the context of his times:

    Number of times leading the league in BB/9:
    14 – Cy Young
    9 – Greg Maddux
    7 – Christy Mathewson
    5 – Pete Alexander, Fergie Jenkins, Deacon Phillippe, Jim Whitney (1883-87), Fritz Peterson(?!? 1968-72)

    It took a few years for Maddux’s control to reach its zenith. In his first 7 years, with the Cubs, he averaged 2.84 BB/9 and was never below 2.26. In his very first year with Atlanta, he cut it to 1.75 BB/9, and from that year to the end of his career, he averaged 1.37 BB/9.

    • 9
      Doug says:

      Good observations, John.

      Despite ranking “only” 50th, Maddux more often led his league than all but one of the dead-ball era pitchers (assuming you consider Cy as one of these) who likely occupy most of the spots ahead of him.

      Here are the live-ball pitchers under 2 BB/9 for their careers (min. 2000 IP), with Maddux placing eighth.

      Rk Player BB/9 IP From To Age
      1 Pete Alexander 1.31 2437.0 1920 1930 33-43
      2 Red Lucas 1.61 2542.0 1923 1938 21-36
      3 Brad Radke 1.63 2451.0 1995 2006 22-33
      4 Bret Saberhagen 1.65 2562.2 1984 2001 20-37
      5 Jon Lieber 1.73 2198.0 1994 2008 24-38
      6 Fritz Peterson 1.73 2218.1 1966 1976 24-34
      7 Robin Roberts 1.73 4688.2 1948 1966 21-39
      8 Greg Maddux 1.80 5008.1 1986 2008 20-42
      9 Pete Donohue 1.80 2112.1 1921 1932 20-31
      10 Juan Marichal 1.82 3507.0 1960 1975 22-37
      11 Carl Hubbell 1.82 3590.1 1928 1943 25-40
      12 Lew Burdette 1.84 3067.1 1950 1967 23-40
      13 Curt Davis 1.85 2325.0 1934 1946 30-42
      14 Roy Halladay 1.86 2687.1 1998 2012 21-35
      15 David Wells 1.88 3439.0 1987 2007 24-44
      16 Ken Raffensberger 1.88 2151.2 1939 1954 21-36
      17 Paul Derringer 1.88 3645.0 1931 1945 24-38
      18 Eppa Rixey 1.90 3175.0 1920 1933 29-42
      19 Curt Schilling 1.96 3261.0 1988 2007 21-40
      20 Mike Mussina 1.98 3562.2 1991 2008 22-39
      21 Jack Quinn 1.98 2299.0 1920 1933 36-49
      22 Fergie Jenkins 1.99 4500.2 1965 1983 22-40
      Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Play Index Tool Used
      Generated 11/5/2012.

      In terms of taking time to reach his zenith, Maddux is not alone. Looking at the live-ball list of pitchers with seasons under 4 BF/IP, only Schilling did this in his first full season, and many (like Maddux) didn’t reach this level of efficiency until several seasons into their careers.

    • 12
      Brent says:

      His on the mound control is not one of the Top 5 facts I would have come up with at the mention of Fritz Peterson (the “interesting” trade he pulled off with teammate Mike Kekich would be #1, of course)

      • 37
        Jason Z says:

        The “swap” occurred immediately after the end of the 1972 season.

        It worked out better for Fritz (the cat??) Peterson.

        He is still married to Mrs. Kekich.

        Mike and Mrs. Peterson…

        not so good.

    • 54
      Hartvig says:

      I’ve read a few different books by umpires- a couple of Ron Luciano’s, Durwood Merrill & at least 1 other I cannot bring to mind)- and I recall that in one of them the umpire talked about a couple of things that might relate here. One was how pitchers who are always around the plate tend to get the benefit of the doubt on close calls verses the ones who are all over the place. The other was how certain players reputations might effect how calls went. From what I remember whoever it was basically said that while umpires try hard to be right on every call they are also human and preconceptions do creep in.

      I wonder if at least some small way that might have had something to do with Maddux’s sudden improvement.

  3. 4

    Great piece, Doug, though I’d argue that it’s not until the fourth chart that you really highlight Maddux’s efficiency. It would seem that a pitcher would have to be efficient to reach either the 5k or 20k milestone, but Nolan Ryan and his 2,800 walks show that it can also be done more with longevity than efficiency. Even with all those walks, Ryan’s 4.191 BF/IP is more efficient than 14 of the 20 actives in your last chart. He must not have give up a lot of hits.

    • 6
      Luis Gomez says:

      Well… he did threw a few no-hitters 😉

    • 7
      brp says:

      I’m assuming a little sarcasm on that last sentence; glancing at his bbr page Ryan’s H/9IP rate is only 6.555, well below Sandy Koufax’s 6.79 as the best in history. He lead the league (AL or NL) 12 times in that category, stretching from 1972 to 1991.

      • 8

        Sarcasm, yes. Proofreading, no. On a related note, I don’t think anyone has pitch count data for all of Ryan’s career, but I’d have to guess he was less efficient in terms of pitches per out than he was in terms of batters faced per out. That seems just as important in terms of efficiency leading to high inning counts.

        That Ryan led the league in fewest hits per nine in 1991 is amazing. I think he was 73 that year.

        • 41
          Jason Z says:

          I always enjoy players who have major statistical accomplishments years and even decades apart.

          Nolan Ryan he giveth in a big way…

          He had 2 shutouts in 1970, 2 in 1991.

          10.4 strikeouts per 9 innings pitched in 1972.
          10.6 strikeouts per 9 innings pitched in 1991.

          6.2 hits per 9 in 1968.
          5.3 hits per 9 in 1971.

          led the AL in strikeouts (329) in 1972.
          led the AL in strikeouts (301) in 1989.
          led the AL in strikeouts, a paltry 223, in 1991.

          Had an ERA+ of 118 with the Mets in 1970.
          Had an ERA+ of 140 with the Rangers in 1991.
          Even in 1992 at age 45 his ERA+ was 103.

          Nolan Ryan WAR of 5.8 in 1972.
          Nolan Ryan WAR of 5.0 in 1991.

          Ted Williams…

          • 48
            scott-53 says:

            I agree,in a big way. 23 years old in 1970. 44 years old in 1991. Had his last no-hitter after 1991 if I remember right.

          • 50
            Jason Z says:

            I meant to mention the no-hitters too Scott.

            Just forgot.

            The first was May 15, 1973.

            The seventh was May 1, 1991.

    • 10
      Doug says:

      The other factor working in Ryan’s favor is all those strikeouts limiting balls in play and, therefore, errors made on balls in play that result in extra batters to face.

      That said, Ryan’s inclusion here is due more to longevity. He reached 20,000 batters in 1989, two seasons before reaching 5,000 innings.

      • 11
        John Autin says:

        True that Ryan had fewer balls in play than most pitchers — but I would not assume that there were fewer errors made behind him as a result. His fielders spent a LOT more time waiting around for some action.

        Ryan and Tanana were full-time rotation mates from 1974-78. In those 5 years, 13.1% of Ryan’s runs were unearned, but just 9.1% of Tanana’s — i.e., Ryan’s rate of UER was 44% higher than Tanana’s.

        Tanana was also a strikeout pitcher, but not in Ryan’s league. Tanana averaged 7.3 SO/9 in those years, Ryan 9.9.

        Of course, Ryan was a horrendous fielder himself, with a career .895 fielding percentage (Tanana .978).

        • 13
          John Autin says:

          P.S. Not to reopen the whole “Ryan’s overrated” can o’ worms, but … Ryan’s unearned runs are a big reason that Tanana was more valuable in his prime than was Ryan. Combined WAR for their best 5 consecutive years:

          Ryan, 26.0 (1973-77)
          Tanana, 29.3 (1974-78)

          And that’s despite Ryan logging 145 more innings. Ryan just allowed a lot more runs — 3.48 R/9 for Ryan (1973-77), 3.14 R/9 for Tanana (1974-78).

          • 23

            Had to check those WAR figures vs. fangraphs, since Ryan’s an interesting case in fielding-independent pitching. In those same years:

            Ryan, 29.8 (’73-’77)
            Tanana, 25.2 (’74-’78)

            So if we hold neither those unearned runs nor BABiP/LOB against him, the narrative flips back in Ryan’s favor.

            For what it’s worth, fangraphs “credits” Tanana with +2.4 BIP wins, but Ryan gets +3.5. The difference between their FIP- and run-based WAR is tied more stranding runners, where Tanana picked up 5.2 wins and Ryan lost 4.0. Sure enough, Tanana stranded about 79% of baserunners during that period to Ryan’s 75%.

            This is probably a case where rWAR is far more useful in comparing two players, since they pitched in the same era, in mostly the same parks, and in front of mostly the same defenses over a reasonably long period of time.

          • 38
            John Autin says:

            Bryan @23 — I’m glad you provided the counterpoint with Fangraphs’ WAR. My habit of citing only the B-R version is just based on convenience; I’m not smart enough in that field to have a strong opinion about which version is better.

            I do know that I would not enjoy playing behind a guy who walked 5 batters per game.

          • 39
            bstar says:

            To add on to Bryan’s @23, fWAR likes Tanana over Ryan in their primes on a rate basis also. Pro-rating Tanana’s fWAR out to match Ryan’s 5-year IP total, Ryan still wins 29.8 to 28.0

            Tanana ’74-’78 4.87 fWAR/250 IP
            N Ryan ’73-’77 5.17 fWAR/250 IP

          • 42
            bstar says:

            Edit–fWAR likes RYAN over TANANA, not the other way around. Sorry.

          • 55
            kds says:

            Ryan is 2nd all time in WP. Wouldn’t be surprised if his catchers had above average PB figures also. SB% was >75% against Ryan, and they ran at a higher than normal frequency too. All of these things that he did badly, including the bad fielding, help explain his poor results at stranding runners.

      • 16
        Doug says:

        Got me there, John.

        Wouldn’t have guessed that Ryan would have so many UER, although (as you point out) his own fielding is also likely a contributing factor.

        Would be interesting to find out if pitchers who work slowly or otherwise put their defense back on their heels really do impair their defense’s efficiency. So far, though, I can’t even find data on errors committed behind each pitcher, so a long way from being able to analyze at that level.

        FWIW, here are the “worst” pitchers for various metrics for the 183 pitchers with 2000+ IP since 1961. At the extremes, except for Don Drysdale, fielding ineptness by the pitcher doesn’t seem to translate necessarily into unusual unearned runs totals.

        Doesn’t look like I can put a table into the comment, so here is the link: http://www.highheatstats.com/wp-content/uploads/2012/11/2000-IP-Pitchers-Since-1961.pdf

        • 28
          bstar says:

          The two guys I’ve always heard the “defense is better behind them because they work quickly” thing are Mark Buehrle and Greg Maddux.

          But those guys have 22 Gold Gloves (Mad Dog w/18) between them. It seems virtually impossible to separate these pitchers’ great defense with those behind them and come up with a cogent argument about the topic.

          P.S. Great article, Doug! Mad Dog’s my boy.

  4. 14
    Mike L says:

    Great post. Loved Maddux, he seemed to operate on a different plane than most other pitchers. BTW, in the 1995 Bill James Player Rating’s Book, he called Maddux “Nature’s Perfect Pitcher”.

  5. 15
    scott-53 says:

    Think Maddux was the youngest pitcher to reach 250 victories. Age 35. May have been the youngest to reach that milestone after World War II. ???

    • 17
      scott-53 says:

      Maddox got victory #250 7-5-2012. I was in Las Vegas at the time. Made lvrj.com print edition. (7-6-2001)

    • 19
      Doug says:

      I believe you’re correct Scott. Only other pitcher close to Maddux was Bob Feller who reached 249 wins (9 more than Maddux) through his age 34 season. But, Feller had to wait until the next season (1954) for win 250, by which time he was 35 years, 5 months, compared to 35 years, 3 months for Maddux in July 2001.

      • 20
        no statistician but says:

        A mention ought to be made that Feller missed nearly 4 years to military service, don’t you think?

        • 21
          Doug says:

          Absolutely, nsb. Although, Feller got back 3 of those years (albeit, not his prime years) by starting his career 3 years earlier than Maddux.

          Also, Feller did lead Maddux after both his age 34 and age 35 seasons – he was just older at precisely win 250 by a quirky circumstance.

        • 22
          scott-53 says:

          Also, The Negro Leagues were still around during Feller’s early years. (No black outfielders)

        • 24
          scott-53 says:

          The Major League starts were pretty close through their age 34 seasons. 450 for Feller thru 1953. 467 for Maddux thru 2000. Feller had more relief appearances.

          • 26
            Doug says:

            Through age 34, Feller had 242 wins as a starter, 7 in relief.

            Maddux had all of his 240 wins through age 34 as a starter.

          • 29
            scott-53 says:

            Thanks birt,that was fast. Thought that might be the case.

          • 32
            scott-53 says:

            I meant thanks Doug. How are you guys getting this info so fast? ???

          • 33
            scott-53 says:

            at #26–Doug– Maddux got 2 wins in 2001 season before his 35th birthday. April 14th,2001.

            They both had 242 wins as a starter on their 35th birthdays!!

          • 34
            bstar says:

            Scott, I’m just guessing by your last reply that you may not be aware of the tool that lets you look at slices of players’ careers.

            Simply click on the row of Maddux’s first year and it will turn blue (in the standard stats section) then scroll down to his age-34 season and click that row also. All of the years in between should turn blue and B-Ref will have the totals for those years for you. That’s where you’ll get GS data up to age 34. It’s a phenomenal tool. You can do this in the WAR section also.

            Apologies if you already know this.

          • 40
            scott-53 says:

            @34- bstar- Good guess. My first successful E-mail was 2010. Thanks for the tip.

  6. 35
    John Autin says:

    In terms of pitch efficiency, Maddux is an extreme outlier among his contemporaries. Even though complete searchable pitch counts only go back to the year 2000, Maddux stands far apart from every other pitcher, whether by pitches per batter faced or pitches per out.

    For the 124 pitchers with 1,000+ IP from 2000-11:*

    Pitches per BF:
    3.26, Maddux
    3.43 to 3.50, six guys, topped by Jon Lieber
    3.73 = median and average

    Pitches per Out:
    4.46, Maddux
    4.80 to 5.00, twelve guys, topped by Lieber
    5.32 = median
    5.31 = average

    The covered period is just the last 9 years of Maddux’s career, for which he had a combined 3.70 ERA, 117 ERA+, 9.1 H/9 and 1.172 WHIP.

    Oddly, the pitch summary data on his player page, which covers 1988-2008, shows basically the same rate of Pitches per PA, 3.3 (rounded to one decimal place). Breaking the data into 1988-99 and 2000-08, he averaged 3.33 P/PA and 4.36 P/Out in the first period, and 3.25 P/PA and 4.46 P/Out in the second period. Slightly more efficient per batter, slightly less per out.

    His peak of pitch efficiency was 1995-97 (starting with his last CYA year): P/PA were 3.30, 3.07 and 3.15. P/Out were 3.96, 3.78 and 3.77.

    Not coincidentally, those were his best control seasons, all at 1.0 BB/9 or less. It’s as if batters collectively decided that waiting was futile so they might as well swing early.

    * I had to cut the study off at 2011 because there’s a P-I bug right now — it’s omitting the 2012 pitch totals from a multi-year search, while including all the other stats.

    • 44
      bstar says:

      I’ve said this before here, but this really illustrates why Game Scores are not that relevant to me.

      They give extra credit to strikeouts but give absolutely no credit whatsoever to games where a pitcher threw an 80-pitch shutout. Let’s see a strikeout pitcher do that.

  7. 43
    scott-53 says:

    Interesting that the 5 and 20 club runs from 1880-2008 except for 1930-1941. The Depression years. Followed by 4 years of World War II.

    • 52
      scott-53 says:

      -Stock market crash that started in 1929 leading to the Great Depression.

      -Pearl Harbor December 7, 1941 that lead the United States into WWII.

    • 56
      kds says:

      I wouldn’t be the least surprised if WWII had an effect, Feller might be 5 and 20 if he hadn’t lost 4 years. But there were other things going on in baseball and how it was played in the period 1930-1960, when only Spahn qualified. 1), There were a lot of double headers, sometimes a majority of a teams games. 2), There was much less separation between starting and relieving than there is now. 3), There was still some effort to match certain starters against certain opponents, by quality, by handedness, (don’t pitch lefties in Fenway, do pitch them in Ruth’s house.) All these things made a regular rotation much less likely than later. (In the ’60s.)

      • 58
        scott-53 says:

        -Also traveled more by train and bus. No jet lag.

        -Longer road trips and longer home stands pre-1960’s.

        -No West coast teams until Dodgers and Giants moved out West.

        -No Mountain Time Zone teams until Rockies and Diamondbacks.

      • 65
        David Horwich says:

        I kind of doubt Feller would’ve made it to 5 and 20 but for the war. Consider this: he had been worked *very* hard at a very early age:

        age 19 – 277.2 IP
        age 20 – 296.2 IP
        age 21 – 320.1 IP
        age 22 – 343.0 IP

        And then got a break of almost 4 full seasons before resuming a full major-league workload. Even with the break, he had his last outstanding season at age 28, and while he remained effective over the second half of his career, he was nothing like the brilliant pitcher he’d been in his salad days:

        First 9 seasons: 2190.2 IP, 137 ERA+, 50.6 rWAR
        Second 9 seasons: 1636.1 IP, 106 ERA+, 9.3 rWAR

        So I tend to think that if he had continued to shoulder a 300+ IP workload in his age 23-26 seasons, he would’ve lost effectiveness that much sooner than he did, and been done by his mid-30s, if not earlier (and the chance of career-ending major injury would probably have been significantly higher if he’d continued to be worked so hard).

        He’d probably have better career numbers because in this scenario he’d be pitching more innings in his prime years and fewer in his decline phase, but I doubt he makes up the 1100+ IP and 3800+ BF he’d need to reach 5/20. And I’m not so sure he’d have made it to 300 wins, either.

        • 67
          bstar says:

          All very good points, David.

          • 70
            David Horwich says:

            Thanks bstar. It’s often been said that Feller would’ve won 300 but for the war, and hey maybe he would’ve; all such projections are of course speculative. But I think it’s ‘safer’ to make those projections for position players than for pitchers – interpolating another 2000 PA into Ted Williams’career wouldn’t have had the same consequences as interpolating another 1000 IP into Feller’s would have had.

        • 81
          Brent says:

          Excellent points. When he returned in 1946, of course, he famously pitched 371 innings, led the league in walks and strikeouts and must have had a number of 200 pitch games.

          In 1947, he “only” pitched 299 innings and I think it is clear that his effectiveness had already started that year, his age 28 year. The main proof I have of this is that his SO/9 innings drastically dropped that year, to never go up the to the prior levels he had ever again. His SO/9 for his career were: 11.0/9.1/7.8/7.5/7.3/6.8/7.4/8.4 and then it dropped off to 5.9/5.3/4.6/3.8/4.0/3.8/3.1/3.8/2.7/2.8. To me it is pretty clear that after the 1946 season, he lost something on his fastball (both literally and figuratively) and he was never the same pitcher again. It is very possible that the workload prior to WWII would have done him in 1942 or 1943 if he hadn’t been flying planes.

          • 84
            Ed says:

            It’s easy to blame Feller’s dropoff in strikeouts on being overworked in 1946. On the other hand, Hal Newhouser had the exact same dropoff in SO/9 from 46 to 47 after “only” pitching 285 innings in 1946, his lowest total in several years. So I don’t know. Not saying it wasn’t the cause, but I’m not 100% convinced.

          • 85
            Ed says:

            FWIW, Feller attributes his decline in strikeout to falling off the mound and injuring his back in a game on June 13th, 1947. He said his fastball was never the same. There does appear to be some truth to what Feller said. In 1947, he averaged 7.2 SO/9 before (and including) June 13th, but only 5.2 after.

        • 86
          scott-53 says:

          He may have done a lot of pitching during the war. (Army-VS-Navy)????

          • 87
            scott-53 says:

            @86— Nope. Enlisted (Navy) December,1941. Served as a gun captain. Discharged August,1945.

            (Yahoo search)

  8. 46
    Jason Z says:

    I too loved watching Maddux do his thing. As Mike L says, @14, he
    was on a different plane. As he attributed to Bill James in his
    1995 book, “natures perfect pitcher.

    How did natures perfect pitcher due in 1994 and 1995?

    In 1994 His ERA+ was 271, followed the next season with 260.
    Next best ERA+ was 189 in 1997.

    In 1994 and 1995 he had a career high ten complete games
    each season. Only started 53 games in these two seasons,
    due to the players strike.

    In 1994 natures perfect pitcher allowed 6.7 hits per 9.
    In 1995 it was 6.3. Next best, 7.2 in 1998.

    In 1993, his first season with the Braves, Maddux had his
    first season allowing less than 2 walks per 9, with 1.8.
    His rate declined for the next four years too, with 1997
    marking a career low of 0.8 walks per 9. Except for 2002
    when he walked 2.0 per 9, Maddux never again exceeded
    2 walks per 9.

    Natures perfect pitcher was a pleasure to watch.

    This post has reminded me of how much I miss him.

    It also serves as evidence, that a player prime is right
    at age 29, for Maddux was 28 in 94 and 29 in 95.

    • 77
      John Autin says:

      Jason, I’m not sure that Maddux’s career supports any point about pitchers in general. The evidence is pretty strong that the typical pitcher’s prime is before age 29, most often in the range of 25-28.

      Here’s a couple of ways to look at the question:

      Since 1920, the number of pitchers worth 5+ WAR at each age:
      Age 24 – 59
      Age 25 – 81
      Age 26 – 85
      Age 27 – 74
      Age 28 – 77
      Age 29 – 72
      Age 30 – 68
      Age 31 – 65
      Age 32 – 54

      This is true even of HOF pitchers, who by definition last longer at a high level than the average pitcher. There are 45 HOF starting pitchers who spent all or virtually of their careers since 1901. Here’s their median WAR by age, for those who were active at the given age:

      Age 24 – 3.5 WAR (34 active)
      Age 25 – 4.8 WAR (39 active)
      Age 26 – 4.6 WAR (44 active)
      Age 27 – 5.2 WAR (44 active)
      Age 28 – 4.7 WAR (44 active)
      Age 29 – 4.4 WAR (44 active)
      Age 30 – 4.2 WAR (44 active)
      Age 31 – 4.0 WAR (43 active)
      Age 32 – 3.4 WAR (42 active)
      Age 33 – 3.9 WAR (41 active)
      Age 34 – 3.6 WAR (39 active)

      • 78
        Jason Z says:

        I agree that Maddux is a unique example. As more teams
        move away from the Leo Mazzone (throw alot) example, it
        only reinforces my opinion that we won’t see 5/20 again
        for a long time if ever.

        I would have assumed that a pitchers top WAR seasons would
        have been ages 28 and 29. My thought was, that as with
        Maddux, by age 28 most pitchers will be in a position to
        combine knowledge while still maintaining top physical
        skills.

        What I do see from your chart is more reason to be concerned
        with CC Sabathia. He is 32 now.

        The combination of age and elbow problems that I fear are
        more serious than the Yankees or CC will let on.

        I expect a big drop off next season. This is not something
        the Yankees are positioned to withstand.

        Pettite again talks of retirement. Kruoda talks of going
        back home and Michael Pineda, who knows.

        Yikes!

        • 80
          scott-53 says:

          Roger Clemens had a won/loss record of 68-22 going from age 38 to 42 (128 starts 2001-2004).

          • 82
            Doug says:

            Warren Spahn was 104-59 over the same ages (1959-1963). That’s 163 decisions in 170 starts, of which 104 were complete games. Four of those seasons were 20+ wins, including 23-7 at age 42, tied for the best w-L% of his career.

            The only stat that declined over this period was SO/9, from 5.2 to 3.5, but his BB/9 improved, from 2.5 to 1.7.

          • 83
            scott-53 says:

            Spawn had one Major League complete game on his 25th birthday. 370 before his 43rd birthday.(1963)

            (baseball-reference.com)

  9. 60
    kds says:

    I read somewhere that Maddux hated to waste a pitch. That is when up 0-2 or 1-2 many pitchers will intentionally throw well off the plate on the slim chance that the batter will chase. If Maddux was always close to the zone this would help keep his pitch count down.

    • 61
      Doug says:

      Maddux was so precise with his control that he could put his “waste” pitches just off the corner so that most hitters would chase, or would feel they had to chase. Pitchers with lesser control won’t do that for fear of missing their spot and leaving something fat in the strike zone – that’s why their waste pitches truly are wasted.

    • 62
      bstar says:

      Maddux’s attitude about 0-2 or 1-2 was that since the hitter is more likely to swing with two strikes, why not go ahead and try to throw a perfect pitch just off the outside or inside corner of the plate instead of wasting a pitch? You can afford to throw a ball or two since you’re ahead in the count but why not maximize the number of chances you have to throw a perfect pitch? It repeatedly worked.

    • 74
      mosc says:

      Pitchers throw where the catcher sets up. You’re putting way too much conscious thought into where you miss. If a pitcher were to think that much about how much to miss by, they’d never be close. Pitchers are trained to zoom in on the glove and hit the spot. Catchers are trained to set up on the corners. In other words, virtually all pitchers throw at the corners on 0-2 and 1-2 except for when a catcher sets up well out of the zone on purpose.

      You see catchers set up as low as possible fairly regularly (not just looking for a strikeout) but it’s often an effort to try and get a guy who is missing to keep the ball down in the zone. If a catcher is confident that the pitcher will hit his glove, rarely will he do that. Similarly, breaking balls are sometimes called for out of the zone, but a lot of those are on pitches the catcher is worried about the pitcher missing over the middle of the plate if he sets up on the outer edge of the plate.

      • 75
        mosc says:

        If you hear Braves catchers talk about catching those guys, they often talk about asking maddux if they wanted them to set up outside on 0-2 etc. He would say something like “I’ll choose when I miss”. I guess you could believe that he purposely throws a little off of the glove, I find it more likely that he’s just confident in getting the out if he hits the glove on the corner.

        • 76
          bstar says:

          Former pitching coach Leo Mazzone tells a story about when Maddux first came to the Braves. It was Maddux’s first bullpen session ever with Mazzone. Leo drew a mark on the wall with a piece of chalk and told Maddux to come as close to the mark as possible. Maddux threw the first pitch–bang, right on the mark. Second pitch, right on the mark. Same thing for every subsequent pitch. Mazzone had to finally tell Maddux, “OK, let’s move on to something else.”

  10. 88
    Atlcrackersfan says:

    Did anyone else notice that 4/13 of the list of 5/20 pitchers spent the bulk of the career with the Braves, a franchise that barely exceeds a .500 w-l record?
    Maddox, Spahn, Nichols and Neikro.

    • 89
      scott-53 says:

      Since 1953 5010-4497(.527). Not to bad once they got out of Beantown.

      (baseball-reference.com) assist.

      • 90
        Atlcrackerfan says:

        Nichols pitched for the 1890’s Braves.
        About 2/3 of Spahn’s career was in Milwaukee, although he contributed mightily to the ’48 Braves.
        Otherwise, from 1900 onward the beantown braves were only matched by the late ’70’s and late ’80s atlanta teams for woefulness!

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