Off Base

Jim Caple

Pitching Probables
Injuries: AL | NL
Power Alley
All-Time Stats
Message Board
Minor Leagues
MLB en espanol

Dave Campbell
Jim Caple
Peter Gammons
Joe Morgan
Rob Neyer
John Sickels
Jayson Stark
ESPN Auctions
Monday, September 23
Updated: September 24, 10:18 AM ET
Don't forget to appreciate Maddux's dominance

By Jim Caple

This column is about Greg Maddux.

No, wait. Don't go away. I'll try to make this as painless as possible.

Maddux did something remarkable this week. He won his 15th game, giving him 15 consecutive seasons of 15 or more victories, a streak that only one pitcher in major league history can match, and that pitcher's name is Cy Young.

Greg Maddux
Starting Pitcher
Atlanta Braves
33 15-6 194.1 189 114 2.64

True, Young won 414 games and averaged 28 wins a season during his 15-year run while Maddux has won just 264 games and averaged 18 wins per season. Young, however, also pitched under much different and -- it's safe to say -- inferior conditions, pitching nine of those seasons prior to 1900, which is generally considered the beginning of baseball's modern era.

It makes Maddux's feat even more impressive. In baseball's entire modern era, Maddux is the only pitcher who was good enough and consistent enough to win at least 15 games for 15 years in a row. Think about that. Fifteen years. Steve Carlton and Tommy John still were pitching when Maddux began that run with 18 victories in 1988.

And yet, even with his four Cy Young awards, even with his annual postseason appearances, Maddux never seems to get his full due. Like Barry Bonds, he didn't make the All-Century team (what were we thinking?) and whenever people talk about the most dominating pitchers of the era, they usually name Roger Clemens, Randy Johnson and Pedro Martinez first, and include Maddux as an afterthought, if they remember him at all.

There is a reason for this, of course. Maddux is as flashy as a Lutheran minister, as thrilling as C-SPAN coverage.

He is not a power pitcher. He is not an intimidating presence on the mound. He does not have a 98-mph fastball. He has never struck out 20 batters in a game or 300 batters in a season. He has not pitched a no-hitter. He has not splintered a bat and fired the jagged half at Mike Piazza. He has not defeathered a pigeon in mid-flight.

Mr. Consistency
Greg Maddux's year-by-year win totals and where he ranked among NL leaders:
Year Wins Rank
1988 18 5th
1989 19 2nd
1990 15 5th
1991 15 7th
1992 20 1st
1993 20 4th
1994 16 1st
1995 19 1st
1996 15 9th
1997 19 2nd
1998 18 4th
1999 19 3rd
2000 19 3rd
2001 17 5th
2002 15 9th

All he does is throw strikes, keep batters off balance and win. Game after game, month after month, year after year. He is dependable as a Gene Hackman performance, as relentless as the mortgage bill. He is 36 years old (he was born two days after the Braves played their first game in Atlanta) and still as sharp as ever. He has actually lowered his career ERA this season, and it is now about a third of a run lower than Clemens' ERA.

His style does not light up the radar guns nor the SportsCenter highlight reel. But you don't have to strike out 20 batters to be dominating. With a good fastball, good movement and exquisite control, Maddux proves you can retire 20 batters on groundouts and be just as much in complete control. The object to pitching is to keep opponents from scoring, not striking them out, and Maddux is as stingy as a loan officer. In 1994, his 1.56 ERA was three runs lower than the league average and his career ERA is 1.3 runs lower than the league average.

And although Maddux does not strike out a staggering number of batters every season, it might surprise you that he has more career strikeouts (2,631 at last count) than Bob Feller, Sandy Koufax or Don Drysdale. So it's not like he retires everyone on a groundout or foul pop.

The playoffs start next week and Maddux and Atlanta will be there as always. They've been there so often we take them for granted and turn our attention to other more compelling teams. But before we focus too much on Johnson and Curt Schilling this October, we ought to take a moment to fully appreciate Maddux, who has simply been his league's best pitcher for the past 15 years.

Lies, damn lies and statistics
If you don't think Barry Bonds should be the National League MVP, consider this stat: If you took away all of Barry's hits, he still would have a higher on-base percentage (.337) than American League MVP-candidate Alfonso Soriano (.335). ... Not that many are willing to believe it, but market and wallet size had little to do with success this season. In the American League, three of the four teams in the playoffs -- the Athletics, Twins and Angels -- ranked 28th, 27th and 15th in overall payroll. If the Giants hold on for the wild card in the National League, the playoff teams will rank first, fourth, seventh, 10th, 13th, 15th, 27th and 28th in payrolls. That means we'll have as many teams from the bottom four teams in payroll as from the top four. The average payroll of a playoff team is $77 million while the average major league payroll is about $68 million. ... People can call Oakland's success an aberration but the Athletics are about to become the first American League team since the 1979-80 Orioles to win 100 games in consecutive seasons. ... Milwaukee's Jose Hernandez is one strikeout shy of Bobby Bonds' single-season record of 189, but because Brewers fans have been getting on him so much, manager Jerry Royster sat him on the bench for last weekend's series in Milwaukee so he wouldn't break the record in front of them. The only problem is the Brewers were playing the Giants and Hernandez, despite the strikeouts, is one of Milwaukee's most productive players. Didn't Royster have an obligation to field his best team against a contender?

From the cheap seats
No surprise here. My column last week that the Giants-Dodgers rivalry is baseball's best garnered a lot of responses. Generally speaking, the email broke down on strict geographic lines.

About half was from people in the east who think I'm a moron. About half was from people on the West Coast who think I got it just right. And the rest were from St. Louis or Chicago and wanted to know why I didn't mention the Cubs-Cardinals rivalry.

What I found most interesting is the number of East Coast fans who simply cannot acknowledge the possibility that fans elsewhere care as passionately about other teams as they do about theirs. But the fact is they do. As reader Greg DiPaolo put it:

"I'm a Boston transplant now living in the Bay Area. I just wanted to let you know that your wonderful article hit the nail right on the head. I have been a struggling Red Sox fan for years, enduring the pain and suffering that approaches each August and September. I have also grown to love watching the Giants. I can relate to the fierceness of the Sox-Yanks rivalry but agree with you when you say the Giants-Dodgers rivalry is more entertaining. This year is a perfect example of this rivalry: the Sox are 9.5 games out of first and getting ready to play some golf. The Giants are a game up in the wild card and getting ready to face the team trailing them in a four-game series. What series is more exciting?"

Jim Caple is a senior writer for He can be reached at

 More from ESPN...
Kurkjian: Bet on the Braves
With John Smoltz, a deep ...
Prospectus: Too many lineup woes
This is the Braves' year? Not ...

Jim Caple Archive

 ESPN Tools
Email story
Most sent
Print story
Daily email