An Inning with Greg Maddux’s Command

Something somebody once said about Greg Maddux is he could throw a ball into a teacup. I don’t know why a teacup was chosen to represent a small target, but it certainly conveys the intended idea. Something somebody else said about pitchers is this:

“And don’t believe it when you hear that a pitcher can throw the ball to a two-inch slot. A foot and a half is more like it, I mean with any consistency. When I first came up I thought major-league pitchers had pinpoint control, and I felt terrible that the best I could do was hit an area about a foot square. Then I found out that’s what everybody meant by pinpoint control, and that I had it.”

Jim Bouton was referring to a lot of pitchers when he wrote that, and Bouton wasn’t wrong. Bouton also wrote that in the time before Greg Maddux, which was a time that didn’t know how dark it really was. It’s possible there’s been no pitcher in recent history more able to hit a spot when he wanted to, and Maddux usually wanted to.

Pitcher command is a particular interest of mine, specifically because we don’t really have numbers for it. Numbers exist out there, somewhere, but they aren’t public. That means the best we can do is go with proxies and educated guesses. For all I know, the proxies work great, and all further information would do is confirm our suspicions. Still, it’s at least partially a mystery, which makes it fun to study. And it is possible to study. Command isn’t some intangible, like clubhouse chemistry, where we think it exists but we don’t know what to do with it or how to observe it. We can observe command on every pitch of every game. It’s just that nobody does the hard work of keeping record.

Nor should anyone want to. From the outside, there’s not a lot of in-depth work we can do with command. It’s something we have to consume in little chunks, hoping they might be representative but knowing we can’t know if they are. But there’s nothing wrong with consuming them anyway, because who knows what we might learn? As long as we understand the limitations, things can’t go awry. At the absolute worst case, we spend a few minutes thinking about baseball.

I don’t know who has the best command in baseball today. I’m open to suggestions. Among the most recent pitchers, I’d volunteer Mariano Rivera, who just retired. The purpose of the following exercise, however, is to shine a spotlight on Greg Maddux. Maddux probably had the best command of anyone in the past 20 or 25 years. It’s possible that “probably” is too strong since, again, we can’t know and our memories often lie to us. Maddux, though, would probably top a public survey. Orel Hershiser gave us the teacup line, and I don’t think anyone took him for an exaggerator.

So I wanted to do with Maddux what I did with Rivera this past June. That is, I wanted to watch an inning of Greg Maddux pitching and keep track of his location. I know that one inning isn’t representative of anybody, but if Maddux had the best command in baseball, and if Maddux was the most consistent pitcher in baseball, then one inning would be the most representative, among single innings. And by following through with this, I could watch Greg Maddux pitch, which is nice.

A potential problem was finding a good clip of Maddux, since I wanted to track him in his prime. YouTube came to the rescue, and while I don’t want to link the clip out of fear of it being removed, I found video of all of Maddux’s pitches from Game 1 of the 1995 World Series against the Indians. The Braves won that game 3-2, and Maddux went the distance. He needed only 95 pitches and allowed two hits and struck out four. That seems like a pretty good Maddux start to target. That Indians team slugged .479.

I wound up settling on tracking the top of the ninth, during which Maddux faced four batters and threw 13 pitches, nine of which were strikes. I didn’t want to watch the first inning, because Maddux could’ve had some World Series jitters. And he made the middle innings go by too fast. So the ninth it was, and it wasn’t like Maddux was all that worn down. What you’re going to see are pixelated screenshots, with a red dot representing the original glove target set by Javy Lopez. What I can’t ever know is whether Maddux was trying to hit that glove, but I suppose we can proceed on a case-by-case basis.

Of course, this can’t tell us very much about Maddux. We don’t know how representative this inning was of him, and we don’t know what an average pitcher looks like. It’s just an exercise in small-sample data tracking. But here’s an inning of Maddux throwing pitches in the 1995 World Series. Actually, before I get to the screenshots, , watch this a few times:


Do you see why Greg Maddux is so fun? Greg Maddux is fun. I watched him, and here are results. Was he hitting teacups, or was he hitting shoeboxes? This is a glimpse of one of the best pitchers ever in one of the best seasons ever.


That’s one of those sinking Maddux fastballs, and it missed a bit low to Paul Sorrento. It caught the right area of the plate; it just caught the wrong part of the torso. It was a ball, by inches.


And then Maddux made Sorrento go away by getting him to roll over on another fastball away that he located with precision. Carry that ball past the bat and it settles right into Lopez’s glove with hardly any movement on the catcher’s part.


Probably Maddux’s worst pitch of the inning, a first-pitch fastball to Kenny Lofton that missed in two directions. I’ll note, however, that you might notice a theme: When Maddux did miss, he didn’t miss in a particularly hittable spot. Pitch location isn’t binary!


Here’s a fastball like the first one Maddux threw to Sorrento. This one was a tiny bit higher, so Maddux got his strike to even the count. Given the location and the movement, there was nothing Lofton could do to drive the ball.


This two-seamer ran away just off the plate. I’m getting the sense Maddux didn’t use the glove as a target, but rather used it as a starting point. His fastballs, then, would end up lower, frequently in that low-away quadrant where it’s so hard for hitters to do anything, even if they’re looking for a pitch there.


This fastball wound up right where Lopez’s glove was set up. Even though Maddux was behind in the count 2-and-1, he threw a good pitch on the edge. Still, Lofton slapped it off the end of the bat for an opposite-field single. The ball dropped in front of Mike Devereaux, who has now been mentioned on FanGraphs.


Just a perfect first-pitch fastball to Omar Vizquel. No biggie. Edge, knees, movement. Vizquel pulled back on a bunt, as he should’ve since the Indians were down by two. You’re not fooling anyone, Omar Vizquel.


This time Maddux and Lopez mixed it up. They planned to come inside and Maddux did indeed go inside, jamming Vizquel with a fastball on the edge. The pitch was up, which maybe wasn’t intended, but then maybe it was. More importantly, the pitch was horizontally accurate. Vizquel was put on the defensive, and Maddux made him go after a tough pitch.


And now it’s time for Carlos Baerga. This was a fastball over the middle at the belt in the ninth inning of a one-run game in the World Series. Whoopsadoodle! Baerga fouled it off.


And then Baerga got jammed and fouled off an inside fastball that moved the count to 0-and-2. Hitters like to say you get one hittable pitch per trip. Against Maddux, it might’ve been more like one per game. Baerga wasted his. He put Maddux out in front, as if Maddux needed the advantage.


And here come the changeups. By the target, it looks like Maddux missed. Ahead 0-and-2, though, I’m pretty certain he wanted the pitch to fall off and approach the dirt. He put the changeup in the desired zone and Baerga just got a piece to stay alive.


Same idea: 0-and-2 changeup, away and down in the dirt. This one was a little more away than the previous one. Baerga very nearly swung. He held up in the end, extending his life by, as it turns out, one pitch.


Another low, two-strike changeup. Baerga chased, Baerga hit and Baerga fouled out to give the Braves a win to open the series. Maddux came a little closer to the plate than he did at 0-and-2, but that was to goad Baerga into swinging. He clearly wanted to swing at those low changeups. Maddux gave him one that looked good enough, but Maddux’s changeups were deceptive, treacherous freaks.

This, incidentally, was Baerga’s last year of being a good regular. He was 26. He also played in the majors as recently as 2005, which is a very easy thing to forget about, making it a very incredible thing to recall. That 2005 Nationals team had some mind-blowing names.

What did we learn? Greg Maddux was good. One time out of 13 pitches, he missed in a hittable spot. His worst miss, by distance, missed across the plate but also missed low, so it was just a ball, and nothing really drive-able. Most of the time Maddux was right on, laterally, and we can’t be certain what he was trying to accomplish, vertically. He was mostly accurate, especially if the glove was a starting point instead of a destination. He wasn’t consistently hitting teacups, but he would’ve hit enough teacups for people to be like, “Maybe we shouldn’t put our teacups there. Greg Maddux keeps destroying them.”

And also, naturally, Maddux wasn’t just about location. He was fantastic at location, but he was equally fantastic at making his pitches move in ways the hitters couldn’t anticipate. So he didn’t need to be as precise as he actually was to be successful. But he was that precise, hence his becoming one of the greatest pitchers of all time. In 1995, Maddux walked 23 guys in 28 starts. Three of those were intentional. In truth, I suspect that every Greg Maddux walk was intentional. I can’t think of any other explanation.

Coming up, there’s a whole lot of baseball to be watched. Behind us, there’s a whole lot of baseball to be re-watched. I watched about 20 minutes of prime Greg Maddux today. I did it for a post, but if I’m going to be perfectly honest, I did it for me. I’d love to watch another 2,000. Go to YouTube. Find the clip I discovered and look at it.

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Jeff made Lookout Landing a thing, but he does not still write there about the Mariners. He does write here, sometimes about the Mariners, but usually not.

56 Responses to “An Inning with Greg Maddux’s Command”

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  1. tz says:

    THIS is Pitcher McPitcherson.

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    • tz says:

      Note – go to this BBref link to the section on Ratio Pitching:

      – You can see Maddux’s reknowned control and above-average ability to induce ground balls

      – What jumped out at me, though, is how he beats the average in every other rate category out there save for IFFB/FB rate (13% vs 15%). I don’t know many pitchers, even HOFers, who are this consistently above average.

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  2. Lenard says:

    Great article Jeff!

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  3. Jon L. says:

    If you do more of this inning-tracking – which you should! – it would be great if you could mark the pitch location as well as the original glove target. With just the screen shots, it was sometimes tough to find the pitch.

    I would also like to extend my hearty congratulations to Mike Devereaux.

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  4. ElJosharino says:

    I’d be curious to see if he managed to actually be even better when throwing to his “personal catcher” Eddie Perez.

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  5. cass says:

    Your link to one of my favorite teams, the 2005 Nationals, reminded me of Rick Short who I hadn’t thought about in a long time. Also found out he’s now a scout for the Diamondbacks and was teammates with Tanaka, briefly. Cool.

    Wonderful triple slash. Pity he didn’t get more of a look in the bigs. In 17 PAs he hit two singles, two doubles, and two home runs. One walk and one strikeout. Lifetime OPS of 1.404. And, despite so few appearances, he was a fan favorite. Standing ovation when he got his first MLB hit. To be honest, Nats fans had been wanting the team to call him up for many weeks before they did since he had a .400 batting average in AAA and the Nats were contenders at the time.

    Yes, this is totally off topic. Sorry. Other longtime Nats fans will understand. Greg Maddux was awesome.

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  6. Vlad the Impaler says:

    Best command right now — Cliff Lee

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  7. frivoflava29 says:

    The 2005 Nationals had the original Mike Stanton

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    • redsoxu571 says:

      I was going to say, if JS thinks that the 2005 Washington National roster is mindblowing, he clearly hasn’t wasted enough time (unlike some people *cough cough*) playing MVP Baseball 2005.

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  8. Alvaro Pizza says:

    When I saw THE ONLY GIF in this article I thought there would be 13 more gifs. WHERE ARE THE GIFS? I want more gifs.

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  9. Iron says:

    “Vizquel pulled back on a bunt, as he should’ve since the Indians were down by two. You’re not fooling anyone, Omar Vizquel.”

    But Vizquel gets out and then:

    “And now it’s time for Carlos Baerga. This was a fastball over the middle at the belt in the ninth inning of a one-run game in the World Series.”

    I’m missing a run here.

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  10. Steve says:

    He makes Javy look like a good pitch framer, because, you know, he doesn’t have to move the glove.

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  11. Dan Ugglas Forearm says:

    If nothing else, I’ve at least spent my Friday remembering that Preston Wilson was a baseball person.

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  12. Hurtlockertwo says:

    Fantastic look at one the of the greatest!

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    • Hurtlockertwo says:

      Off topic, does anyone know if Maddux left Atlanta with bad feelings? I was surprised that he did not choose an Atlanta cap to go into the HOF? I get that he started with Chicago, but his key years were in Atlanta, even wining a WS with them.

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      • Ian R. says:

        Maddux actually spent nearly as many years in Chicago (10) as Atlanta (11), though to be fair that’s counting his six-game cup of coffee as a 20-year-old as a “year.” He was better as a Brave, no doubt, but he was successful with the Cubs as well, and his first really dominant season (1992) was in Chicago. It makes sense that he wants to honor both teams by going in with no logo, a la Catfish Hunter.

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      • Matt says:

        I believe players are no longer allowed to ‘choose’ what hat they wear. usually the hall chooses for them. This stopped being a thing when a team back in the day (sorry I can’t find it now) was payed by one of the two teams he played for to wear their hat in. I really want to say it was someone from A’s who had played for the Yankees as well. Maybe Catfish Hunter. But the hall will offer the player the no logo option if they had significant experience with multiple teams.

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        • paul ab says:

          I think it was Wade Boggs and the Rays.

          The player can still pick but the Hall can overrule I think.

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      • Jon L. says:

        I was surprised too, but then I realized that the Cubs were the team that developed Maddux from a kid to a Cy Young winner, and then they were the first team that swept in and picked him up when he was no longer as effective. The Braves got most of his best years, but the Cubs wanted him when he wasn’t on top of the world.

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  13. ChuckO says:

    I was listening to a Braves broadcast on the radio a few years ago, and Don Sutton said that Greg Maddux had the most nimble fingers that he’d ever seen in a pitcher. I’ve often wondered what role that might have played in his pitching success. It would seem to be a decided advantage in making the ball move in unconventional ways.

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  14. paul ab says:

    Off thd top of my head, Cliff Lee (already mentioned), Jamie Moyer, Dennis Eckersley.

    of the pitchers I have seen, anyway.

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  15. Jon says:

    There is a pervading theory going around the webz these days that Maddux threw about 86 mph in his prime, and so he was basically the best “junkballer of all time.” Can someone address this ridiculousness in the next Maddux post?

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    • MGL says:

      I am not nearly 100% certain, but if memory serves me (and people are notoriously bad at recalling things like numbers) he was at 88-89 in his prime.

      Also, I don’t think it is possible to “miss on one side” more than another. By definition, a miss is a miss and the distribution has to pretty much look look like a random scattershot pattern.

      There may be the illusion of missing to the “good side” if, for example, the catcher sets up at position X, and the pitcher, either consciously or subconsciously, actually centers his target slightly to the “good side” of the catcher’s target. I suspect that is what happens with all pitchers.

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    • MGL says:

      And BTW, that was when average fastball speed was not nearly as high as it is now. He was probably pretty close to average, maybe even slightly higher. He was by no means a “junkballer,” although he was not a flame thrower either.

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    • MGL says:

      In his last year or two, again, IIRC, he was at 83-86, which, even for him, with great control, was just too slow to be that effective.

      I also don’t recall him having “hard to predict movement” on his fastball. Quite the opposite. His two-seamer moved a lot from left to right, and he often tried to start it off the plate inside on the left handers and catch the inside corner. He through a classic circle change. Those were his two primary pitches. He occasionally through a four-seamer and a curve. This is all from memory so take it with a large grain of salt.

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      • Just from having read old player quotes, they talk about everything looking identical until it was too late. There were different fastballs, and different movements on the same fastball, and a well-disguised changeup. And if you believe in it, people swear Maddux could throw pitches with late break. I don’t know, it’s all old eyewitness stuff, but it is what it is. Maddux made people uncomfortable. Even Tony Gwynn, who was successful against him.

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        • MGL says:

          If we went by what players say and think, well, there would be no such thing as sabermetrics, right?

          I have watched many a game of Maddux (and have even played golf with him in Vegas – I used to be friends with Mary Barrett, a good friend of Greg’s). And I have a rudimentary understanding of the laws of physics (was once a physics major in college a hundred years ago).

          Maddux was a great pitcher because he had pinpoint control, had a very good 2-seamer and change up, and was extremely smart. That’s pretty much it. If there were pitch f/x back in his day, I doubt that you would see anything special about his pitches. And he definitely did not vary speeds a lot on his fastball. He had a very tight range. Just watch a game or two on video. He also threw the changeup (a good one) before it was all that popular. To some extent he pioneered the circle change.

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        • Larry says:


          Just because a pitch didn’t break late actually doesn’t mean it didn’t look to be breaking late to the human eye. One thing to look at is release point; some pitchers (I’ve heard Jeremy Hellickson does this well) release every pitch from the same spot while others have slightly different release points for a breaking ball. It could be released slightly earlier (hitters often describe seeing a “loop” on a curveball) or an inch or two to the left or right.

          Another factor is the rest of your delivery up to release. Some pitchers shorten their stride a few inches to get on top of breaking stuff better and some hitters may be able to notice that. Pitchers might hold their glove differently or have a slightly longer or shorter delivery tempo.

          Some pitches may have spin that can be picked up; some pitchers switch to a four-seam changeup to mirror the spin of their four-seam fastball for example. Some pitchs move similarly except the speed difference makes the pitches harder to distinguish. A two-seam fastball and circle changeup combination can work really well this way.

          As someone who has played the game through college and trained under a former professional pitcher, I can attest to the multiple ways that pitches can look similar. I agree it’s not actual “late” break versus “early” break, but there are pitchers whose pitches can be disguised so they are harder to pick up.

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        • MGL says:

          I didn’t say anything about “late break.” Of course, now that you mention it, as you say, there is no much thing, although pitches can create all kinds of optimal illusions to the batter, depending all kinds of factors.

          But once, the ball leaves the pitcher’s hand, it can have 5 and only 5 things that influence what it “does” (as opposed to what it appears to do):

          1) The horizontal component of its velocity (speed actually).

          2) Spin rate.

          3) Spin axis.

          4) Horizontal and vertical trajectory (e.g., thrown from the right to the left or the left to the right, or up or straight, is in a sidearmer or underhand thrower, or down, as in a tall pitcher).

          5) The orientation of the ball, with respect to the seams.

          All of those things can be put into a model (although not easily) such that the exact trajectory of the ball can be predicted.

          Some announcers, fans, players, and even some pitchers, seem to think that a pitcher can put magical properties on ball to make it do weird things, like “break late.”

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        • Larry says:

          Yeah, I’m not sure why I thought I saw late break in your post…

          Yeah, I agree there is no such thing physically as “late break” unless you are talking about the amount of break. It does seem like some people (not specifically you, though) think that because there is no such thing as late break that hitters are mistaken. I’m not sure if hitters really think about the difference between what they perceive versus what happens, so I think they are right about Maddux’s late break.

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        • bobabaloo says:

          questions late break: its not really a “late” break, but i would imagine the vertex of the trajectory could be changed a bit, and this point is what probably looks like the “break” point.

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    • Patrick says:

      Maddux preferred movement to velocity so his 4 seamer was not used as a primary pitch. That being said, in the mid 90s Maddux was 92-95 with his 4 seamer and 89-91 with his 2 seamer.

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    • Belloc says:

      When Maddux was in high school he could hit over 90 mph, which is one of the reasons he was drafted number 31 overall. The consensus among scouts was that he already had an above average fastball, and they expected him to increase his velocity as he filled out, which he did. Maddux consistently threw a fastball in the low 90s until he hit about 30 years old.

      The notion that Maddux was like a right-handed Jamie Moyer is absolute myth. He had very good stuff at a very young age.

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  16. Fister? says:

    It should be kept in mind that quite often a pitcher has his own idea or target for certain pitches depending on their movement and strategy based on the count. Not every pitch is thrown with the intent of landing in the catchers glove without it moving, as those pitches would often be too easy to hit.

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  17. minstrel says:

    In 1995, Maddux walked 23 guys in 28 starts.

    I’m sure I’ve seen that before as an infinitesimal walk rate or BB/9 or something, but my mind is still blown when you put it that way.

    Based on averages, you would most likely see Maddux walk a guy in one of his starts. Of course, there was still a solid chance you wouldn’t. Amazing.

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  18. bstar says:

    Jeff, thanks for doing this.

    BTW, Maddux has said that this is the most cherished game of his career. Good choice.

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  19. Bravesfaninia says:

    In 1997, Maddux made 33 starts…and walked 20. He was astoundingly good.

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    • macheesmo3 says:

      and from 1994-2008 he threw 3500+ innings and only walked like 450 or so (100 intentional)


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  20. Jeffrey says:

    My favorite line

    “He wasn’t consistently hitting teacups, but he would’ve hit enough teacups for people to be like, “Maybe we shouldn’t put our teacups there. Greg Maddux keeps destroying them.””

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  21. Larry says:

    In 2005, Carlos Silva made 27 starts (including 2 CG over 188.1 IP) and walked 9. That rate is almost half of Maddux’s best single season walk rate

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    • Belloc says:

      And two of those nine walks were intentional passes. That is quite remarkable.

      Of course, Carlos Silva wasn’t very good. He had unbelievable command of his two-seam fastball. But he never developed another pitch.

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      • Joe says:

        Subtracting out intentional walks actually makes Silva look LESS remarkable (obviously still sensational though) compared to Maddux. In 1996, he walked 28 in 245 IP, with 11 of those being IBB. That’s 40% of his total walks!

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  22. Max says:

    You’ve found a video edited by a Korean!

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  23. badenjr says:

    A thought hit me… What if pitch framing is as much about a catcher being able to anticipate where the pitcher wants the target as it is about catching the pitch the right way? Think about it. If the catcher anticipates where the pitch will be, he can set up in such a way to catch the pitch there. Pitchers get signs from catchers. Those signs include the pitch and perhaps “inside” or “outside”. I don’t recall seeing pitchers shake off a catcher because they didn’t like where the catcher placed the target. For all intents and purposes, the pitchers – not the catchers – are choosing the location within a rather large area. If the catcher is good at anticipating what the pitcher wants to do, his job framing the pitches becomes much easier.

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  24. Brian says:

    Thanks for posting this, Jeff! I actually came across this exact same game on YouTube about two weeks ago.

    This game, and Pedro’s 1999 ASG, are two of my best finds on YouTube in a long while. Totally worth a watch.

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  25. Bobby Marko says:

    Lifelong braves fan and game watcher. Lucky to have spent as many hours as I did right up close the tv watching Maddux’s pitches zip this way and that. Taping them, slow-motioning the pitches for location, intention, etc.

    I have a question/comment about “stuff”. Maddux is always described as not having great stuff, doing more with less, strategizing at-bats, game-plans, etc. That mythology helps to explain a bit of what what Maddux so effective, but it’s misleading (just like Maddux).

    What do we mean by stuff? Is it simply a substitute for power? Is it simply the complimentary converse of “command”? Command is certainly the best word to describe the result of where his pitches ended up. But I’ve thrown enough baseballs in my life to know that his ability to omni-direct nearly any pitch from the same arm angle and speed requires tremendous hand-and-wrist strength and specificity. How is that not also “stuff”? I think of stuff as the particular pitchers assets and how his mastery of them compares to other pitchers trying to do the same kinds of things, particularly those things that are difficult to do to a baseball (i.e., 1) throw it fast; 2) throw it where you want to; 3) make it move). From that perspective, Maddux didn’t overcome average stuff. He had fantastic stuff.

    But that mythology helped him, I guess. He certainly never missed an opportunity to encourage others in their underestimation of him.

    Maybe this is just a syntax discrepancy. But if stuff is just power, we already have a word for it (velocity).

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    • macheesmo3 says:

      I have always interpreted “stuff” to mean velocity and nastiness. Like Smoltz was always the “stuff” guy, mid to upper 90’s fastball with a devastating slider and splitter. Kimbrel has “stuff”. Maddux had control,command and movement. But he wasn’t “overpowering” guys like say Smoltz or Randy Johnson were.

      I could be wrong tho. it happens a lot! :-)

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      • macheesmo3 says:

        just to add on to my above comment. think of it like can have velocity without stuff. (straight fastball, bad breaking pitch) but you can’t really have stuff without velocity

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