If you remember back to when I reviewed third basemen I made the comparison between Albert Pujols and Alex Rodriguez in terms of who was the "hitter of the 2000's". With Roger Clemens in the news lately I decided to take another player of the decade look, but this time comparing Greg Maddux to Roger Clemens.
Everything about the two pitchers are polar opposites - where as Clemens intimidated with his high digits and raw aggression Maddux has always been viewed upon as the thinking man's pitcher who's body and mind have to be on the same page to be successful. In physical demeanor Clemens stands over 6'4" and north of 220 pounds, Maddux is barely 6' and weighs well shy of 200.
Some similarities that are shared; both had their first 100-plus innings season at age 21, call Texas their birthplace, throw right-handed and have won a World Series ring, multiple in Clemens' case. They share 11 Cy Young awards, with Clemens winning seven, including one in 2004.
There's been numerous testimonies on both concerning how hard they are to face, heck Jonathan Mayo will be releasing Facing Clemens within weeks, here's a sampling on the many quotes thrown out there about the pair:
"We've never seen the likes of (Greg) Maddux before, and chances are most of us won't live long enough to see the likes of him again." - Rob Neyer on ESPN Sportszone (August 7, 1998)
"His ball tonight (20k game on September 18, 1996) was unbelievable. His two-seamers seemed like they were moving a foot. His splits were moving the same way. He was truly un-hittable." - Bill Haselman
And concerning both:
I'll avoid making statements about how one was more feared or intimidated than the other for many reasons. One being I've never faced either, and unless you have I don't think you can really say who is scarier, and two; I don't really believe that should play into debating who was better. For example, a backup linebacker in today's National Football League is probably stronger, bigger, and faster than Dick Butkus, and therefore likely more intimidating, but that doesn't mean he's the better player, simply he's more of a physical force and detrimental to your health.
Before we delve into statistical analysis concerning the two, let's review some background information on each and look at what The Neyer/James Guide to Pitchers says about each pitcher's last recorded repertoire.
Clemens: 91-96 4SFB, 87-91 2SFB, 85-91 Splitter, 83-88 Slider with sink.
Maddux: 82-86 FB, Circle Change, Slider, Cut Fastball, Split-Fingered Fastball, Sinker, Curve.
PitchF/x had the two at the following readings last year:
Clemens: Fastball 92, Slider 85, Change 87
Maddux: Fastball 86, Curve 74, Change 80, Cutter 85
The numbers and variety simply reinforce what we all ready knew; the two pitchers share little in common on the mound, and seemingly even less in common on career paths.
A high school graduate, Maddux slipped into the second round of the 1984 draft because most scouts and teams were afraid of his small build. Maddux would start his minor league career in Pikeville and would finish 1984 with 85 innings of 2.63 ERA ball.
1984 would mark the second year of Clemens' pro career, including his first major league appearance. Unlike Maddux, Clemens was a College World Series veteran of the University of Texas and a first round pick by the Boston Red Sox. It was clear Clemens was on the proverbial fast track to the majors, throwing 29 innings in A-ball Winter Haven before moving on to AA New Britain. He'd dominate at both stops, possessing ERAs below 1.4 and striking out 85 while only walking 12.
Clemens would begin 1984 in Pawtucket but only spend 46 innings there before joining the big league team and pitching 133 innings. Clemens would never spend more time in the minors with the exceptions being either during a rehab stint or, later in his career, on his "comeback" tour.
Maddux would find himself in the majors come 1986, albeit only for 31 innings and a poor 31 innings at that. He'd grown accustomed to success, much like the proverbial "must-win" nature perceived by friends and teammates. At one time in 1989 Maddux gave up a grand slam, in part because he believed the hitter - Will Clark - read his lips on a mound visit; since Maddux - and nearly every pitcher - have used their gloves as a shield, even if what they say isn't overly important.
Without digging too far into their bios, Clemens of course would strikeout 20 before leaving for Toronto in 1997, New York in 1999, after his "retirement" Houston in 2004, and back to the Bronx in 2007. Amongst the memorable tidbits of his career; being the object of a public feud with the Red Sox, throwing a bat at Mike Piazza, and of course being named in the Mitchell report.
Maddux would become a fielding and control specialist, arrive in Atlanta as a free agent - and choice over Barry Bonds - in 1993, head back to the Cubs in 2004, and after being traded to the Los Angeles Dodgers in 2006 sign as a free agent with the San Diego Padres in 2007. Probably Maddux's most popular tale would be intentionally allowing a batter to get a homerun off of him so when the pair matched up again Maddux could trick him into expecting the same sequence.
Now to actually address their stats in comparison and determine who the pitcher of the 90's really was, to do this we'll begin by comparing their five best seasons according to WARP3 and average them out:
That's amazingly close, and suggests what we'd suspect; it's going to take a deeper look at both pitchers complete careers to successfully attempt determining a "victor".
Frankly it's too close to tell, I didn't factor in wins for the obvious reasons; both were on some very good teams in the 90's, but while Clemens has hand picked his situations the past few years, Maddux has been a bit more, let's say conventional in his ways. Also how do you weigh - assuming you do - the allegations against Roger Clemens? Maddux is seemingly clean, does that give him the edge due to doing everything naturally or do we simply write the 1990's and early 2000's off as the chemical age and accept Clemens numbers at face value?
There are a ton of questions to be asked, answered, analyzed, and repeated, but for what it's worth there doesn't seem to be a wrong answer here. Both are once in a generation talents that hopefully no one took for granted, whether chemicals played into Clemens' numbers or not is up for debate by guys like J.C. Bradbury. In terms of who had the better career, I think I'd give the ever so slight edge to Maddux, just as his WARP suggests.
A few more quick notes to pass along for consideration:
- Both played in slight hitter's parks for most of the 90's.
- Maddux induced around 50% grounders, while Clemens followed closely.
- Clemens pitched in the American League for the majority of his career, Maddux is a National Leaguer for life.