- Jayson Stark, Senior Writer, ESPN.com
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As spectacular a feat as 300 wins may be, the brilliance of Maddux can't be defined by his victory totals. It's more accurately defined by how much better he's pitched all these years than all those pitchers around him have pitched.
Coming into this season, according to Lee Sinins' Sabermetric Baseball Encyclopedia, the average National League pitcher during Maddux's career (1986-present) had an ERA of 4.24. Maddux's career ERA, on the other hand, looked a little different than that:
At a fabulous 2.89.
You might not be surprised to learn that's the greatest difference in ERA by any 300-game winner in modern history (after 1900), compared to his league ERA.
Here's Maddux, vs. the previous top five of all time:
Maddux also has the biggest difference, compared to his league, in baserunners per nine innings (2.39 better than his league) and walks per nine innings (1.51 better). And he's second only to Christy Mathewson in strikeout-walk ratio (1.49 better). So this just in: This guy can really pitch.
On the other hand, Maddux's 105 complete games will be the fewest of any modern 300-game winner. But obviously, that's a reflection of the age he pitched in. Here's that ultra-modern top five (right):
Another byproduct of the five-man-rotation age Maddux pitched in is that only one 300-game winner in history (Don Sutton) had fewer 20-win seasons.
Maddux won 20 twice -- tied with Nolan Ryan for the second-fewest ever, behind Sutton's one.
Cy Young (now there's a shocker) had the most 20-win seasons (15).
But when you start lowering the bar to more accurately reflect the benchmarks of Maddux's age, he rises right to the top of the 300-win lists. Most 15-win seasons:
Cy Young 18
Walter Johnson 16
Warren Spahn 16
And then there are 10-win seasons. Maddux now has ripped off 17 of them in a row -- the second-longest streak in history (behind Steve Carlton's 18).
In an unrelated development, most 15-win seasons by non-300-game winners: 12, by Jack Morris and Jim Palmer.
Most double-digit win seasons by non-300-game winners: 17, by Tommy John, Bert Blyleven and Ted Lyons.
OK, back to our regularly scheduled Greg Maddux programming. What has also defined this man is that he's one of the great control artists of his time -- or any time.
He once ripped off nine straight seasons with a walk ratio lower than 2.00 per nine innings. And only three pitchers in history ever had a longer streak (right):
Maddux will also be dragging Sammy Sosa into a very cool group -- the 300-Win, 500-Homer Teammates Club. There have been just three other duos to make that one, according to the Elias Sports Bureau:
Lefty Grove, Jimmie Foxx, 1941 Red Sox
Warren Spahn, Willie Mays, 1965 Giants
Don Sutton, Reggie Jackson, 1986 Angels
Unless he avoids winning for the rest of the year, Maddux (who will be 38 years, 115 days old when he starts Saturday in San Francisco) is going to be the fourth-youngest 300-game winner ever. The current leaders:
Christy Mathewson 31 years, 328 days
Walter Johnson 32 years, 190 days
Grover Alexander 37 years, 207 days
Steve Carlton 38 years, 275 days
Amazingly, Maddux is winless in three career starts against other 300-game winners. But his teams are 3-0 in those games (2-0 in games started by Nolan Ryan, 1-0 in games started by Roger Clemens).
Loyal reader David Hallstrom reports that if we just include pitchers who started their careers after 1900, Maddux will make the Cubs the first National League team to have two pitchers wear their uniform during their 300th win. The other Cub was Grover Cleveland Alexander, in 1924.
The only American League team that can make that claim, by the way, is the Yankees (Roger Clemens, Phil Niekro).
If we include pitchers who merely won their 300th after 1900 (but started their career in the 1800s), the Red Sox (Cy Young, Lefty Grove) and Braves (Kid Nichols, Warren Spahn) join the fun.
Maddux and Alexander could share another highly coincidental distinction. Maddux won his 200th game against the Giants and now faces them with a chance to win 300.
The only pitcher in history to win his 200th and 300th games against the same team: Grover Cleveland Alexander -- against (ta-taaa) the Giants.
Maddux will become just the fifth pitcher to win his first and 300th games for the same team. Of course, unlike Maddux, the others (Spahn with the Braves, Walter Johnson with the Senators, Christy Mathewson with the Giants and Nichols with the Braves) won all 298 games in between for the same team.
But as loyal reader Jeff Lerner reports, Maddux will be the first pitcher since Walter Johnson to win his first and 300th for the same team, representing the same city. The Braves, as Bud Selig recalls, moved from Boston to Milwaukee in between Spahn's first and 300th.
Only five 300-game winners in history have had a higher career winning percentage than Maddux (.638). And, not coincidentally, only three had more seasons in which they won at least 10 more games than they lost. Maddux has had eight seasons like that.
HIGHEST WINNING PERCENTAGE, 300-WIN CLUB:
1. Lefty Grove .680
2. Christy Mathewson .665
3. Roger Clemens .664
4. John Clarkson .650
5. Grover C Alexander .642
6. Greg Maddux .638
SEASONS WITH AT LEAST 10 MORE WINS THAN LOSSES:
12 Christy Mathewson
11 Cy Young
9 Grover Alexander
8 Greg Maddux
8 Kid Nichols
8 Walter Johnson
8 Lefty Grove
Loyal reader Arthur Robinson points out that this has been a very strange year for Maddux, because he has given up more homers (25) than walks (21). That's something he's never done before -- and something, in fact, that only seven other pitchers (with that many homers allowed) have ever done before. Rick Reed and Brad Radke have both done it twice, though.
Finally, how long has Maddux been doing this stuff? So long that not one other player who played in Maddux's first win (Sept. 7, 1986) is still playing. And not one of the other 12 winning pitchers that day is still pitching.
As spectacular as 300 wins may be, Greg Maddux's brilliance can't be defined by his victory totals.