Maddux slighted again, and was Smoltzie better than Glavine?

I’m thrilled that the last pitcher chosen in ESPN’s ranking of the 100 greatest players in MLB history is the perpetually underrated Knucksie, #100 overall.

Not so much with the highest-ranked pitcher: Roger Clemens.

ESPN cautions its list is a “judgment-free zone where Barry BondsRoger Clemens and even Pete Rose are welcome.” (Rose debased the game but earned every one of his 4,256 hits. He shouldn’t be lumped together with players who came upon their stats dishonestly.)

I don’t understand how you overlook the cheating, which allows ESPN to rank Barry Bonds ahead of The Hammer and Ted Williams. But those who do so will never convince me that Clemens was the best pitcher in baseball history. He wasn’t even the best of his generation.

His ranking, at #7 overall, speaks to to the most overrated stat in all of baseball: the strikeout. If Warren Spahn was pitching today the stat geeks would insist his 363 wins were attributable mostly to luck, as he averaged only 4.4 K/9 IP.

Strikeouts are about all that Clemens has over Mad Dog, who ranks at #13, third among pitchers (Walter Johnson finished 12th). I’m repeating myself but apparently some people refuse to listen.

Maddux has had as many dominant seasons as Clemens, finishing with an ERA under 3.00 nine times. Granted, Clemens did it 12 times, but in two other years Maddux finished with ERA’s of 3.00 and 3.05. And no pitcher in modern history (Pedro in ’99 was close) can match Maddux’s 1995 campaign: 19-2 with a 1.56 ERA and an 0.811 WHIP. Even though strikeouts were not his bread and butter he had more K’s that year (181) than hits and walks combined en route to his fourth consecutive Cy Young.

Maddux was more durable, totaling 200 innings or more 18 times. Add three more innings over two seasons and Maddux would have 20 seasons of 200 or more IP. Clemens topped 200 innings 15 times.

My favorite Maddux stat? From July 31, 1993, through August 4, 1995, a two-year period, Mad Dog had 56 quality starts in 57 games pitched.

And Maddux has been better in October, with a 3.27 ERA, compared to 3.75 for Clemens. His first Fall Classic appearance might have been his best; the fearsome Indians (with Manny Ramirez hitting seventh) managed to get but FOUR balls out of the infield in Game 1 of the ’95 Series. Time of game: 2:37.

Maddux had one more win and a better WHIP (1.143 to 1.158). Clemens had a better ERA (3.12 to 3.16) even though Mad Dog had ERA’s of 3.96 or higher in each of his last six seasons. Conversely, three of Clemens’ worst years came between his 30th and 34th birthdays, a period when most pitchers are at their best, or close to it. It’s reasonable, then, to conclude that had Clemens not cheated he wouldn’t have made it into the Top 100.

Oh, and Maddux was the best fielding pitcher of his era, if not ever.

If only he had juiced, or pitched for the Yankees and Red Sox. Or had a strikeout ratio like Tommy Hanson’s and John Rocker’s.

They didn’t make the list, of course, though Smoltzie and Glavine did. Some may quibble with Smoltz ranking 18 spots higher than his former teammate, but I’m good with it. Glavine had more wins and one more Cy Young Award, but Smoltzie had a better ERA and WHIP and, for three years, was as dominant a closer as the game has seen. And he had no  peer in October. Some people say that doesn’t matter, but they’re typically the same people who say cheaters deserve a pass.

The silver anniversary of the best trade in Braves history

A bad trade set up the best deal the Braves ever made, consummated Aug. 12, 1987.

On July 6, 1986, the Braves, 4 games out of first, traded promising right-hander Duane Ward for 35-year-old sourpuss Doyle Alexander, who was hardly a difference-maker. The Bravos finished in last place, while Ward would go on to save 121 games for the Blue Jays.

But he was no John Smoltz.

Nearing the end of another lost season, Bobby made Alexander available. The Tigers, locked in a tight race for the AL East title, made no secret of their interest but were reluctant to part with Steve Searcy, a highly touted southpaw.

[John] Hagemann, now a scout for the Phillies, was the Braves’ scout in the Northeast for decades. He saw Smoltz pitch just twice for Glens Falls: once in a bullpen session, another time in a game. Yet the report that he submitted changed the career of a pitcher and the course of two franchises.

“I think my words were, ‘The best arm I’ve seen so far,’” said Hagemann. “Top-of-the-rotation guy. That’s how I saw him. I’m not a genius. I just recall a real live arm.”

Hagemann, in fact, said that Smoltz was not on the initial list of names that he was sent to Glens Falls to scout.

“(The Tigers) gave us about three or four names (of trade candidates). I went in and watched them in about a three or four game series. I didn’t like any of the names that they gave us,” said Hagemann. “(Smoltz) showed me just a great arm. He was raw at the time, but showed me a real live fastball, really good stuff. I called (Cox) and I said, ‘Bobby, I would just try to get Smoltz.’

“He said, ‘Smoltz—who the hell is he?’ I said, ‘He’s just an outstanding arm here.’

“(Cox) called back about 30 minutes later,” Hagemann continued. “He said, ‘John, they’re willing to give him up. Should we do that?’ I said, ‘Yeah, absolutely—you’ll be real happy you got this kid.’ The rest is history.”

Smoltzie was 4-10 with a 5.68 ERA and 1.631 WHIP at Double-A Glens Falls. He turned the corner the next year at Richmond, posting a 2.79 ERA and 1.149 WHIP.

“(The Tigers) changed just about everything about me. I thought I had a good delivery. I searched for two years and tried to figure it out,” said Smoltz. “I got to Atlanta, and (Mazzone) said let me see you throw a baseball. I threw a baseball and he said, ‘That’s a great delivery. That’s how you naturally throw a baseball.’

“From that point on, I was very relaxed and he said, ‘Now we’re just going to work on your pitches.’ That’s all I worked on. I actually was able to progress because I didn’t have to think about 14 different spots I was going to in my delivery. I just had to worry about throwing a pitch.”

Smoltz insists that there is “no way” that he would have been in the majors, let alone a successful major leaguer, for at least three years had he remained with the Tigers. With the Braves, however, he moved quickly, and enjoyed rapid success.

On Aug. 17, 1987, five days after the Smoltz trade, a young left-hander made his major league debut for the Braves. Tom Glavine walked 5 and allowed 10 hits and 6 runs in just 3-2/3 IP that night against the Astros, but it was all uphill from there for the former hockey center and the Bravos.

Five HOF’ers in one decade

Here’s a question I hope someone with the time and inclination can answer:

The news of Chipper’s retirement means the Braves, in all likelihood, will send four players and one manager to Cooperstown in one decade. Has any franchise ever produced five Hall of Famers inducted in such a short span of time?

They may end up sending six, if HOF voters ever come around on the Crime Dog, who is definitely worthy.

Cooperstown 2014

I had been a little unclear as to who was eligible when so thanks to DOB for clearing it up.

Not only will Greg Maddux and Tom Glavine surely be first-ballot inductees that July day at Cooperstown, but going in alongside the pair of 300-game winners could be their former Braves manager Bobby Cox.

And here’s one that a lot of folks might not have thought about: longtime Braves GM John Schuerholz could also be enshrined that year, which would be quite an aligning of stars for the Braves and their fans, who’s certainly flock to Cooperstown in droves for that happening.

JS will also be on the Veterans Committee ballot, along with Bobby, starting in 2013. Both will be eligible for the first time in 2014, along with Torre and LaRussa. The veterans committee can only induct four at a time, so JS’ biggest competition will come from Lou Piniella, suggests DOB. Smoltz will be eligible the following year.

16 years ago tonight

Marquis Grissom caught the final out of Tommy G’s masterpiece. Earlier in the night, moments after Grissom’s grab, I was ordered down from my chair at Manuel’s, further evidence that the strike drained a lot of joy from that first world championship. The mood was a bit more festive in Buckhead, where I shook hands with fellow native Atlantan Maynard Jackson and danced in the streets.

The most anticipated debut since Avery

It’s generally agreed that Julio Teheran has more potential than any Braves-grown pitcher since Steve Avery. Certainly there was a lot of buzz around Tommy Hanson’s first start, but mmmBop was a late-blooming prospect. We’ve been hearing about Teheran since he signed as a 16-year-old out of Colombia. So far he’s lived up to the hype.

Let’s hope his baptism goes better than Avery’s (2-1/3 IP, 8 HA, 8 ER, 3 BB).

Or Glavine’s (3-2/3 IP, 10 HA, 6 ER, 5 BB).

Or Hanson’s (6 IP, 6 HA, 6 ER, including 3 homers).

Kevin Millwood won his debut, though he was coming out of the ‘pen in relief of Chris Brock. While not in the same class as the other prospects mentioned, Kyle Davies had one of the best first starts, in Fenway, no less (5 IP, 4 HA, 0 ER, 6 K’s). I’d gladly take that kind of outing from Teheran.

Even better would be a replica of Smoltzie’s first game (8 IP, 4 HA, 1 BB, 1 ER).

Here’s to you, Tommy G.

Thanks for the memories, TommyIn many ways, Tom Glavine was the signature Brave of the glorious ’90s. He was here for the bad years of 1987 – ’90. His breakout season was 1991, same as the team. His stoicism characterized the club’s demeanor. Say what you will about his signing with the Mets, but he never, ever embarrassed the Braves organization.

He’s articulate, the consummate thinking man’s pitcher. If not for Maddux, he’d be the greatest thinking man’s pitcher in Atlanta history. He fielded his position well, could bunt and hit a little.

His jersey retirement and induction into the team Hall of Fame are, obviously, richly deserved. I want like hell to be on Hank Aaron Drive tonight, but alas, our 7-month-old will be christened this Sunday, much family is in town and so I have to be doing other things. Damn timing.

I do hope the park is packed. It will be a shame if it’s not. I don’t have time for a lenghty tribute just now, but a couple quick notes on Tommy G. In 1991, the greatest, most exhilirating year in Atlanta sports history by far, Tommy pitched six innings or more in 30 of 34 starts, with 9 complete games. He AVERAGED 7-plus innings, racking up 246-2/3, with a 1.095 WHIP, 2.55 ERA and, of course, 20 wins and the first of two Cy Youngs. The Braves as a team have two CGs this year.  

So Tommy starred in the city’s most memorable sports season. And he was the protagonist in the signature game in Atlanta sports history. In Game 6 of the ’95 World Series, Tommy allowed one runner into scoring position in 8 innings, and that on a stolen base by Lofton. That against a team with six .300 hitters, a .291 team batting average,  a team that scored 5.8 runs a game during the regular season.  By comparison, this year’s Yankees are averaging 5.3 runs a game.

As a final fun fact, here are some of the players drafted before Glavine (2nd round) in 1984: Shawn Abner, Drew Hall, Jay Bell, Drew Denson — the Braves’ first-round pick, Alan Cockrell, Shane Mack, Oddibe McDowell!, John Hoover, Terry Mulholland, John Kinzer and Luis de los Santos.

Wren, so far

As Braves GM, Wren has proven himself to be a blunderer as a PR man, but generally adept at his real job of building a better team. A recap: 

October 2007

  • Traded Edgar for JJ and Gorkys. A+
  • Chris Woodward granted free agency. Easy call. A+
  • Andruw granted free agency. The right call.

November 2007

  • Traded Villarreal for Josh Anderson. Bleh.
  • Signed Tommy G. as a free agent. Loved it at the time. Has not worked out. No great loss from a pure baseball standpoint.
  • Traded Jose Ascanio to the little bears for Ohman and Infante. A+

January 2008

  • Traded Joey Devine, Jamie Richmond to Oakland for Mark Kotsay. B. Kotsay did what we figured. Devine was pretty good for the A’s last year, but is out for the year now.
  • Traded Willy Aybar and someone to the Rays for Jeff Ridgway. C. Aybar’s been good in Tampa, but Wren had to move the guy. Ridgway was awful.

May 2008

  • Traded a player TBN (Nelson Payano) to the Mariners for Greg Norton. He got some big pinch hits last year. B.

July 2008

  • Shipped Teshowmethemoney to Cali for Kotchman and Stephen Marek. B-. What else could he do? A salvage move after JS’s mistake.

October 2008

  • Corky Miller granted free agency.
  • Ohman let go. Hasn’t hurt as much as we thought it would. Thank you, Eric O’Flaherty.

November 2008

  • Picked O’Flaherty off waivers from Seattle. B+
  • Traded Tyler Flowers, Lil Britches and a couple minor minor leaguers to White Sox for Boone Logan and Javy Vazquez. So far, so good. A

December 2008

  • Signed back-up catcher Dave Ross. Huge upgrade over Dorky. B (Can’t get an A for signing a No. 2 catcher.)

January 2009

  • Smoltz goes to Boston. PR disaster. Not a huge loss in purely baseball terms. Still, a D
  • Signed Derek Lowe. A, so far anyway.

February 2009

  • Signed Glavine again. In retrospect, should not have done this. D
  • Signed Garret Anderson. C

June 2009

  • Cut Tommy G. Right move for the team, baseball-wise. Sad for the fans, nonetheless. All in all, C.
  • Traded Charlie Morton, Gorkys and Locke to the Pirates for McLouth. B+
  • Promoted T. Hanson. A

As for a few moves he didn’t make. We didn’t trade top propects and/or Yunel for Peavy. I prefer having Lowe, Yesco, Hanson, et al. As bland as he’s been, I still think I’d rather have GA than Griffey. We can quibble about not signing Abreu, but the McLouth deal more than makes up for that.

So, Wren has really not made a bad baseball move. Time will be the true judge, but to date, Wren has been a good to excellent GM in terms of his core job. As a keeper of the image and the Old Braves Club, he’s failed. If he had to fail at one or the other, I’ll take that.  As Rankin Rob said, it’s business when players sign contracts. Sad for us, yes, when something like Tommy G.’s unceremonious release happens. Nonetheless, cold reality is when you  pay employees millions a year, they live with it.

–CD

Smoltz on Glavine release

smoltzglavI’m thrilled with the McLouth deal and excited about Hanson’s debut. Still, I pretty much agree with Smoltzie‘s take on his friend’s release:

“That’s not how you treat people,” Smoltz said after Boston’s 10-5 victory over Detroit on Wednesday. “He didn’t have a chance to fail at that level. … That’s not how you go about it. But they’re in control. They make those decisions. They’ve made a lot of them lately.”

A bittersweet day, indeed.

–CB

Braves release Glavine

They say it’s because of decreased velocity, which is crap. More likely: the Braves re-signed him as a PR move following the Smoltz debacle assuming he probably would not be able to mount a comeback.

Now that he has, the Braves were in a quandary, with Medlen looking better and better and Tommy Hanson awaiting his promotion. As a baseball decision, I understand it. But I hate to see another iconic Brave leave on bad terms.

–CB

*Money is another factor. Glavine was guaranteed only $1 million. He was due a $1 million bonus when he made the active roster and bonuses of $1.25 million after 30 days on the roster and another $1.25 million bonus after 90 days. That’s $3.5 mil that could be used on a bat.