Special Transaction Analysis: Maddux Departs

In a special edition of BravesCenter's <I>Transaction Analysis</I> Andrew Bare analyzes the departure of <B>Greg Maddux</B>, one of the greatest pitchers in the history of club. Was this the right move by the Braves? <B><I>[This article is a free preview of premium content avaliable to BravesCenter.Com subscribers.]</B></I>

• Declined to offer RHP Greg Maddux salary arbitration, effectively ending his Braves' career.

I don't know what hurts more: The fact that the Braves just waved good-bye to my favorite player, or that it was absolutely the right decision.

That's no fun to say, and god knows it's a conclusion I'm loathe to draw. But at some point sentiment has to give way to logic, and the statistics spell out what has to be done. Not that the statistics say that Maddux is a bad pitcher or anything approaching that. Replacing 218 1/3 innings of above-average pitching will not be an easy task, and there's a very good chance that whoever the Braves use to replace Maddux won't be as good as the Professor was last year.

But his past brilliance has dictated a paycheck of concomitant size, and with the situation the Braves are in they can not afford to pay in the future for what has been done in the past. Maddux has always possessed a command of two peripheral statistics (walks and homers allowed) as firm as his control of a two-seam fastball. The walk totals are still ridiculously low (1.3 per nine), but his homerun rates jumped dangerously, as he allowed 1.03 HR/9 last year compared to 0.53/9 in his career. Perhaps even more ominously his strikeout rates dropped for the third straight season, down to a dangerously low 5.11 K/9. It's easy to characterize Maddux as a finesse artist, but he's had seven seasons where he ranked in the top 10 in the leagues for strikeouts, and his 2765 career punch-outs put him 17th all-time. There will be some who will rage at John Schuerholtz for letting this legend go, for severing one of the few remaining links to that 1995 World Series team. There's a part of me that wants to agree with that faction, and it's certainly galling to think of Maddux winning his 300th game in another uniform.

But it is a faction that is armed in the past and armored in nostalgia. And while history makes an effective lance and memories a wonderful shield, in the end they are both broken beneath the sheer tonnage of cold, hard facts.

Strangely, it also seems to be a faction with very few members. When Glavine left last year there was an uproar, and a much better case can be made to re-sign Maddux than there was to bring Glavine back.

I suppose I should be happy that most fans are looking at this fairly objectively and aren't indulging the atavistic desire to criticize. And yet it's more than a little discouraging that Greg Maddux could pitch brilliantly in Atlanta for a decade and not have more of a fan club. In fact, Maddux has never seemed to inspire any great degree of loyalty from the masses of fans. I suppose it's because of the way Maddux pitches; even in his truly dominant days he never LOOKED truly dominant. To ask a fan to remember Maddux's greatness is to ask them to remember events that never happened: remember the home runs he never gave up because he was so good at keeping the ball down, remember the walks he never issued because he had such exquisite command of everything he threw, remember the pitches he never had to throw because he was so efficient.

Heck, his respectable strikeout totals actually work against him. Extremes are memorable and exciting. If he only struck out two or three men and still dominated, that would be memorable. 12 or 13 punch-outs, that's memorable. Six or seven? Respectable.

It's more than just that, of course. There's the whole Maddux-Javy Lopez issue, which seems to have angered a large segment of the Braves' Nation enough that Maddux has been truly tainted in their eyes. One would think that if the price of watching one of the greatest pitchers of all-time practice his craft for a decade was having to watch Paul Bako try to hit every fifth day, it would be an easy bill to pay. Evidently not. And it's not like Maddux is the first Hall of Famer to have a personal catcher. Bob Gibson's insistence on throwing to his own catcher unleashed Tim McCarver on an unsuspecting public. Men have been convicted of crimes against humanity for less than that.

"Experts" will bring up Maddux's postseason won/loss record. Constantly. And they will use that laughably flawed statistic in a pathetic attempt to prove that somehow Maddux choked in clutch situations or that he simply isn't cut out to pitch in the postseason, as if it's Maddux's fault that the Braves couldn't touch Mark Prior or Orlando Hernandez.

And so we have this most bizarre of situations: one of the greatest pitcher's of all-time is about to leave and most fans seem happy about it. Hardly any will mourn his loss; just a few dorky kids who thought they saw in Maddux the slightest glimmer of themselves.

For them- ok, for us -Maddux was a great pitcher, yes. But he was more than that. He was the personification of the idea that greatness didn't have to be 6'5 and weigh 240 lbs; it could be short and nearsighted and more than a little overweight. He was a constant reminder that brilliance didn't need to always roar and shout at the top of its lungs in a perpetual attention grab; it could be quiet and understated and yet still be as fiercely dedicated as any of the screamers.

Maddux was the pitcher for those of us who were cursed to love a game we could not play, the talent deprived multitude who watch with as much passion as anyone else.

That's ridiculous of course and is brutally unfair to Maddux. He's more talented than 99% of the human beings on the face of the Earth, and has a stronger arm than any of us could ever dream of.

And yet that feeling is still there when we watch Maddux slice through an inning in 8 pitches and then see Roberto Hernandez's 96 MPH fastballs end up in the left field seats. Watching Maddux pitch inspires the idea, ludicrous though it is, that maybe our dreams of playing aren't quite dead yet. (Unfortunately, I effectively guaranteed I would never be a Braves' draft choice when I attended my first class at the University of Florida. Besides, I'm not from Georgia)

So yes, the Braves made the right move on Sunday. But don't fool yourself into thinking that this is a happy day. Greg Maddux represented the Atlanta Braves for 10 years, and he did so with class and professionalism. The loss of that quiet dignity should be mourned. It is an epic poem that Greg Maddux is writing, a piece of such immense beauty and awe-inspiring brilliance as we are not likely to see again. The first stanza was not written in Atlanta, and unfortunately, neither will the last. But the section he did write for the Braves is something we should always be thankful for.

Andrew Bare is a sophomore at the University of Florida. He welcomes your email at AndrewBare29@hotmail.com

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