The Ingredients of Success

At some point, we're all going to learn that betting against Greg Maddux is an extraordinarily foolish act. And when we finally do reach that point, we're also going to be deprived of an awful lot of surprise.

Over the years, Maddux has delivered memories to Cubs and Atlanta Braves fans that they had no business expecting. And just when it seemed that the time had passed for such moments, Maddux has let it be known that the eulogies can be saved for another year.

This might seem a bizarre time to make such a statement, considering Maddux's Tuesday start against the hated Cardinals. Oh, he didn't pitch badly: 6 2/3 innings, four runs, all earned, and nine hits. He kept the Cubs in an important game against the division leaders, but it wasn't a particularly noteworthy appearance.

So why the optimism? Is it time to extol the virtues of the cagey veteran, lacking his best stuff but valiantly keeping his club in the game, doing exactly what he was signed to do?

Maybe. But I'll leave that to the professional journalists (and Jay Mariotti).

For me there are concrete, positive statistical signposts scattered throughout this Hall of Famer's last few starts, and Tuesday's was no exception, iffy results not withstanding.

I understand that the man who quotes himself hath chosen a foolish source, but if you'll indulge me a second I'd like to remind readers of something I wrote on June 1st:

"What ultimately is going to determine Maddux's level of success in the 2004 season is his HR rate. Every other statistical indicator is actually quite solid, and there's good reason to expect that HR rate to fall, not least because it's exceedingly unlikely for a major league caliber pitcher to allow 50 HRs on the season."

Ask and ye shall receive.

Since that column was printed, Greg Maddux has made four starts: one against Pittsburgh, to be sure, but the three other starts came against Anaheim, Houston (in the Juicebox) and St. Louis.

Homeruns allowed in those four starts?

Zero.

The strikeout rate is still good. The walk rate is still...well, let's just say that Maddux issues free passes about as often as Carlos Zambrano throws a fastball that doesn't move.

Make no mistake, Maddux's homerun rate is still too high. He has allowed 15 in 15 starts, which means he would allow 35 if he made the usual 35 starts. That isn't exactly "LimaTime!" but it is still not something to brag about.

The important thing is that number is trending downward, as is Maddux's DIPS ERA, which is now the 26th lowest in the NL at 4.29. It doesn't seem like much of an accomplishment, but remember, on June 1 that same figure was 5.26.

There will inevitably be bumps in the road for Maddux. He's in a division with serious power hitters and ballparks that aren't friendly to mistakes pitchers make to those hitters. His own home stadium is going to work against him not infrequently.

But if Maddux retains the gains he has made these last four starts, pitches carefully to the likes of Ken Griffey, Lance Berkman, Jack Wilson, etc., and the wind doesn't blow out of Wrigley that often, Cubs fans are almost certain to witness the Hall of Famer win his 300th game some time this year.

More importantly, they just might witness Maddux add to his 11 postseason victories.

Andrew Bare can be reached at andrewbare29@hotmail.com.

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