1995: Greg Maddux’s Greatest Season

Twenty years ago, Greg Maddux won the 1995 National League Cy Young. It was his fourth consecutive win of the highest pitching award. Beyond the award, 1995 could easily be counted as Maddux’s greatest season. What’s even more amazing is that he did it all with a less than impressive fastball.

Maddux dominated the National League, going 19-2, leading the league in ERA (1.63), innings pitched (209.2), complete games (10), WHIP (0.811), FIP (2.26) and ERA+ (260). That 1995 season brought out the best in Maddux, culminating in the reason the Braves signed him, winning the World Series. He was solid in the postseason, going 3-1 in 5 starts, including a strong performance in Game 1 of the World Series.

Looking deeper at Maddux’s numbers, like his splits, it was evident left-handed hitters nor right-handed hitters could do any damage. He had no multiple home run games, walked 23 batters all season, gave up 3+ runs only four times, all the while attacking the corners.

The method to Maddux’s madness, as the Washington Post’s Thomas Boswell noted, was using the same release point on his pitches and develop the same look on his pitches. Hitters would not get an early indication on whether it was his fastball, change up or slider. Given his lack of velocity, compared to his colleagues, he needed that to mask his pitches. Even then, he was taught at an early age, that movement, not velocity would make him a successful pitcher. Maddux’s, consistency, in Boswell’s article, was to “make all my pitches look like a column of milk coming toward home plate”.

That consistency was matched with his confidence in all his pitches. Maddux, in Tom Verducci’s Sports Illustrated article in August 1995, recalled an extra inning game he lost, due to his reluctance to rely on his secondary pitches. From there, he built trust in all his pitches, being able to use them anytime. That lead to a fearless approach to pitching. He could use a fastball, often topping in the high 80’s, to attack hitters along with his off speed and breaking pitches. His late movement and his accuracy resulted in great statistics.

No question, Maddux was the NL’s best pitcher, taking all the first place votes. Dodger rookie Hideo Nomo, who had a more publicized season than Maddux, did not have enough votes to even finish second.

It’s a wonder he did not take the National League MVP from Barry Larkin. The Cincinnati Reds shortstop had a banner year hit .319/.394/.492/.886, showing his balanced ability (winning the Gold Glove and Silver Slugger) by scoring 98 runs, hitting 15 home runs, driving in 66 runs and stealing 51 bases. That computes to a 5.9 WAR. That was not even the highest WAR by an National League position player as Mike Piazza (6.2), Craig Biggio (6.3), Reggie Sanders (6.6) and Barry Bonds (7.5) topped Larkin. Maddux superseded all of them with a 9.6 WAR.

Yes, WAR is a relatively new stat and is not the end all, be all stat, but as the overall stats, the splits and just seeing the games Maddux pitched, he was the best player in the National League. It’s easy to imagine Maddux not receiving MVP votes because of his position. It still warrants a debate on how truly great his 1995 was and even consideration to how Maddux ranked that year in the National League.

That was the last season Maddux won a Cy Young (he finished second in 1997). He still maintained solid numbers through the rest of the 1990’s but never had dominating seasons like he had in 1995. Overall, no one could argue how important Maddux was to Atlanta that championship year. Not bad for a righty with a college level fastball.

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