The Cardinals didn't have a single starting pitcher throw a complete game shutout in 2015. That stat is not all that noteworthy except for the fact that their staff led the National League in 2014 with five and because it was the first time the Cardinals took a goose egg in this category since 2007. Besides that, or maybe even with that, it's a pretty meaningless bit of information. It doesn't signal that the Cardinals were surrendering a lot of runs since it's commonly known they led all of baseball in run prevention in 2015. And it doesn't mean that Mike Matheny was yanking his starters too early as Ben Markham illustrated well on Tuesday that the opposite may have been true, in fact.
This offseason the Cardinals have worked to solidify an already-strong bullpen. Whether they're trying to replicate the Royals' formula as floated by MLB.com beat writer Jenifer Langosch on the recent MLB.com Extras podcast, or looking to give Seth Maness and Kevin Siegrist a much-needed reprieve after being overworked last year, and, as Ben noted, thereby saving Matheny from himself - they inked Jonathan Broxton to two more years at the Winter Meetings and finalized the signing of Seung-Hwan Oh earlier this week. Whatever the motive, this seems like a wise move. If Adam Wainwright and company can routinely cruise through six innings in 2016 and then hand the ball over to a shutdown bullpen that's about as ideal of a scenario imaginable for a staff with a lot of recent injury history.
So I wouldn't be too upset if the Cardinals' staff failed to log another complete game shutout in 2016. On the other hand - and this is why I'd be a horrible manager - I really enjoy watching a starting pitcher go a full nine innings, especially when there's some sort of historical and maybe even arbitrary feat on the line. Dwight Gooden's no-hitter against the Mariners in 1996 is one of my favorite non-Cardinals baseball moments - even though it took him 134 pitches to record those 27 outs. Similarly, like Terry Collins, I would have left Johan Santana in the game to finish his no-hitter in 2012 against us even as his pitch count ballooned into the 130s. Careers come and go but no-hitters
with an asterisk, which may have cost him the rest of his career are forever.
Balancing a historical performance which necessitates a full nine innings versus a responsible pitch count is a common conundrum managers face with pitchers. But there's one stat where those two usually opposed forces walk hand-in-hand and that's the Maddux. For the uninitiated, a Maddux is a stat created by Jason Lukehart, the former site manager for Let's Go Tribe, in which a pitcher throws a complete game shutout in 99 pitches or less. It's aptly named after Greg Maddux because he threw thirteen in his career which is by far the most since 1988 when they started keeping consistent pitch-count data. I came close to seeing one in person when Shelby Miller threw a complete game shutout on just 105 pitches at Toronto in June 2014.
Curious, I reached out to Jason and learned since 1988 Cardinals pitchers have thrown twelve Madduxes: John Tudor threw the first one on June 23, 1988; followed by four from Bob Tewksbury (9/19/89; 8/12/90; 8/17/90; and 7/8/94); three from Chris Carpenter (6/14/05; 9/7/09; and 9/7/11); and one apiece from Jason Marquis (8/7/05), Braden Looper (6/11/08), Joel Pineiro (5/19/09), and Jaime Garcia (8/22/10). The one Maddux which caught my eye was Tewksbury's on August 17, 1990, when he needed only 79 pitches to dispose of the Astros, which is the Cardinals record and tied for second all-time only to Jon Lieber (78 pitches).
Make no mistake, seventy-nine pitches stretched across nine innings is crazy. If a pitcher struck out every batter on three pitches over the course of an entire game he'd still have a higher pitch count than Tewksbury did on that night (although 27 strikeouts would be pretty impressive and cause for its own parade). Of course, Tewksbury probably often went an entire month without fanning 27 batters. In 1992, most likely his best season, he struck out only 9.9 % of batters. He was never overpowering but was known for excellent control (that same season he walked only 2.2% of batters) and induced a lot of weak contact. Read about him online and you'll keep bumping into the word "crafty."
That night in 1990 crafty translated into incredible. Astros first baseman Franklin Stubbs doubled to lead off the 8th inning to break up what had been a perfect game but that would be the only hit and baserunner Tewksbury would allow. He ended the night facing just that one batter over the minimum. True to form, he struck out only three, walked none, and got 15 outs via the ground ball. Per Baseball-Reference, pinch-hitter Dave Rohde lasted the longest against Tewksbury when he grinded out a six-pitch at-bat in the top of the 6th inning. The end result was one of Tewksbury's three strikeouts.
The Cardinals for their part banged out ten hits, including a solo home run from Todd Zeile, and won the game 5-0. The entire episode took less than two hours.
1990 was not the greatest time to be a Cardinals fan - they had their first and only last place finish since 1918 - and revered manager Whitey Herzog quit midseason. But it wasn't a fun time to be an Astros fan either. Taking nothing away from Tewksbury, but have a look at the lineup they trotted out there that night:
- Eric Yelding CF - 0.1 bWAR
- Bill Doran 2B - 2.7 bWAR
- Ken Caminiti 3B - -0.2 bWAR
- Franklin Stubbs 1B - 2.8 bWAR
- Glenn Wilson RF - 0.2 bWAR
- Tuffy Rhodes LF - 0.1 bWAR
- Rich Gedman C - -0.3 bWAR
- Rafael Ramirez SS - -0.4 bWAR
- Bill Gullickson P - 0.1 bWAR
This was not exactly the 1995 Cleveland Indians.
To that I say who cares. Tewksbury needed less than 80 pitches to thrice plow through a lineup comprised of professional athletes who had reached the pinnacle of their profession. That's excellence - but not fluky excellence. Tewksbury retired after the 1998 season having thrown six Madduxes total, which is third behind only Maddux himself and Zane Smith who tossed seven. As mentioned, he had his best season with the Cardinals in 1992 finishing with a 2.16 ERA, 3.14 FIP, ERA- of 62, and FIP- of 90, in 233 total innings.
If the Cardinals' bullpen in 2016 goes according to plan, there's probably no need to see the starters drift into the 8th or 9th inning. If that rare moment presents itself though and a Cardinals' pitcher is chasing a Maddux I might get a bit upset if Matheny has a quick hook. Seeing a pitcher throw a complete game shutout and not having to worry about his arm falling off is too good of a luxury to pass up these days. Regardless, I can't imagine anyone doing it better than Bob Tewksbury any time soon.
Credit to Jason Lukehart for the Maddux information in this post. You can follow him on Twitter at @JasonLukehart