I had only one thought when the Nationals decided to not renew Dusty Baker’s contract and shunt their entire coaching staff: “How amazing would it be for Mike Maddux to end up with the Cardinals?” Now, I sit here eating celebratory pizza because that possibility has become reality! I am at Nats Park all the time and of all their strengths, it all starts with great pitching. Mike Maddux has honed their pitching talent and finished with three of the top four ERA leaders in the NL. Two of whom are frontrunners for the Cy Young Award. He is not Dave Duncan, but Maddux comes with an impressive resume and a few qualities that are perfectly suited to what the Cardinals need.
The #Nats coaching staff now hits free agent market, and pitching coach Mike Maddux becomes hottest commodity on market— Bob Nightengale (@BNightengale) October 20, 2017
Rave Reviews & a Professional Approach
Max Scherzer and Stephen Strasburg heap praise on Mike Maddux. He builds a relationship with the staff individually and has a great understanding of what changes need to be made for them to improve. You could see this in Game 4 of the NLDS after that rainout when Strasburg chose to call Maddux first and confirm he was ready to pitch in that game. That’s the level of trust they built up. (Something the Nationals aren’t going to easily replicate.) He’s not the type of coach who applies a broad theory to a rotation holistically. What works for a strike-happy Scherzer won’t necessarily work for Strasburg, who focuses on his changeup and adheres religiously to a routine.
In 2010, Derrick Goold of the Post-Dispatch wrote,
“Maddux is regarded as a pitching coach with an eye for mechanics, an ear for individual traits and a nose for game preparation. Maddux has drawn comparisons to Duncan for his professorial approach.”
That remains true. I think this is important because St. Louis has a precarious balance of an “older” pitcher on the downside of his career (Waino), the young but experienced duo (Martinez and Wacha), and younger, less mature arms (Reyes, Flaherty, Weaver). They run the gamut in terms of strengths and weaknesses in a rotation, and Mike Maddux can tailor his approach to each individual pitcher.
When I think about what the 2018 Cardinals will bring to the table, I have a lot of questions. However, I am most excited to see the first full season of Alex Reyes. Of course, we must also consider Jack Flaherty and Luke Weaver because all three of these pitchers are young and inexperienced. The Cardinals need someone with a proven record of helping develop good and even superstar-caliber talent at the major league level.
Mike Maddux was the pitching coach for the Texas Rangers from 2009 - 2015, and Yu Darvish (who will start for the Dodgers in game 3 of the World Series) made his debut in 2012. He was an All Star that year ... and the next ... and the next, guided by Mike Maddux. Reyes and Darvish are obviously different pitchers, but Maddux has a proven approach for developing and honing megastar talent at this level.
His focus is not limited to those pitchers who will eventually nab a Cy Young. Last season he worked with young fireballer, Felipe Rivero. This season he worked with Nats prospect Erick Fedde, who filled in after their fifth starter, Joe Ross, went out for Tommy John surgery. He zoomed in on Fedde’s curveball and helped him develop it with such success that Fedde may make a push to be the Nats’ fifth starter next season.
Respect, Strategy, and Dynamics
The front office has, at times, made moves to sort of back Mike Matheny into a corner or to work around his weaknesses. He won’t stop starting Allen Craig? Fine, trade Allen Craig. This move for Maddux is a subtle form of the same thing.
The universal criticism of Mike Matheny is his terrible use of the Cardinals’ bullpen. He over-relied on Rosenthal and Bowman, and it didn’t matter that Oh kept giving up extra-base hits to lefties. Throw him in there anyway! In getting Mike Maddux, the Cardinals force a shift in dynamics. He is such a proven coach it will force Matheny to reevaluate 1) when to pull the starters and 2) how to use the relievers.
Maddux’s focus on individuals will allow him to better understand who thrives in which situation. Matheny should be able to lean heavily on Maddux’s opinions because he’s had such a success with relievers like Neftali Feliz as a closer in Texas, Felipe Rivero as a young flamethrower, and this season he worked with (a surprisingly good) Matt Albers. Mike Maddux has been able to optimize the skillsets of so many different types of pitchers. That will benefit both the pitchers themselves, and the manager as he tries to figure out how to utilize them most effectively.
Maddux coached two of the frontrunners for the Cy Young Award this year. With the Nationals, his “staffs averaged 9.08 strikeouts per nine innings and a 3.05 strikeout-to-walk ratio in that span, which trailed only the Dodgers in the National League.” Those who work with him praise his work ethic and his coaching style. Due to the Cardinals’ different types of pitchers and their manager’s vulnerability, Maddux is the best person to help move the Cardinals’ pitching staff forward.
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Audrey Stark is a contributor at Viva El Birdos. You can follow her on Twitter @HighStarkSunday.